This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.
We leave the hotel just after 06:00 for the short journey to the bus station. Compared with Bristol Bus Station, this is wonderful. It is much more upmarket, in fact it is more like an airport, where you check in at a desk, you are given boarding cards, and your luggage is weighed and taken from you to be loaded on to the bus separately. We have seats numbers 4 and 5, and I worry that they are not together. I also worry about a four hour cramped bus journey with my hand luggage on my lap and my knees firmly embedded in the spleen of the person sitting in front. I worry too much. The reality is that the bus is much better than any bus I have ever travelled on in the UK. The seat configuration is 1-2, and there is more leg room than the average aircraft Business Class. A leg rest comes up from underneath your seat and a foot rest from below the seat in front. There is at least 6” to spare between my knee and the seat in front. Both I and the man who occupies that seat are pleased about that, although he doesn’t know how close he came to being kebabed. The seats are comfortably wide, hot food is served (though I never figure out what it actually is), the toilets are segregated by gender, the hostess is friendly and I am very contented here.
The passing view is what I expected from this part of Peru: favelas and dry sand dunes. Last night Lima was so much more modern than I remember from 12 years ago, I expect this is what they call progress. Today we are travelling on the Pan-American Highway along the Peruvian coast. Here and there we catch a glimpse of the cliffs and the Pacific Ocean beyond, and we get very excited about seeing a large bird soaring above. Could it be a condor? Much discussion takes place between the passengers about the bird. There are only about 8 of us sitting upstairs in the front part of the bus, all foreigners. Another two locals occupy some seats nearer the back, but I don’t think there is anybody downstairs at all. Can this pay? The fare for a four hour journey on this luxury bus is £4 each. Later, more of the large soaring birds appear, and we realise they can’t possibly be condors, they must be vultures. How disappointing.
The bus stops right by the door of our substituted hotel. Las Dunas is a large resort and has its own grand entrance for the bus to use. Most of the passengers are getting off here, all but the two Peruvians. Christian meets us, and he is also looking after two women who are not travelling together. We have some time to settle in before we are being picked up again, and once we have dumped our bags in the room and the valuables in the safe, we set about exploring the resort. It is very nice but not my taste at all. There is one thing guaranteed to put me off a hotel: piped music by the swimming pool. We are only here for one night and I don’t intend spending any time by the pool if I can help it, but this is where the rich families from Lima go for their holidays.
The facilities are fairly impressive, with lots of sports available in or from the hotel. We opt for a Dune Buggy adventure and try to book it with the pretty young girl on the desk. Her English is marginally better than my Spanish and together we make each other understood. With her hands she motions that there are three levels of this activity: fairly flat, a little more up and down and very adventurous. We choose the latter. She is rather surprised as most people prefer the gentlest option. Not for us though, the more adventurous the better!
The transfer to the Las Dunas Aerodrome takes five minutes; I have never stayed at a hotel with its own airport before. It’s a cool place, all cane and thatch with open sides. Free soft drinks are laid on and they show a disastrously bad video of the Nazca Lines. Maps of the various drawings are explained and presented to us by the cartographer – at a (small) charge of course. I have harboured a dream of seeing the Lines since I read Eric Von Daniken’s book some 30 years ago, and I can’t believe I’m finally here. Last time we came to Peru we missed this excursion after the flight from Iquitos was delayed 24 hours, so now that we are almost passing on our Around the World trip we decided to ‘drop by’ and overfly the Lines on our way to Santiago. The Nazca Lines are our only reason for being in Peru – I hope they are worth it.
Several people have warned us about being airsick on the flight. The pre-departure information we received from Stuart suggests that we don’t have breakfast today. We did have something to eat this morning, partly because we forgot, partly because we are not in the least concerned about suffering from motion sickness in the air; we have both been on many flights in light aircrafts and even taken an aerobatics flight! Why should a two hour journey over the Peruvian desert be any worse than doing loop-the-loop and flying upside down over the Devon countryside?
The aircraft holds six passengers, and I am beckoned to sit at the front. Just to reach the Nazca area is a 30 minute flight, with nothing much to see. The air in the cabin is stifling hot, but I have a draught on the right side of my body which will probably give me a stiff neck.
Once we reach the drawings, we circle around each of them so that people on both sides of the plane can see and photograph each one. The first one is the Space Man that inspired Von Daniken to write his book.
We see the spider, the hummingbird and the monkey, all very familiar to me from various books.
I am awfully excited to be here but as the plane tilts left and then right an overwhelming feeling of nausea overcomes me. I swallow hard and try to concentrate on the representations below. Two more drawings and we are on our way back. I am not sorry to be flying on a level again, but the feeling of queasiness will not leave me. I feel a little better if I close my eyes, and I try to move my face to be in the stream of fresh air. I must look totally contorted with my head at an odd angle, my eyes shut and constantly swallowing. I feel such a let-down and disgrace that I can’t even partake in a short flight without feeling sick. How embarrassing. I decide not to mention it to anyone.
Never before have I been so pleased to get out of an aircraft. I descend from the cockpit and wobble my way across the tarmac, only to be confronted by five other green faces. We all look at each other sheepishly, no-one wanting to be the first to admit that they are feeling ill. Sitting in the front, I didn’t see any of this, but the man behind me spent the entire return journey with a sick-bag on his lap, and every time we leant over to one side in the plane, he would scream and cover his face with his hands. I don’t feel quite such a fool now that I am not alone. We are told that Coca Mate tea helps with the unsettled stomach, but none of us feel any better for it. Those who had not eaten breakfast do not feel any better than those of us who did, so bang goes that theory. Maybe we will feel better by having some lunch? After a sandwich, chips and the local Serveza I feel almost normal again.
The hotel is right on the edge of the desert, and has its own enormous dune for sand boarding. I reckon the man in the hire booth sees us coming and realises we are complete novices. I am sure there must be faster boards available. Ours hardly move at all, making it too much like hard work. David climbs right to the top of the dune; I make do with the half way mark. Even Miles doesn’t succeed – we put him on the board and push the board down the dune. It moves three inches. We give up sand boarding as a bad job and look forward to the Dune Buggy instead.
The buggies are VW Beetles without the body work and all three of us are strapped in safely, Miles and I in the back, David in the front with the driver.
This is more like it! The dunes are high and very steep and we go up at angles I didn’t know a car could go at. I know we have a very low level of gravity, I know the driver is an expert, but I’m still terrified! He will drive up an impossibly steep dune, and just before he reaches the top he will turn round and slide back down again. Or, he will go over the top and we can see nothing the other side as the low sun is straight in our eyes and the ground seems to literally disappear in front of us.
My throat is sore from screaming, but I love every minute of it. At times we appear to take off, and at one stage I bounce off the seat and my bum lands on the moving wheel. Ouch! The driver, although he can’t speak a word of English, appears to get pleasure from our obvious enjoyment and drives even faster. We reach the top of a dune and the other side there is an enormous drop at a 45º angle and we have no other way to go than down. I scream ‘no’ at the top of my voice, but to no avail. We’re already sliding down at a great speed.
What a relief to reach the bottom. This is rather exhausting, and we stop for a break to admire the view. Bad mistake. The buggy has sand in the carburettor and won’t start again. Thank goodness for mobile phones. Another buggy comes to the rescue and we swap vehicles. I can’ fasten the seat belt on this one, and I really don’t feel safe going over the biggest dunes while not strapped in. I therefore suggest (in my best Spanish) that we return to the hotel over medium grade dunes only.
Check out David's video for a better view of the dune buggy (and pathetic sand boarding)
The hotel offers a free internet service so we check our inbox before dinner. David receives a rather worrying message from his boss about redundancies in Service Delivery. He is assured that it does not affect his department at all. This time. Dinner is not included but there is nowhere else around here to eat so we have to dine in the hotel. Tonight they have a buffet, but as neither David nor I are particularly fond of buffets, we order from the menu. It turns out to be a good choice, not just because the food is delicious, but we later find out that the hotel charges for each item you choose from the buffet. I have never come across that before. My jumbo prawns in garlic are yummy and David also really enjoys his Fillet Mignon.
Getting undressed for the night, David notices the most enormous bruise on my thigh from where I made contact with the buggy tyre. It really is very spectacular, the best bruise I have had for a number of years. How disappointing it is in a place where it won’t show. Actually, I think I was probably very lucky it didn’t damage my trousers or puncture my skin – it could easily have been much worse. No photo (un)fortunately.