Our next stop was a complete contrast to the mayhem of Lima. Huacachina is an oasis in the desert, a long dusty bus ride south of the capital. Breakfast of freshly squeezed mango juice, scrambled eggs and coffee in the garden of our hostel was just what the doctor ordered. The garden was filled with palm trees, long leafed plants, giant cacti and trees dripping bunches of purple flowers, overlooking a warm inviting pool. With plenty of hammocks and shady spots to relax beneath the huge sand dunes, we had our day all planned out.
In the early evening we took a hike up the dunes, sandboards slung across our backs. At the top a local dude beat out the rhythm of the sunset on a single drum. As the sun sank and a deep purple twilight descended we sledged down the dunes, helped on our way by a kindly Peruvian who primed our boards with paraffin wax. Whooosh to the bottom, grinning from ear to ear.
The nearby town of Ica is a short ride away in a moto-taxi. These are doorless cabins welded onto the back of a bike souped up with a battery between the feet of the passengers and windscreens covered in stickers saying things like "only god knows my fate".
Ica is full of hustle and bustle with a pleasant Plaza de Armas surrounded by colonial arcades. Everywhere, people, people, people, trucks, taxis, motorbikes, cyclists and BEEP, BEEP, BEEP amid the ubiquitous crumbling paintwork and collapsing buildings. On one pavement leading off the Plaza, a single file row of men at typewriters were filling in forms for locals. In the afternoon, we headed out to the Regional Museum of Ica, which had been robbed of a number of valuable textiles in 2005. Only 2 have been recovered. The museum still houses an impressive collection of brightly coloured pottery and human heads - trophy heads, shrunken heads, elongated heads, heads with surgical holes and others with rasta hairdos. Creepier still were the mummies, some young children, preserved with their knees hugged to their chests.
Up early this morning for a day trip to the Nazca Lines. A terrifying 2 hour journey there and back across searing desert, with our driver nodding off to sleep at 100mph, then sandwiched a half hour of travel sickness as the horizon danced figures of eight outside the tiny twin prop which flew us over the lines. Saw the geometric shapes and the astronaut, then everything else was a bit shaky - thank God we´d skipped breakfast. Still, the long, long dead-straight lines are more impressive, than the biomorphic characters. How did they get there and why? There are 3 main theories -
1. They are an astronomical calendar - plausible, although no-one can get the maths to work,
2. They describe shamanic visions - very believable, given the weirdness of the shapes and their general pointlessness. If only someone could find one shaped like a really big Mars Bar, for confirmation of the shamanic munchies, and
3. Aliens.... that is, aliens with nothing better to do than make a giant etch-a-sketch!
On the way back we stopped at a local pottery for a demonstration of the ancient Nazca arts. Like your big, drunk Greek uncle, Andres (Toby for short) explained, in a mixture of English and Spanish, how his father had learnt the art from shards of pots dropped by graverobbers in the 1940s, painted them with brushes made from the hair of human babies and then polished them with the grease from his own nose. He also had a pet falcon called Julio Iglesias.
Next stop was a gold processing yard. Gold was discovered here 20 years ago and now men work 14-hour days underground mining by hand before filtering 60 kilos of ore through mercury to produce $20 worth of gold - a piece half the size of a garden pea.
Our final stop was a rickety red mirador tower overlooking 2 of the shapes, the "hands" and the "tree". The man selling guidebooks st the top engaged us in conversation. "What did you think of that film with Cate Blanchett and Judy Dench - the one with the Scandal?" he casually enquired. We discovered at length that he thought it was "wrong". We eventually left him to canvass the views of those who ascended after us.
Back in Huacachina we took a dune buggy tour. A Mad Max-type machine flung us up and over dunes like a roller coaster with the surreal effect of not being able to distinguish ground from sky with all the kicked up sand. To cap it all we raced sandboards head first down the highest dunes before heading off to enjoy the local lomo saltado to an Afro-Peruvian beat.