Saturday, August 12, 2006

Onto Nazca...and oh, what a journey it was.

My flight from Cuzco to Lima arrived in the late afternoon. By the time I got to the hotel, it was just getting dark. I decided to make a quick trip to the Metro supermarket to pick up some water and munchies for my trip to Nazca. The trip description said that it was going to be a 6 hour bus ride from Lima to Nazca so I wanted to be prepared.....little did I know then that food was going to be the least of my concerns!

Back at the hotel, I did my nightly routine and since there's free internet access, I took the opportunity to update the blog.

I awoke early the next morning, had breakfast and took a quick walk in the nearby park. I find that the air is so polluted that I can barely stay outdoors for an hour before my throat becomes really irritated. Confined indoors, I went back to updating the blog.

When I checked into the hotel, the receptionist had handed me a trip dossier that told me that someone from GAP would be at the hotel at 1pm to take me to the bus station. So, I packed what I needed for two days into my daypack and left my backpack with hotel storage.

At 1pm, I was in the lobby waiting. By 1:15pm, no one had shown up. I know I was on Peruvian time but my gut told me that something was not right so I decided to ask the receptionist to call GAP to find out what the deal was. The first reply that came back was that they did not have me down for a tour to Nazca but I had the confirmation voucher to show that I did indeed purchase the tour. After a few calls back and forth, I finally got on the phone with a guy named Brian who told me that a driver would soon be buy to pick me up and take me to the bus station. The driver would also buy my ticket for me. Let's just call this "Plan A" for now.

Shortly after I hung up the phone, a driver did show up. I got in the van and a few miles later, the van stops in front of a house and the driver motions for me to get out. So there I am, standing outside of a house.....somewhere in Lima. A seconds later, a guy and girl appear. He's Brian (the guy I spoke with on the phone) and she's Purna (spelling??) and I was at the Lima offices of GAP, otherwise known as the "GAP Shack".

Brian tells me that there is now a change in plan - call it "Plan B". I was still going with the driver to the bus station, he would still buy me my ticket.....but the ticket would not be from Lima to Nazca. It would be from Lima to Ica. At Ica, some guy named Raul would meet me and then put me on a collectivo (mini bus like the one I took from Urubamba to Ollyantaymbo) that would then take me the rest of the way to Nazca. Okay, I said.

Then, a few minutes later, a scruffy, dark haired guy appears and introduces himself as Khan (spelling??). Khan tells me that there is yet another change in plan - call this "Plan C ". He is going to accompany me to the bus station and buy my ticket for me....., not the driver. Okay, I said.

At this point, the sane person in me should have put my foot down, demanded that the trip to Nazca be cancelled, that my money be fully refunded and that GAP pick up the hotel tab for the additional night that I would have to stay in Lima. I think if I had kicked up enough of a fuss, they would have found a way to do this for me.

But, I had come too far to bail out so I decided to go with the flow and got into the van with Khan.

When we arrived at the bus station, Khan got out and bought the ticket.



Okay, now we have "Plan D". I would still going to Nazca but it would be a direct ride - there would be no need to transfer in Ica. That was the good news. The bad news was that it would be a 7 1/2 hour bus ride and the bus would be leaving at 3pm which would put me in Nazca at 10:30pm.....at the earliest. Okay, I said. I could have still bailed out at this point but didn't.

Khan stood with me to wait for the bus until we found out that the bus would be delayed by an hour - we would be leaving at 4pm instead of 3pm. That meant arriving in Nazca close to midnight. Again, I could have still bailed out but didn't.

Khan went on his way and I decided to snap a few photos - starting with a destination map so I would know what towns I would be passing by along the way to Nazca.



The bus pulled into the station at 4pm but by the time the passengers were on board and luggage loaded into the storage compartment below, it was close to 4:40pm before the bus pulled out of the station.

At this point, I realized there was no turning back despite my now growing fears that I really did not know where I was going and if I did make it to Nazca, whether or not there would be anyone to meet me there to take me to the hotel. I reached up and clutched the Andean cross that Simon had given us on our first day in Cuzco. He said it would keep us safe and I was praying that that would be the case for me. I decided to just relax and try and enjoy the ride.

There were two bus drivers for the long trip to Nazca so they could trade off driving duties.

Shortly after we left the station, one of the drivers turned on the music (I think it was a CD player) so there was salsa music in the background. Then one guy came back, loaded a DVD and started the chain of D grade movies (English dubbed into Spanish) that would play on the TV (hanging above my head) until we almost reached Nazca. Add the salsa music to the sound of the TV to the general chatter of people on a bus and you get the strangest cacophany of sounds you've ever heard in the confined space of a bus! If it had all been in English, I think I would have had a headache after listening to the noise but because it was all in a language I didn't fully understand, it didn't seem to be such an annoyance....in a very odd sort of way.

As we made our way out of the city and the first sign that I saw that indicated we were going south, along the coast, was the sight of vendors selling beach items and then sand and surf of the Pacific Ocean. The clouds that shroud Lima extend down the coast so I don't think that it ever gets sunny on the beaches of Peru - there always seems to be a cloudy haze.



Soon the landscape turned to giant sand dunes and every now and again, you would catch sight of someone paragliding. There were also constant reminders of the poverty in Peru.



About an hour after we left the bus station, it started to get dark. We arrived into Chincha at around 7:30pm and it was bustling with activity. A street vendor boarded and I bought a packet of roasted corn and a packet of chicharrones (fried pig skin) for 2 soles - that, a Clif Mojo bar and the bottled water that I had brought along were to be my dinner that night.

At our next stop, San Clemente, we picked up several European travellers who were all part of a conducted tour group. I fell asleep after we left San Clemente and didn't wake up until we were on the outskirts of Ica.

We pulled into a roadside rest stop in Ica at about 9pm and most everyone on the bus got off to stretch their legs. I opted to stay on board. After about a 40 minute pit stop, we headed to the Ica bus station and picked up another two passengers.

On our way out of Ica, we hit a bit of a traffic block. The streets in Ica are narrow and the city was bustling with people out and about town - even at that late hour on a Sunday night. At one point, the bus turned onto a street that was blocked by several double/triple parked cars. A Peruvian car (compact size by American standards) could easily be driven down the street but there was no way the bus was going to make it. So we had to wait for the drivers to come and move their vehicles.....one by one. Correction, we first had to wait for someone to find the respective drivers and tell them to come and move their cars! It took about 20 minutes before we could get rolling again.

After Ica, came Palpa and then.....finally, after 7+ hours, we arrived in Nazca!! As we pulled into Nazca, I saw the neon sign identifying the hotel that I was to be staying in. I again reached up and clutched my Andean cross and prayed that there would be someone from GAP to meet me to take me to the hotel.

As soon as I got off the bus, a guy dressed like a security guard approached and asked me if I was Julee. I replied yes and in turn, I asked him who he was and where he was taking me to. I can't remember his name but he replied that he was with GAP and that he would be taking me to the Alegria Hotel - all correct information. We walked two blocks up to the hotel and as I was checking in, the receptionist handed the phone to me. It was Khan calling to make sure that I had arrived okay and to tell me what the game plan was for the next day. I was really glad that he had called.

I think my adrenaline level must have spiked during my bus ride because I was so wide awake, I didn't fall asleep for quite some time even though I knew I was tired.