September 04, 2008 GMT
Lines in the desert

Lines in the desert.

My route has left The Pan-American Highway and now takes me inland. The landscape is dry and dusty, and there are 700metre sand dunes in the distance, an adventure playground; imagine sand-boarding down a 2000ft sand dune! My road takes me up and through these sand dunes into the dry mountains I saw in the distance. This is desert country again with only the odd splash of green where an underground river nears the surface. Then as the road passes over a small hill the flat desert plane of Nasca is spread out before me. Incredibly the highway passes straight through the middle of this World Heritage Site, but I expect the highway was there before any one realised that there was anything here but rocks and sand. The road heads as straight as an arrow across the plane and I can see trucks passing over another little hill well over 3 miles away. Halfway across the plane I pass a viewing station but do not stop as I want to see it from the air tomorrow.

Straight as an arrow to Nasca

Riding through the busy streets of Nasca searching for a hotel, I am surprised how un-commercialised it is. The same run down streets and shops, the dogs and old men dozing in the sun in the plaza, and a busy street market, it could be any small Peruvian town. The hotel I choose, in truth it is the only one that looked open to me, has small bungalow accommodations at the rear with small terraces outside to sit and laze on, as well as being in line of sight of the parked up bike. After a walk around the streets to get my bearings and having chosen a place to eat I sit with an after dinner beer and watch a gaggle of elderly American tourists waddle up the street. Behind me a couple take a table and I hear the unmistakable sound of a Yorkshire accent. We talk for a while and then I head back to the hotel.
The next morning after breakfast I head out to look for an ATM and am accosted by a ticket tout who offers me a flight to see the lines. Not only that but there is another couple booked on the flight, so I get the co-pilots seat; how could I refuse?
A bumpy taxi ride to the airport, a swift introduction to my Korean co-passengers and we climb aboard the small high winged monoplane. The interior looks a bit like a badly maintained Morris Minor with extras, but it all seems to work ok and we get the ok from the tower as we taxi across the apron.

Looks great in the photo, just don’t look too close in real life!

The pilot banks right almost as soon as the wheels leave the ground, or so it seems, and the landscape of the town outskirts, peppered with green bushes and little houses appears through my window. Our pilot takes us to each location and circles both clockwise and anti-clockwise so the view can be seen from either side of the plane. There are one or two little mewing sounds from behind me, so it seems the Korean girl is not to keen on flying in a small plane, but on the other side of her I hear the continuous click and whir of an expensive SLR camera so guess her partner will console her when our feet touch the ground again. This is really exhilarating! I’m enjoying the banking and turning along with the sudden updrafts and downdrafts from the desert below almost as much as seeing these fantastic motifs set out in the desert by a long gone civilisation, maybe more so dare I say, but that would make me sound like a Philistine, heaven forbid! A photo is worth a thousand words, so they say, but I have had to enhance these quite a lot so you can see anything at all. I'm sure there are good photos elsewhere if you want to search for them.

The Whale (at the top) and The Scorpion.

The Astronaut. (on the hillside)
The Frog. (note the viewing tower and main road in top left corner)

Back on the ground my guide has left to tout a few more tickets but left me a ride back to town. It is with some amusement that I mount pillion on a small 100cc motorbike and with me holding on for dear life, we weave our way around potholes and through the traffic back to the hotel. What an enjoyable morning this has turned out to be.

Now once more on my own sturdier mount the next morning I head for the next ‘must do’ in Peru, Cusco and Machupicchu unaware that I will be knocked out by the stunning scenery on the way. The road climbs steadily out of the plane, through barren small mountains with verdant valleys. The little town of Puquio is a mess with a torn up detour through its back streets, but the horizon promises high mountains ahead.

Yes, the road does go out of the picture and come back again, many many times.

Not only is it fun, you get this fantastic view as well.

Further up the road I come to a sharp bend at the top of a mountain pass and there are skid marks all over the road.
‘Wow!’ I think, somebody certainly overcooked it here.’ But the way they drive here made it no surprise. Around the bend a few hundred meters there were a couple of cars and a lorry stopped, nothing unusual about that, until I got level and saw the safety barrier burst open and the debris on the road. A little further on the road turned across the slope and I could see the ruined shell of a bus in the rocks with paper and cloth still blowing around along its route to its resting place. ‘This has only just happened I thought, maybe an hour ago.’ About a mile down the road I passed a group of people, heavily ladened with bags, boxes and reels of plastic water pipe. It was only after passing them that I realised that these were the surviving passengers from the bus!! They had been left to make their own way to the next town or maybe the hospital to see loved ones who had not been so lucky. Unfortunately there was not much help I could offer, having no room for a passenger. I briefly thought of unloading the bike and offering to ferry them, but with insufficient Spanish for the task, and all the stuff they had, it would be an almost impossible task, much to my regret at my inability to help I carried on.

Wreck of the bus, clothes still blowing in the breeze where they caught on the shattered windows.

The road follows a river gorge through the mountains and I am knocked out by the view, but dusk is coming on and it starts to rain, I begin to worry both about the petrol situation and driving at night in the rain, when I get to the small bus stop town of Chalhuance. The hotel is basic to say the least, but it has a lock-up yard out back and a small cantina downstairs, so who wants to worry about the cold and the wet, especially after seeing such fantastic scenery.

Gorgeous Gorges


The road follows the river gorge, crossing and re-crossing the raging torrent below. All too soon I have to branch off and head back up into mountain passes where the road zig-zags up and down the mountain sides, then through lush valleys that you can see are following the general direction towards the higher ranges ahead. After crossing through green pastured farmland set in wide valleys, I eventually see the city of Cusco spread out before me.

Mountains and terraces, the Inca heartland.

Not too far ahead lies Cusco.

The normal thing happens; I get totally lost for a while before getting my bearings and try to find a reasonable hotel. As you would expect from a place as world famous as Cusco, there are many. The first one I try does not have a garage but offers to let me park my bike in reception, unfortunately there is no way that I can get my bike, huge by local standards, through the dog leg created by the glass doors. The next one I have more luck with and ride around the back streets and alleys to reach the garage at the rear. The hotel is a proper 3 star hotel, very plush by recent standards, and a good hot shower, a pleasant meal and a good night’s sleep prepares me for the days ahead.

Next: Machu Picchu

Posted by Derek Fairless at 12:26 AM GMT

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