Welcome to our 100th Blog post and thanks for following. After Clare left us we had 8 days to see Southern Peru before our next visitor, Gilly's mum, arrived in Cusco. Peru is a big country so this was going to involve a lot of driving. There is also a lot of desert to drive through on the just over 1000kms from Lima to Arequipa. A lot of this desert can be quite monotonous but it is broken up with some lovely stretches of sand dunes and the occasional oasis.
Our first stop on the drive South was Reserva Nacional de Paracas. This national park is set in a spectacular part of the desert against the coast with some lovely outlooks over the sea. Even though it is a desert there is still quite a bit of wildlife from birds to sea lions and even penguins. We did a lovely drive around the park and then camped for the night by the sea.
The next day we headed further South. We by passed the Peruvian wine district, amazing in the desert, and some of the highest sand dunes in the world. They just don't look that great when it is cold and misty. You have to remember its winter here!
Our next stop was Nazca and the Nazca lines. First we stopped at the rather uninspiring museum dedicated to Maria Reiche, the German long time researcher and preserver of the lines. Then we headed up a tower to look down on a couple of the lines, the tree and the hand.
While you can see the lines it is difficult to appreciate them unless you get up high, which means going up in a little Cessna aircraft. In the past the operators of these planes had dubious safety records so there was no way Gilly was going up. She also ruled that the kids were not going up. I was undecided but the next morning it was grey again with low clouds so that decided that I was not going up.
We headed to Puerto Inca further down the coast and stayed in the grounds of a deserted small resort think, Butlins at Skegness in January! Puerto Inca is where the Incas used to fish which they then used to transport by runners all the way to Cusco. Around the area there are some small Inca ruins which we had a look around, some even had human bones inside.
The next day was a long drive to Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru. This was again along the desert by the ocean before climbing some barren hills inland.
Arequipa is set underneath some volcanos which have destroyed the city several times in its near 500 year history. It is a pretty busy city the Central core of which has been given a Unesco World Heritage Listing. It is also renowned for its cuisine so after the long drive we decided to treat ourselves at one of the city's upmarket restaurants. It was the first time I had eaten Alpaca and it was delicious as was the rest of the meal.
The next day we headed out to see the sights. There is a lovely Plaza de Armas with a large cathedral at one end and a pretty but smaller church in one corner.
We also went to the museum housing Juanita, the "Ice Maiden". This is a museum dedicated to the discovery of Juanita atop the highest mountain in the area. Juanita was a 12 to 14 year old girl that had been sacrificed by the Incas over 500 years ago to appease the mountain gods and had then been buried on top of the mountain. She had been wrapped and almost perfectly preserved by the icy temperatures for about 500 years. The museum explained the story very well and the Inca rituals and at the end we saw the preserved girl. Whilst it was very interesting I could not help thinking it was pretty barbaric.
The other big sight we went to see was the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. This is a large monastery that is almost a small town within the city. The monastery was home to a group of cloistered nuns and you were able to see their cells and other areas. The architecture has changed over the years as the monastery was repaired following earthquakes and a part of it is still in use by a small group of nuns, although that part was sealed off. It was very interesting to walk around and the architecture was impressive.
At the end of the day though I could not help thinking how very different lives people lived in the past. Today we had seen that of a girl selected at birth to be used as a human sacrifice and those of nuns who had locked themselves away in a monastery for their lives.