We have returned!

We have arrived back on our native soil.  The flight was fine, except for the second security check before getting on the plane in San Jose (and it was NOT thorough and a disruption of our movie watching) and the lack of a meal without pig on the plane.  We packed food and were fine, but seriously, the options were pasta with ham or chicken with ham.  We requested a veg meal and they told us they don’t do ANY dietary requests.  Well, we have returned to a country that sometimes cares about customer service and attempting to garner repeat business.

And it is nice to return to something familiar.  I remember being homesick while is Spain, but this is a completely different situation.  We aren’t having too much reverse culture shock and the biggest thing I have to retrain myself to do is to flush toilet paper.  I keep looking around for the bin.  It’s nice to wash my hands with soap and not fear intestinal anger.  There are things I miss about Peru, and it was a great experience, but right now I am enjoying being able to walk barefoot, stretch out on a couch and see family and friends again.

We’re spending some time in Florida, working on our awesome tans.  Our plan after this is undecided as of yet.  We’re thinking of looking for jobs in Portland, Oregon and see what happens.  It’s smaller than Seattle, has a really foodie vegan scene and tech jobs, so there will be room for us to grow and learn there.

Nazca Lines…or not

taken by chillntravel

We had a little time to kill and there was nothing left to do in Paracas except play cards, so we decided to head to Nazca for a change of scenery (and expand our eating options, Paracas was lame) and get our buddies a few hours closer to Cusco before we parted ways.

Nazca is famous for its lines. These lines are basically moved rocks in the desert, exposing a lighter color underneath. The lines form hundreds of crazy shapes (geometrical shapes, a monkey, birds) and the only way to see them is by paying a tourist price for a plane ride over them. We have heard if you are really interested in the lines, it’s worth it. Otherwise, you can enjoy the pizza in town and their very clean plaza.

taken by Anselmo Herranz

We chose not to do the lines but did an observatory show that talked about the lines and Maria Reiche, a German woman who spent the majority of her life studying them. Her theory is that the lines were for astronomical purposes, some of them pointing to the horizon at the exact spot the sun sets or rises on the solstices. Some of the lines lead to water sources, mountain passes or served as ceremonial sites. Scientists carbon dated some ceramics and the lines were made between 200bc and 700ad. And the lines don’t fade away. It’s one of the driest places on Earth nor is there much wind. Their only enemy is the highway, which goes through the lizard shape and people driving on the lines. It’s now a protected area and from the highway it just looks like rocky desert. I heard that the lines weren’t discovered until well after they built the highway. One shape looks like an astronaut and another looks like an alien…so either the Nazca people were clairvoyant or they were the aliens. The world may never know…all I know is that I could never live in that place. Too dry for me.

So I hoped you learned something new because our time in Nazca was not very exciting. Lots of Euchre playing, cooking and eating.

Islas Ballestas, “the poor man’s Galapagos”

We tired quickly of sand dunes and desert so we headed north to Paracas, on the coast just south of Pisco. So we gained water,but it’s still desert. Our reason for coming to this town empty of anything to do except eat or buy seashell necklaces or swing on one of the 5 rusty swings in town is for the island tour.

Lonely Planet calls it the poor man’s Galapagos because
for $10 you get a 2 hour sealife tour (instead of $5000 to see the Galapagos for a few days). We could have seen the Galapagos but it would have cut our trip short, by, oh, 6.5 months. We bargained a little for the tour price (they started higher than they should have!) and joined a boat full of teenage British kids.

Poor Laura got really sick from the typical who knows what but she endured the boat tour and we saw Humboldt penguins hopping all over the place. We also saw blue footed Boobies, sea lions (and their nursery) and other birds I couldn’t identify. We saw a line on the tour just like the Nazca lines that was a cactus or an alien or a Hanukkah candle…no one really knows why or what these lines are, but they were neat.

That afternoon Laura slept while we toured the Paracas Reserve, which was basically a drive in the desert with some stops along the shore. I don’t think I’d do it again, but we saw a red sand beach and the guys swam a little while I watched kites dive for fish. The nicest thing about the whole tour was the visitor center (that didn’t seem too well visited). They had a huge conservation angle and weren’t afraid to have guilt-filled signs about not littering or eating turtle meat or harassing birds. It was wonderful. Litter is a big problem here and I haven’t really seen people NOT litter blatantly anywhere except touristy towns.

So go to the visitor center and see a sea lion skeleton and learn a little about conservation. If only they could teach this stuff more in the schools here…I get so angry watching people throw their wrappers out windows and parents catching pigeons in the plazas and letting their kids pet them (for real!). But, it takes time. Happy thoughts….penguins! They waddled all over the rocks and I wanted to hug one, but we didn’t get out of the boat (and I think that falls into the harassment category).

Wine and Pisco in Ica

We spent an afternoon doing the wine thing in Ica. If there’s one thing you need to learn fast, is that Peruvian wine is sweet and not for the American or European palette. At least not mine. I like my reds dry, but that won’t stop me from doing some wine touring.

We visited a big winery that also distilled Pisco (made from grapes but tastes like strong rum to me) and saw their equipment and processes. We had about 5 tastes, including a shot of Pisco that burned my throat. After that, our taxi driver took us to a chocolate factory (Helena’s) where there was no tour, but a big window to watch the workers do their thing. I was excited for a big bar of dark chocolate. No such luck. They did have lots of chocotejas (like truffles).

After the chocolate fix, we visited an artesanal winery where they still stomp on the grapes barefoot and pick the grapes by hand. They also had a Pisco distiller, but instead of copper tubing and crazy containers, they had a big cement basin, tubes and a giant fire to do that sublimation thing for Pisco making. We were hungry for lunch, but we decided to do the tastings and tour while waiting for our food to be prepared. I don’t know exactly how many tastes we had, maybe 10? We tried 3 different kinds of Pisco (and I couldn’t finish my tasting cups) a red wine, a white wine, and a kahlua style liquor that was made of pisco (of course) milk and fig puree. The last one was really tasty, like melted ice cream. They gave us a taste of mango juice, cebada, chicha morada and some jams and chocolates. There was no entrance fee (but the lunch was overpriced) but it was a much better tour (and tasting) than the industrial winery. We learned all about quality of Pisco and how they taste different if a different grape is used (one burned the back of my throat, the other burned the roof of my mouth). All in all it was a fun day and we got to spend it with friends, which made it even better.

Sandboarding (Huacachina and Ica)

We took a night bus from Cusco to Ica, the town that took a big hit from the earthquake last August. The city seems to be up and running and not too much damage happened within the city itself. But most people we talked to told us of the major damage just outside the center. Two taxi drivers we had told us their houses were leveled and are now sleeping in tents. But the locals are grateful for the outpouring of help and a lot of work has been accomplished in a few months.

We didn’t have time to do any volunteer work in Ica, we were here to meet up with Brendan and Laura and play for a few days before we flew back home. Ica itself wasn’t a very exciting city, it reminded me of Trujillo, a place to get stuff or sit in the plaza. We found a cheap vegetarian restaurant and bought groceries but stayed in Huacachina at a hostal. Huacachina isn’t much of a town, but it’s quiet and is basically a pile of hostals and restaurants around a lagoon surrounded by sand dunes. We were there for the sand!

We did a buggy ride and sandboarding through our hostal (La Carola Sur) whom I DO NOT recommend. Go through an independent group or a different hostal. The price was right but they didn’t treat us right, telling us we had to pay an extra fee once we were in the buggy and we had to FIGHT verbally to not pay it. Obviously the whole town is a tourist trap but I refuse to just accept all that added fee sneaky crap. Once we got past that, everything was super cool.

The dune buggy fit 8 people and was a rough ride. There were seatbelts to keep us from flying out, but I was worried they would decapitate us as well…but everyone returned safe and sound. The buggy went fast through over around and down the dunes, stopping here and there for us to get out and (attempt) sandboarding. It was a lot like snowboarding but much slower going and harder to catch an edge (could be b/c our boards were not high quality). Once I picked up some speed and tried to control the board I just fell over. But it was fun and I was tired at the end of the day. Matt resorted to laying on the board on his belly for the bigger, steeper dunes, but the rest of us attempted to go down the dune vertically. It was easier to get up after falling, I have memories of learning snowboarding and having my abs be sore for DAYS afterwards. The crash is much smoother, too (no ice!) but you do get sand in your ears and everywhere else. We’re happy to see old friends and play!