Sunday, May 31: Last evening, back in Lima now, we checked in very late at the Sonesta Posadas del Inca Miraflores, a different hotel than our previous stay in Lima, but in the same area. Except for noting that this is the first high rise we’ve stayed in since we arrived in Peru, I won’t go into any further detail about the hotel.
In planning our Peruvian tour, we were given the option of adding two additional days to our tour and we readily agreed. So after breakfast today we say goodbye to most of our travel companions who chose to return home early, while our leader Marta, Hubby and me, and two others of us will depart after breakfast by private transportation to the southern city of Ica. Hubby and I reasoned that this will likely be our first and last trip to Peru, so we might as well make the most of it and see and do everything we can possibly manage to while we’re here. Hang the extra expense. Weeks later, after I finally sat down to really look at and study our extended itinerary, I was very, very happy we’d chosen to do so.
Ica is located 186 miles, approximately four and a half hours, south of Lima. It’s Peru’s main grape-growing region, and is known as an area of sand, sea, oases and valleys. For me, born and bred slap dab center between the east and west coasts of Florida, it’s an enticing and winning combination. Not only is it the core of Peru’s Creole culture, and of saints and medicine men, it is incidentally, where the best Pisco brandy is distilled. Now how could we possibly leave Peru in two days without trying another Pisco sour? Marta says they will make us one without the whipped egg whites so we can’t possibly leave before downing at least one.
Cotton, asparagus, olives and other produce is cultivated here in addition to the grapes for wine. It’s considered the land of the sun by Peruvians, and although there are four seasons, the warm dry climate makes it feels like summer year-round, so–just as in the U.S. and my old home state of Florida–visitors flock there year-round. Natives also claim the climate cures asthma, but they don’t say anything about my particular sinus issue.
Our hotel, the sprawling resort of Las Dunas, is located on the outskirts of Ica. It’s a sprawling complex of white Mediterranean-style villas with beautifully landscaped grounds, three swimming pools, and good sports opportunities, including horseback riding, golf, tennis, frontón (something like a cross between paddle tennis and jai alai), sand boarding, and volleyball. Rooms are surprisingly large and nicely furnished, and most have garden views. I love the fact that they have llamas here to keep the grass trimmed.
Another plus, it sits at the base of a huge sand dune where you can climb to the top for magnificent views or try your hand (or feet as it were) at sand boarding (probably not in this lifetime as I’ll be lucky if I’m able to climb to the top). An even more terrific bonus is a planetarium, right in the hotel, that provides an introduction to the Nazca Lines, which is the main thing we are here to see.
In fact, we are scheduled for a tour by small airplane soon after we arrive. Discovered in 1927, the lines are considered the most extraordinary legacy left by the culture that flourished in 300 BC. They’re a series of complex designs up to 300 meters long that can only be properly seen from the sky from an altitude of at least 1500 feet.
The question then is, how did a culture not believed to have been capable of manned flight make such drawings? What technology did they use? Perhaps more important, what was the purpose of these mysterious lines? Were they landing strips for aliens, as many have suggested, or do they represent a giant seismograph, for measuring ground motion? Marìa Reiche, a German researcher who dedicated her life to the study of the lines, believed that they were part of a vast astronomic calendar whose figures marked different solar phases. That would be my bet, but still the question remains, how the heck did they do it?
In the afternoon, we’ll tour the Ica Regional Museum with Paracas weavings and Nazca ceramics as well as some well preserved mummies, even of children and wildlife. Skulls on display indicate that trepanning, which is the “art” of boring a hole in the skull for medical or mystical reasons, was practiced by the Nazca. Researchers suggest that evidence of further growth on some of the skulls indicate that two-thirds may have survived and lived on. That suggests there may have been valid reasons for the surgery–relieving intercranial pressure perhaps–rather than just for releasing evil spirits or entertaining mad priests or bored surgeons.
I’m sorry if this picture and entry seem a bit macabre, but things of this nature remind me how precarious life is and I guess that’s why it fascinates me so. How life turns out can be like the throw of the dice and as such seems to be balanced on one small word, too small in a way to consider mankind any more valuable than other forms of life. That word? L U C K. One of these skulls could just as easily have been mine or yours had we been born in a different time and place.
On a slightly less gruesome note, we’re off afterwards to enjoy the oasis amidst the sand dunes of Ica, the Huacachina Lagoon. It’s surrounded by Royal Palms and Date Palms, with which we’re very familiar after our years living in Las Vegas in Nevada where we had the latter, albeit small ones, in our back yard. According to local legend, when there is a full moon you can hear the sorrowful cry of a woman who decided to drown herself here when she learned her fiancé had been killed at war. At least his skull wasn’t in some mad Nazcan scientist or doctor’s lab to wind up as a macabre in a musuem for gringos like me to see and muse over.
After this it’s to the Las Dunas for dinner–assuming we’ll still able to eat with the memories of all those mummies and skulls–and to think about tomorrow, our last full day in Peru. While it’s the last day, it is a full one nonetheless.