Arequipa to Nazca...almost 600 kms. Was it doable? Yes, but you had to be motivated. I wasnīt. I looked for a distraction and found one only two hours out of Arequipa.
Nestled in the foothills of the Andes was Petroglifos de Toro Muerto, a large area of petroglyphs heretofore unassigned to any culture. Dating from the time of the Wari, about 800 AD, some of these are finely executed. The sunbaked mountain side sweltered in the 35C heat. It was impossible to stagger amongst the boulders, slog through the sand and seek out all of the art work. Over two thousand petroglyphs exist in this one area alone. Two hours of labour left me exhausted and dehydrated. I retreated to town to recharge on fresh Trucha Frita and a liter of coke.
The afternoon was waning fast and it was time to select a room for the night. We had been in Arequipa for two nights so it was time to camp. As the sun set over the Pacific a deserted road beckoned and wended its way to an overlook to the Pacific beyond. A solitary fisherman drew his nets in the water below us. We met him later. He was seventy-seven and was still plying his trade from sunrise to beyond sunset. He was bare-foot as he trudged the trail from the sea to where we were. His well worn and patched clothing advertised his humble roots. He was totally happy and contented with his lot. He had found God and shared, with us, a few scriptures he had committed to memory.
Standing no more than 5 ft 5 inches, his barrel chest belied his life of labour handling fishing nets. His dark, creased face spoke of long days in the sun. As he stood there he looked the quintessential part of Anthony Quinn in "Shoes of the Fisherman". His features, his dress, his mannerisms were identical...it was uncanny.
The Atacama. What a wonderous desert. What a vast and desolate place. What a land of contrasts and change. What a varied landscape wrought of desolation. What a spiritually, forbidding place. What a wrecker of lives and dreams. What a place of dreams. What an eternally humbling place.
I have travelled almost 5,000 kms from the southern beginning of the Atacama, at Santiago, Chile, to Nazca, Peru. I have travelled, on a previous journey, the northern 3,000 +/- kms from the Ecuador/Peruvian border to Nazca, although this is not labelled Atacama. I do not believe, there exists on earth, an equivalent distance of total desolation and deprivation as can be claimed by this entire area.
It is wonderful...it is spiritual...it is indeed a treat to have shared this special place from its northern terminus to its southern end. I have criss-crossed it east to west and north to south. I have seen only a little of the destruction it can wreak. I have witnessed only a little of its beauty. I have experienced only a little of the desolation it lays claim to. But, I have crossed it and challenged it and shared some of its special, hidden places. The ATACAMA.
Just south of Nazca at Cementerio de Chauchilla, lies a vast burial ground utilized by the Nazca culture. Plundered by grave robbers and thieves these ancient graves were torn asunder...the bones of the deceased cast upon the desert like rain upon the ocean. Their peaceful and placid slumber disturbed for evermore. The INC (National Peruvian Archaeological Society) has now taken over the area, stopped the plunder and re-consolidated the bones and the graves. About a dozen graves remain open, protected by shelters, as a testimony to what once had been created by a remarkable, ancient culture. A culture so advanced that the quality of its textiles surpassed not only all contemporaries but those of succeeding future generations, to this date.
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