I woke up in Nazca feeling pretty average. My right ear had not cleared during the previous day's descent, and I'd been feeling increasingly average since then. This morning it felt as if someone had replaced my inner ear with a cochlear-sized paddling pool, sloshing back and forth. I was concerned. We were due to fly over the Lines today. Luckily, we had two ex-pilots, in our group: John (&Marion) - owner of a van-bound BMW, ex-BA pilot, & pensioner - and Master Kaliram, Buddhist monk, ex-commercial pilot, Californian hippy, fellow biker & also, eligible for a bus-pass. The conclusion was that I was being a girlie wuss. Thus advised, I - manfully - decided to risk head implosion by taking the flight.
The Nazca lines pre-date the Inca's by a good bit; best seen from the air, they consist of numerous dead-straight lines and stylised animal patterns, whose meaning has been argued over for many years. They were only discovered when the Pan-American highway was built straight through the middle of them. 1970's UFO loony Eric Von Danniken famously argued them to be alien landing strips, whereas the more credible Maria Reich, a mathematician, after many years, decided that they were probably an astrological crop calendar. My money's on Maria.
There is a full-on tourist plane service in Nasca to service the Lines, and the Globebusters folk have been talking up the chances of a) death b) airsickness c) being in a small plane while someone else is being violently airsick. On the whole, I decide airsickness is probably "best". The pilots clearly enjoy their 30 minute flights, throwing the plane about wildly, determined to make sure that both sides of their plane get the best possible view of the patterns on the - hard - desert floor while defying both the laws of gravity and flight. Somewhat quieter, we land again and contemplate the range of souvenirs. I haggle with the good-natured vendors over streaky t-shirts and a small rock marked with a squiggle before coming to my senses.
Not fancying the small plane antics, a few had gone to see a tomb with some mummified remains, or "bones in a hole" as Alan put it, but for the afternoon we were all reunited for the afternoon's activities - sand buggying.
There are two buggies, most pile into the 12-seater with brash Brad commandeering the front seat, which leaves four of us for the second smaller buggy - Larry "the Llama", Lou, Alan Van Man, and myself. Larry's Yamaha TDM was the only other non-BMW on the trip, and like our "Tito", seemed to be coping admirably. The BMW's had a smorgasbord of issues ranging from dodgy back brakes, periodic overheating, to clutch failure. Mostly tracked back to bubbles in their hydraulic systems from the altitude - a known problem apparently - that's all right then.
Our sand buggies were essentially giant climbing frames with huge wheels and a great naked engine attached. We roared out of Nazca and headed for the dunes. Over the next half an hour the countryside progressed from scrub to proper Namibia-like desert. We stopped a few times, once to admire some pre-Inca fortifications, unfortunately rebuilt with concrete, twice to calm the overheating engine, and once for an extraordinary ancient burial ground. We were completely unprepared. Human bones & skulls were everywhere, with scraps of clothing & gruesome mummified body parts, long hair, skin and sinew still attached, everywhere you looked. Grave-robbers apparently. Grim.
On from there the terrain morphed fully into the dunes proper some a good 20-30m high. Our driver decided to cheer us all up by taking a fairly direct route down each one. The insane angles of attack were pretty similar to those used by the Nazca pilots that morning so we were at least used to being confronted by our food again, if not the frantic relative speed and generous portions of sand. Great fun! After some abortive attempts at sand-boarding to ensure a good grit-bath we headed back into the gathering dusk, and the warm, sweaty welcome of Nazca town.
The next day we were due to progress to the pacific, and the large town of Arequipa, known as the white city due to the abundant use of nearby volcanic rock as building material. I awoke properly poorly. Diesel Dave's French plague had taken me out, and Kevin ejected John and Marion from the van as our Tito, Lou and I took up residence for the day. It was Lou's second day in the van and I think she enjoyed having Alan to chat to, as I snoozed my snotty way across Peru. The weather was pretty average, misty and cold almost all the way. A pretty good day's riding to miss. All 359 miles of it.
I came to as it was getting dark and Lou & Alan were trying to decipher the instructions for finding the hotel. GPS was not always useful: "turn right here" = a footpath, "next right" = no entry, etc. We managed eventually to decode the written notes and wind our way in through heavy traffic. At a junction in the middle of a busy junction a taxi materialised alongside us and John stuck his head out "Can we follow you in? we've been going round in circles for the last half an hour!" Nightmare…but quite funny.