The next day we continued our descent towards Nasca, and the famous aerial lines. The road the next day was no less challenging than the previous night, twisting along the bottom of a river canyon initially, before rising up sharply another 1000m to a cold, barren plateau located some 3000m above sea-level. As always, as passed through a number of small communities that were somehow scratching out a very basic existence with little visible means of support. Llama and Al Paca herding seem to be it, since up here no crops can grow. Again, most houses appear unfinished, due largely to the government tax system, which locals dodge by either leaving the exterior as basic brick (Bolivia), or not putting a roof on the final storey (Peru). The women are invariably colourfully clothed in shawls and bowler hats, tiny, and somehow contrive to be substantially overweight. Ok, for the city street traders you can see how this happens, since they are always eating their products, but up here it's less clear how this happens. The altitude has given the locals big lungs and barrel chests to house them, and I guess the fat is a defence against the cold.
The sun heats up the air fairly well during the day, but we've noticed that this starts to drop sharply pretty early in the day. 4pm in the heights of Potosi, and by 6pm in Cusco, and we live permanently in layers of merino-wool based thermal clothing, venturing into "normal" clothes (ie a shirt) for special occasions only. Most of my clothes have an array of chain oil, food, and other unidentifiable substances scattered on them, although "most" doesn't mean much when you're living out of a 25litre pannier for six weeks.
Another consequence of the altitude is that your sense of smell largely disappears, which is helpful, since most of the time, the toilets have a large pan of used paper beside them, and rubbish is everywhere. This gives the dogs something to do with their time other than chase motorbikes, cars, and anything that vaguely remind them of food, which, being a dog, is a pretty wide brief. We've noticed that several dogs have carefully tailored doggie-suits on, presumably to distinguish strays from more stylish er, road-kill. South Americans have a more clearly defined sense of place for these animals, and our indulgent anglo-saxon attitudes towards pets have been severely tweaked over the last few weeks.
The ride towards Nasca is magnificent, but I'm starting to feel a bit under the weather, the twisties on this section have to be ridden to be fully appreciated, as the landscape gradually changes from the green mountains and uplands of the High Andes, to the deserts of the coastal regions. We stop at a great viewpoint where we can see the largest sand-dune in the world, to take phots and chat to the others, and a condor glides past just below where we're standing - queue scramble for cameras. I manage a few good shots before it finally glides out of range - we stand transfixed for a good bit longer, appreciating the moment. Then I sneeze. I have a dreadful suspicion that Diesel Dave's French lurgy has taken hold, and we retire back to the bikes and complete the last descent to the plains and dusty Nasca and its lines, that once inspired Eric Von Danniken to write complete twaddle about alien landing strips. Tomorrow we will see if we can replicate their interstellar landing plan in a propeller-driven Cesna. I might have to take an alien sick-bag.