Day 4 – Nazca
With each dune we passed I held my fingers tightly crossed in anticipation that it would be there, we would strap on boards and carve down the mountains. An hour earlier, a sand buggy had picked us up at the hotel with the promise of taking us off-roading and sandboarding on sand dunes in the Nazca desert. Yet, 45 minutes outside the city all we could see were rock-covered mountains and a view of a desert that seemed to stretch out indefinitely.
So when the buggy slowed by a pile of rocks, I was unsure why, until I saw it. There, in the middle of the desert stood a pyramid, completely deserted. Identified by our guide as the Adobe pyramid at Cahuachi, the structure used to be a ceremonial centre for the Nazca people several thousand years ago.
As we unstrapped ourselves from the buggy and approached the pyramid, bones were scattered through the sand. The ground was polluted with remains of clothing, hair, pottery and bones, the skulls so numerous that they could be easily mistaken for rocks. According to our tour guide, the reasons for this poor treatment are a lack of funds and that looters raid tombs in search of valuables. There was no security except for one watchman who warned us against climbing the ruins.
Once back on the buggy, our driver took us for a ride that made me thankful that the car was equipped with a roll cage. For half an hour we flew through the air, experiencing stomach-drops that made it seem like we were on a roller coaster without tracks.
The dune where we stopped to sandboard had a 360-degree view of the desert. Strapping on the board and heading down the hill was an exhilarating experience incomparable to anything I have done before. After several successful runs, I was exhausted and sat at the dune’s tip to watch the sunset. In a matter of minutes, the sun disappeared and we boarded the buggy once more. This time, it was to head back to the city under the stars of the Peruvian desert.
Day 9 – Lake Titicaca
From start to finish, this day was one of the most interesting. We left our hotel by rickshaw, the “local limousine” as our guide liked to call it, and had a short ride to the port of Puno on Lake Titicaca. Located on the border between Peru and Bolivia, this lake is known for Uros, which are floating, man-made islands built from reeds and reed roots.
After reaching these islands by motorboat, we received a tour and demonstration from the families that live there. We learnt how they maintain the island, how they produce genuine souvenirs and were taught a few words of the local dialect.
Though I felt that a lot of this experience was staged, one could not help but appreciate the colours of the tapestries and intricate reed sculptures the locals created. Each island has its own lookout tower, where we were able to have a view of the surrounding village. Then, we boarded a reed boat that toured us around the village and took us to a hut that stamped our passports.
From there, we got back on the motorboat and took a two-hour ride to the island of Amantani, where we spent the night in a local’s home. We were told that the main activity on the island was agriculture and that families often produce only enough to sustain themselves, not enough to sell. At the shore we were greeted by a woman we were told to refer to as our “Mama.” Like most of the women on the island, Mama spent the day knitting hats and scarves. Then, she invited us into her kitchen where we helped peel potatoes and prepare a typical dinner of soup, boiled potatoes and quinoa.
The night ended with a fiesta in the island’s recreational centre. We were dressed up in traditional outfits of skirts, blouses, belts and headscarves, each decorated with bright coloured images of flowers and birds. We danced along with our Mama and Papa to the songs of a local band until we were too tired to stand.
Day 15 &- Machu Picchu
After a three-day hike through the Peruvian Andes that included torrential rain, hail, sub-zero temperatures, and days of endless hiking in altitudes so high you could not catch your breath, I was worried this world wonder would not live up. Especially since the only reason Peru was my summer’s destination was because my travel-mate and best friend Lisa had Machu Picchu on her bucket list. Yet, here I was waiting in line at 5:00 a.m. to be one of the first few hundred of the day to enter the site.
Walking through the gates, it was only a matter of steps before we had a view of the Incan Empire ruins. From where we stood, we could see the entire site, which was compiled of houses, temples and terraces. Because the Spaniards never discovered this site during their conquest, most of the structures remain perfectly intact.
One of the site’s best-known artifacts is the Intihuatana stone, which indentifies the two yearly equinoxes. It is also though to have been used as an astronomic clock or harvest calendar. Our guide explained that twice a year the sun lines up directly above the pillar so that no shadow appears behind the stone at all. The architecture of the buildings was impressive, with the Temple of the Sun constructed of polished and carved stones of a quality comparable to modern structures.
We spent several hours touring through the site before the sunrise and it was only as we made our way back to the top watchtower that the sun slowly rose from behind the surrounding mountain peaks. The vast beauty before us was overwhelming and we spent the rest of the morning absorbing the wonder that is Machu Picchu.
At noon, we decided to do the 50-minute hike up to the Sun Gate, one of the entrances the Incas used to enter Machu Picchu. There, we had an aerial view of the site and the surrounding mountains. Soon after, we headed back down, catching a bus to the town of Aguas Calientes, where our entire tour group met for a celebratory meal.