November 11, 1015 Miami – Lima – Paracas
Day 1 slips into Day 2 as the six of us find our way through security and take off from the Miami International Airport bound for Lima, Peru. My seat is conveniently located across from the lou. A 1:05 am departure means a 2:30 am supper. What are they thinking? Nearly everyone is comatose! Not to be deterred the steward stuffs a customs form into the back of my upright tray. I toss and turn until the lights come up and I am forced to squint at the form and fill it out in what is a hit and miss kind of way. I do need that visitor’s visa though, so I hope I’m on target with most of my responses.
Miraculously, its only 7am and we are moving in snake formation through the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima in search of a sign with our name on it. Wild Life Travel out of New Zealand has organized our pre-trip though Aracari, a local company. Four girls and two guys. Able, our guide says we were not hard to spot.
Like lemmings we follow him through the terminal and out into the parking lot to find our van. The driver heads out into rush hour traffic. We have a three hour drive ahead of us. I swear, I will never complain about the 401 again. This is more bizarre than Bejing! Cars, Trucks, buses, motorcycles. It’s a swarm. Honking is in. Inches separate vehicles as they merge and merge again. We dodge a fraction of the eight million people in this city and a portion of the six million dogs. Eventually, Able declares that we are on the Pan American Highway, a road that stretches form Alaska to the Ushuaia that in this section is a multilane thoroughfare. Behind us are the narrower streets of the inner city on the less flattering side of town. The sea stretches to the west. Even at this early hour, surfers ride the comers while a humungous cliff towers over us on the east. Miles of green netting are stretched from the top of the cliff to the side of the highway to keep sections from collapsing onto the road. Traffic ebbs and flows now but cars are still honking for unfathomable reasons. Highrise buildings atop the cliffs designate the Miraflores district. They overlook the Costa Verde Coastal Highway and seem to be precariously placed. In my view, this highway, which is a main thoroughfare for the city, is a disaster waiting to happen. Indeed it was impacted by the earthquake of 2007 and was awash in some sections due to the subsequent tsunami.
When the van rolls up to a toll gate, our driver parts with 3.50 sols. It is not clear how far this will get us. Able is trying to ply us with anthropological facts but much is drown out by the honking. I did catch that Peru suffers from 16% un-employment which is down from 30%. As we progress, the working 84% appear to have taken to the streets.
Shanty-towns begin to pop up as we get farther from the city center. To report that the wiring looks hazardous would be an understatement.
Its only 9:30 but we stop at Panera, a sandwich shop. The owner and his staff seem glad for the business and in short order we are sitting on a patio, munching local fare while watching stray dogs wander the parking lot. What turns out to be a beef sandwich is very good. Café con leche hits the spot.
Back on the road, more local diners pop up. We pass a refinery and what appears to be an industrial park that has seen better days. We also see where “hope” is building something new. The suburbs are full of half completed homes and businesses. Everyone has a roof garden that may eventually become a second or third story when finances allow. Until then, rebar reaching skyward, acts as a clothesline pole.
At the 11th hour of the 11th day, the Canadians, draft our two American friends into the tradition of Remembrance Day and observe a moment of silence as the van continues to speed down the road. I’m not clear whether Able and the driver knew what we were doing. And interestingly, several years ago much of this same group stood together in silence in Churchill, Manitoba near the Maple Leaf that is north of town, and observed the same Remembrance. For me, it was for Doug, his Dad, my Dad, my uncle Jim and Grandma’s brother Spencer. We each remembered our own and thanked them with our silence for their sacrifice.
The suburbs give way to miles and miles of desert. Walled towns and more in-complete buildings zoom by. Everything is a shade of sandy grey. Now everything appears to be waterless and hydro-less and for the most part without people. Episodically and repeatedly, broken down cement walls boast political slogans in support of the candidates for the next federal election. The election is not until April. It seemed odd that there were so many places that sported these signs. Then Able told us of the devastation in this area following the 2007 earthquake. Here, broken walls are the way to the future.
Dust fills the air. Coughs echo through the van.
Raising chickens seems to be a big industry here. Long shed like buildings house the critters who have a distinct chance of coming to market already cooked. It is very hot. Laundry flutters in the dusty wind and there is a futility about it. Nonetheless an optimistic business owner has staff out washing down his fence.
The road runs in a southernly direction close to the sea. Turquoise and green comers roll in and crash on the beach to my right. Rocky dunes melt into the waters while on the other side of the road they rise and fall into the distance.
Periodically we move through towns. They are small, dusty and still suffering from the impact of the 8.0 earth quake that rolled through this part of the coast in 2007. Banana plantations and date palms appear. The land becomes flatter and flatter. Snow fence like structure, slow the moving sand.
Large patches of this isolated coast has been purchased and fenced. Much is posted and some plots covering multiple acres have guard posts built into the brick fencing. Labourers work in the irrigated fields under the blazing sun. A group husks corn by the roadside. Holding tanks for water sit atop impossible dunes. In this area that sees little rain, an aquifer within feet of the surface supplies water that must be hand pumped to service both fields and homes. Other homes require water delivery.
We have been driving for hours (much more than three) when signs for an airport at Paracas start to appear. Turns out construction is behind schedule and its implied opening has not happened.
We move through Chincha, a town of 56,000 that is known for its distinctive black heritage and the fact that it was severely damaged by the earthquake. Multiple small shops and stalls line the main street. Statues of black slaves stand in doorways as tribute not critique. There are still piles of rubble everywhere. Lumberyards seem to be doing a booming business. Mechanics have open-air shops. Fixing what you have is the way things appear to work here.
We pass very dry riverbeds and orange groves as my blurry “drive by captures” attest to. Plastic garbage bags cling to fences. Smoke permeates the air.
PARACAS. We have arrived. Five hours from Lima and after being up since yesterday morning I am glad, very glad, to pull into La Hacienda Paracas. The pool, a huge, multilayered affair stretches from the patio at the door of the room that Carol and I share, almost to the ocean. The sun flashes on waves and birds twitter. It is lovely and right up there with all other 4.5 star places. At this point I am up for a little pampering. It helps me recoup from the journey to date. A swim, a light lunch and a nap and I am restored and ready to take on the desert.
As if today has not been full enough, supper is to be in the desert. The last time I ate in the desert it was in Morocco and I got to supper by camel. Today it is to be by four-wheel drive. Our driver is skilled but riding the dunes is not for the faint of heart. Up and down…really down. Really up! Breathtaking visas, the fading light, and “Freemanish” images of an amazing place, fill up my camera cards. The patterns in the sand are accentuated by the setting sun. And then over the next dune we descend into a quiet place. A large tent lit by lanterns and pulsating with rhythmic music appeared like a mirage. The scent of barbeque fills the air. Our group gathers on cushions beside a low table and shares a magical supper that goes on and on.
By 10:00pm I drop into bed. I am asleep before I can write today’s log.