Northern Peru, Nazca and Arequipa - Ancient culture, trekking and lines in the sand
Our first stop in Peru was Trujillo in the north of the country which we used as a base to visit the Moche pyramides of Las Huacas del Sol y de la Luna and the Chimu ruins at Chan Chan. The Moche empire pre-dated that of the Chimu which in turn pre-dated the Incas. The Chan Chan ruins were covered by sand until they were discovered only 40 years ago and consequently are very well preserved although it makes you wonder what else is buried under the vast amounts of sand in the area!
After a couple of days of ancient culture we headed to Huarez, Peru´s premier trekking area and home to the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. This is the highest mountain range in the world outside of the Himalayas and there are 22 summits over 6000m. (We didn´t actually climb any of these however!!) We did though embark on the 4 day Santa Cruz trek which covered 65km and rose to 4760m. The nights were freezing and the altitude was a killer but the scenery was absolutely spectacular and we had some amazing views of mountains, valleys and glaciers streaming into turquoise lagoons. Despite the basic conditions this trek was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip to date.
The earthquake that hit the south of Peru struck whilst we were in Huarez and although the tremor was felt this far north, luckily there was no damage. However, travelling from Huarez to the south of Peru we travelled through Pisco, one of the worst hit areas, and we realised then the devastation that had been caused and how lucky we were not to have been in the area at the time. Many of the houses had been totally destroyed leaving people living in makeshift tents and it was very sad to see people trying to create shelters from whatever could be salvaged from their houses.
Our next stop was Nazca to see the Nazca lines. These are basically lines in the sand that were discovered in the late 1930s when a scientist took a flight over the area. There are over 800 lines and 70 animals including a monkey, a spider and an astronaut and they are thought to have been made between 900 BC and AD 600. Nobody really knows why the lines were created although one of the more far-fetched theories is that they were created by aliens!!! (not the most artistic aliens we´d like to point out!) The best way of seeing the lines is from the air so we took a 30 minute flight over them to see them properly. Our pilot was very enthusiastic and keen to ensure we saw as many of the lines as possible so twisted and turned the tiny 4-seater plane at every opportunity and dived in for those close-ups - great for seeing the lines but not so great for keeping down breakfast and we finished the flight slightly worse for wear and grateful we´d opted for the 30 minute flight not the hour long one!!!
From Nazca we headed to Arequipa and from there to the Colca Canyon - one of the world´s deepest canyons at 3191m where we spent a couple of days trekking before visiting Cruz del Condor just a few kilometers away. This viewpoint is famous for attracting Condors and we joined a couple of hundred other people at 6am to see them flying around. If only we´d remembered to charge our camera we´d have some great Condor photos for you! From here though it was time to travel to Cuzco and the start of the Inca Trail.....