Next stop: Nazca.
Yes, the infamous, enigmatic Nazca lines. Ok, so here`s a little history for those who are interested. Basically, spread across an arid 500km rock-strewn plain, lies over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and over 70 animal designs. But as to how they got there or why is one of the world`s greatest archeological mysteries! It`s pretty difficult to see the lines from ground level, but viewed from above you can see how they form a network of enormous figures and channels. They are HUGE! Many of the lines run for several kilometers across the desert. To me, the animals are most intriguing. There`s all types: a monkey, hummingbird, spider, frog, lizard, and many more. There`s even this little figure that looks like an astronaut man! Maybe Elton John was involved in creating these lines???
While the lines have been counted and identified, they remain myseterious and have many theories behind their construction. A popular theory is that they were an astronomical calender, another is that they were used for agricultural purposes, some think the lines were used to worship the gods, others think that they were important walkways, linking important sites together. People have come from all over to try to reason the lines and with them have come some pretty wild theories. One that tickles my fancy is that scientists suppose the Nazca people knew how to construct hot air balloons, and that they would go on "joy rides" and observe the lines from the air! Haha! The other theory I enjoy, that I want to discuss with my Aunt Ann, is the one that the lines were constructed as alien landing sites!
Victoria believes that the lines marked mummies and treasures buried beneathe them. An intriguing theory!! I think we just found the plot for Dan Brown`s next novel! Anyways, we passed on doing the flight over the lines because we had heard horror stories of plane crashes, hijackings, and major motion sickness. Instead we opted for the cheaper version which consists of climbing a three story observation tower. Pretty dinky but it gave us a good few of a few designs. Nothing spectacular but definitely interesting (and kind of frustrating that they don`t have any concrete answers).
After poking around Nazca a little more, we caught the 10 hour bus to Arequipa where we were to reconvene with the `rents for Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, when we met up, Mom wasn`t feeling too well (Peru can be pretty harsh on the digestive system) but it was a happy reuninon nonetheless! Christmas was very relaxing. We went down to the main plaza and we watched some traditional parades and dances and enjoyed the pigeons in the park. We also snacked on some Panèton (Peruvian fruitcake)! It`s funny because in the US, fruitcake is such a joke, but they go NUTS for it down here! It`s EVERYWHERE and you can`t escape its wrath!
The day after Christmas, we toured the Monasterio de Santa Cantalini. I was kind of churched out by this point, but this place BLEW my MIND! Back in the day, the monatery held a whole society of nuns. But this was no Sound of Music, this place was absolutely atrocious. I have to say I was kind of horrified the entire time (I think I was taking the whole thing a little more personally because back in the 1500s, it was obligatory for the second daughter to become a nun). Basically, if I had lived in Arequipa at this time, I would have been ripped away from my family at the ripe age of 12 and sentenced to a life of praying and solitude. I wouldn`t have been allowed any communication with the outside world for 4 years. After my 4 years of being a "novice" was over, I would be allowed to talk to my family through a dark screen that didn`t allow a clear view or any physical contact. Say goodbye to hugs and kisses. I wouldn`t be allowed to talk to anyone besides the preist, except for two hours out of the day. My daily schedule would consist of praying or listening to sermons. Many of the nuns fasted often and had to pay penance to their dear lord (penance meaning beating their chests with rocks or wearing vests of barbed wire under their clothes). The girls really had no escape because if they refused to be a nun, they were cast out, shunned, and sentenced themselves and their whole families to eternal damnation. Yeah, pretty disturbing. Today, a group of nuns live secluded in the monastery, but now the rules aren`t as strict and they get to choose that lifestyle. Not like I would have anyways, but after that tour there is NO way I would ever go into nunnery.
To contrast the sanctitude of the monastery, we went to a Peruvian bullfight afterwards. Now don`t be alarmed, Peruvian bullfights aren`t as bloodthirsty as the ones in Spain. In Peru, it involves putting two bulls against each other (supposedly for the favors of a female cow) until one of the bulls realizes he`s beaten and runs away before any real damage is done. It was an interesting cultural experience, but definitely not my sport of choice. It honestly seemed like the equivalent to an American baseball game because it was fairly slow going and was more of a social event and an excuse to eat junk food and drink lots of beer.
After watching cows all afternoon, we realized we were craving some major steak! We went to a fancy steakhouse called ZigZags and got ourselves some nice juicy meat! We even tried alpaca and austrich. It was all delicious and was the perfect end to a good day.
We toured around Arequipa some more. Poked our heads in some churches and even saw "Juanita, the Ice Princess". Juanita is a mummy they found in the Andean mountains that gave anthropologists heaps of information on the Incan culture because she had been perfectly preserved in ice for all these years.
Overloaded with info, we decided to get some air in our lungs and some movement in our muscles and we headed out to the Colca Canyon. The Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the US`s Grand Canyon at an impressive 4,160m. It is the world`s second deepest canyon and only loses to its neighbor canyon by a few meters. We signed up for a trek that would take us down to the bottom of the canyon and back out in two days. The landscapes were spectacular and reminded me of a weird combination of Middle Earth and the landscape from King Kong. We hiked all day to the bottom of the canyon and stayed in this random, but beautiful, oasis at the bottom. We were all feeling a little sore from all the pounding of the down hills and I was very impressed with my mother who climbed down like it was nothing. I think I felt older than she did! I hope I can do that when I`m her age! The next morning, we woke up early and climbed a few thousand meters to get out. You know, just a few thou. It was quite the feat and we all felt proud when we reached the top! Colca: check. Next stop: Kilimanjaro :)
The high of conquering the canyon was soon followed by the bitter taste of having to say goodbye to Mom and Dad. They unfortunately had lives and jobs they had to get back to and had to leave Victoria and I as a duo once more. We said a somewhat tearful goodbye, and as they caught a plane to the US, we caught a bus to Puno.
Puno as a town, isn`t all that interesting to me (no offense Puñens!) but the real attraction is Lake Titticaca. I mean the name itself is a total crack up, how could you go wrong?? It is supposedly the lake at the highest altitude in the world. Also, according to Ican mythology, it is where the world was created when their god emerged from the Lake. Well phew! I was able to make at least one pilgrammage before I die.
Lake Titticaca held one of the weirdest lifestyles I have EVER witnessed. The people who live there, live across the lake on FLOATING islands. We joined the masses of tourists (which weirded me out a little) on a boat tour and saw how the people there weave grasses and reeds together to create these super thick floating islands. Who the heck would ever thing to live on a bunch of reeds in the middle of the lake?? Well, as a defensive mechanism from preIncan days, these people escaped to their own little private islands. This must be where all those crazies in Dubai got the idea! It`s a pretty funny lifestyle. If they need to get to another "neighborhood," or the "bathroom," they have to go by paddle boat, or pull it over by rope. Most of the islands are anchored down though, as to not float off to Bolivia. The people there have been majorly influenced by loads eager tourists (the positives and negatives of tourism can be argued here) but at least many of the islands stay secluded, away from the direct tourist path.
Our boat tour also took us to an actual land island where we got to experience the community of Taquile. This was another interesting culture because here, they live in a style of communism. The people here live off the land, pretty simply, but are actually able to function in the communistic system without any corruption. They only have three concrete rules: Don`t be lazy, don`t lie, and don`t steal. Seems pretty reasonable no? They also have some other intresting traditions. For example, a couple must be together for at least three years before marriage. And then, when the couple wants to wed, the town decides whether the couple is suitable for each other. Divorce is also strictly prohibited, and divorceès are forced to leave the island. Survivor status! I enjoyed seeing the people there and how much culture they had. We saw some really beautiful traditional song and dances. The people also all wear traditional clothing and the color of their hats have very specific meanings (single, married, or even job descriptions). Everyone in Taquile seemed pretty content with life and I admired the superb simplicity of it all.
We headed back to the mainland to celebrate New Year`s Eve. Victoria and I were just by ourselves but we went out to this restaurant and got to experience the whole shebang. It was a whole fancy meal combined with a show. They seem to have a lot more traditions in Peru than we do in the states for this day. First of all, everyone and everything is decked out in yellow because it is the color of good luck. They also have all these different acts you can perform if you`re wishing for things for the new year (aka. run around the block with a suitcase if you want to travel or take a bath with rose petals at 12 if you want love). Vicki and I didn`t have the chance to do either but we ate 12 grapes for 12 wishes and were then blessed with cocoa leaves. At 12 everyone toasted and got up and starting dancing. We continued to dance the night away-- a good way to start of the new year :)
2011 is going to be awesome!