Travelling in Peru I get the sense of touristic centripetal forces at play that drive the individual traveller along specific lines and towards specific destinations. Resisting these “forces”, for want of a better word, and honouring my desire to fly true to the lines in my heart, is hard work, the temptation to succumb to inertia is strong…
Right up until the day before I leave Arequipa I am turning the following question over in my mind: Do I or don’t I? (go to Puno/Lake Titicaca/Cusco/Macchu Pichu) It is a tough call~ I am sure that if I just allowed myself to float free, inertia would eventually wash me up in Cusco- it’s the thing to do when you travel here. But, for various reasons I make the decision to park Cusco until the next journey. February = rain. I really want to walk, and I can’t “do” the Inca trail in February, it’s closed. I am sure that there must be another way to do it where I’m not in a big group of trekkers, something more intimate, but that will require research and a time investment. Better to leave it until next time… So, I decide to head for the coast. Off I go. A night bus from Arequipa to Ica (I skip Nasca). This part of the trip is going to be a whirlwind, two days in Ica, two days in Paracas, two days in Lima, before I make the big jump north to Trujillo and then onto Ecuador.
At the bus station in Arequipa I kill some time chatting to two travellers. A Toowoomban father and son duo. Dad dressed top to toe in khaki, son, head down, simultaneously navigating the parallel universes of Facebook and the Cruz del Sur waiting room. We have a short chat before getting on the bus, which, with its’ movies, reclining seats, and dinner, is like travelling on a first class airplane. I sleep reasonably well throughout the night, and when I wake the bus is pulling into Nasca. It looks like a dusty shanty town, and even though it would have been cool to see the Nasca lines, I am eager to push on, against the tide of inertia.
In direct opposition to the Australian continent, the coastline of Peru is bone dry. These band-aid strips of desert landscape press flush against the ocean, held firmly in place by the Andes. Strange microclimates and a rich diversity of life emerge in places where you think there would be none. Unfortunately,while there are interesting things to do in these places, I quickly realise that my opportunities for walking will be scant.This disappointment is what I encounter when I arrive in Ica, a large, polluted hub of activity. Motorised rickshaws bumble about downtown, red mechanical insects, the constant buzzing of which is broken up only by the non-stop honking of taxi horns as they drive past. This is a courtesy to the pedestrian, to stop splatters, but also to let you know they are there so that they can maybe pick up some business. Police and security guards are everywhere, standing on street corners, supervising taxi lines, guarding the front doors of banks.Like Arequipa, walking in this city is more trouble than it’s worth…
I stay in a hotel in between Ica and Huacachina- a desert oasis. I fantasise about a gorgeous stroll, ending with a sunset seen from the top of an enormous sand dune. My “hike” to Huacachina turns out to be a walk along a busy road, guided by the huge sand mountains rising in front of me in the distance. The lack of space to walk, combined with the rubbish littering the side of the road, makes me wish I had just stayed in and washed my hair. I feel myself becoming increasingly indignant, but I persist. Once I get near Huacachina, the path becomes a lot sandier, I am walking, but not moving. Wading through the quicksand of looming dissonance, I pray that there is a happy ending in store for me, but there isn’t, not really. I walk past the taxi ranks and hotels, circumvent the lagoon in the centre of town, the restaurants with menus in three languages, the stores selling sarongs and walk up to the top of a dune, trying not to see the rubbish that has been strewn so disrespectfully across the face of the mother, to watch the sunset. As I sit, in a corner of my mind I create a parallel universe where things are different, a real oasis….i think about this as i focus my camera, creating a digital memory of how i wish things were in reality, in this place…..
Ica is the centre of Pisco production in Peru, so it occurs to me that it might be interesting to visit a couple of vineyards in the area. Pablo, the owner of the hotel that I am staying at offers to take me to a couple of places. First, we visit a winery called Takama, and a man who works there explains how Pisco is produced using modern techniques. The second place I go to makes Pisco using traditional techniques. It is really interesting to see the ways that traditional methods have translated into modern production to feed the industry. But my mind wanders beyond what I am seeing….
People here, as in most places, love to drink. Speaking of the way that traditional methods have been replaced by modern methods, it is interesting to think about Pisco in light of the strong history that Peru has with the use of sacred plants in ceremony. Where once communities of people would take Ayahuasca and San Pedro in ceremony, now, they have “Pisco Day” ~which is today by the way~ a nationwide ceremonial piss-up of enormous proportions. I can’t help myself, my mind inevitably engages with questions of social drug use and the dominance of alcohol and how problematic that is. Like every aspect of modern human life, drug use has a history ~ constructed on the very basic need to poke about in the messy entrails to try to decipher some sort of meaning. To situate ourselves in the world through an understanding of who we are. Sometimes we need help to escape mundane realities and connect with ourselves and each other, with divinity. Of all the doorways to these understandings, in my opinion, alcohol is the roughest, the most rudimentary. We have been gypped by policy-makers and religious leaders. At best, alcohol is a social lubricant, a remover of inhibitions, but it doesn’t take you higher, closer to yourself, in fact, it keeps you down. Anyone who has had a rough hangover the day after after drunk-dialling your bastard ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife will tell you that. Come down to the Fortitude Valley in Brisbane on a Friday night to see how alcohol elevates our young people. We must be critical of ourselves and our attitudes to the socially accepted use of certain substances. Why those and not others? Who benefits really?
After a couple of days in Ica, I head north to Paracas, a beachside resort town. The thing drawing me to this area are the Islas Ballestes and a national park. One day, two nights, and that is all you really need here. At the start of my day in Paracas I walk over to the jetty to get on the boat to go out to the Islands. A couple of days before, two Dutch women had told me to keep my eyes down until getting on the boat~ now I know why. The scene at the jetty resembles a hollywood disaster film set, and we are the extras. A meteor is about to hit Paracas, and we are scrambling to avoid death from above. Lines of anxious looking tourists, screaming babies, people in fluorescent jackets collecting money and dispensing tickets, and the film director, standing at the entrance to the jetty with a loudspeaker barking at people to keep moving forward.Is he related to the tour guide from Arequipa? “Vamos!!!!!”. The order word triggers something, and suddenly I am transformed into a sheep, following the herd onto the boat.
Once we get out on the water, I allow the air to flow past and around me, and I start to breathe and look around. I watch birds out on the water, flying along then suddenly diving into the water to catch fish. As we approach the Islands, the concentration of birds begins to increase. They fly overhead in lines that zigzag across the sky, or in arrowhead formation. I get out the camera and just point and shoot, hoping for the best… We also see a few Penguins sitting on rocks. The drawcard, however, are the sea lions. As we approach the beach, an incredible cacophony of sound comes towards us. Some males are fighting on the beach~ they are really going for it, and the guide tells us that they must be fighting over a female because when there aren’t females around, everything is peaceful. You can tell this is a well-practiced line, designed to add a touch of humour to the proceedings…. Most of the blokes on the boat laugh at this, giving each other knowing glances, one particularly witty guy makes a comment about sea-lion mothers-in-law….We go through caves and different rock formations, the smell is intense, a pungent concentration of fish, sea water and bird shit, baking under the sun.
Later, we visit a couple of beaches and the final stop for the day is at a small bay that is home to several restaurants. The place is crawling with people and drenched in the sounds of pachangeo. I forgo lunching and head upwards instead, away from the chaos and people, as high as i can go. I find a place to sit and spend the next hour or so watching different types of birds soaring past, catching drafts and gliding past almost at eye-level….The chaos down below melts away with the rushing air, it feels good to sit up here, separate. The time comes to go and I head down towards the bus stop. My nose catches a whiff of something highly unpleasant and I see that there is a bloated carcass on the beach, a sea lion. Nearby, families and children hang out together, the children playing in the waves without even noticing…..