|Yesterday was arrival day at the Hotel Embajadores for our Gap Adventure Tour around Southern Peru. We were staying across the street at the Hotel Ducado since our arrival in Lima, so it was easy for us to pick up our bags and simply walk them across to our tour's joining hotel. In the evening we met out tour leader, Enrique who lives in Arequipa, a small city of one million people that we will be visiting as we make our way around the southern half of Peru. Our tour group had seven other passengers besides ourselves, five of whom we met last night...Gordon and Charlotte from Winnipeg, Alan who is originally from the UK and Cecelia who is originally from Sweden, both of whom are traveling together and make their home in the Netherlands and Trudy from Sydney, Australia. After our group meeting, we all headed out for dinner to a local Peruvian restaurant called Tanta...the owner has become very successful with four different restaurants and also has a television show. We tried the local Peruvian specialty which is "ceviche", raw fish marinated with lime juice from special limes that grow only in Northern Peru and which have a very high acidity content...it is quite like having sashimi...with the flavour of lime juice and some herbs...it was very good! After dinner it was off to bed.....we had a long drive ahead of us to the town of Nazca, with a couple of stops along the way...morning came way to early at 3:45 a.m...we had to get under way at 5:30 a.m. to ensure we got in all our planned activities for the day...at breakfast we met the last two members of our group, Carol from Vernon and Sandy from Kelowna, a couple of girlfriends traveling together...it's interesting the composition of different tours around the world...in Egypt we were the oldest of the group, in China we were in the middle and here Barb is the youngest and I'm the third youngest...we headed south out of Lima making our way to the arid lowlands of the south coast....for the most part the drive was thru barren desert on the one side and coastal waters on the other, but as we reached the area around Canete, agricultural production is evident with crops of cotton, corn, potatoes and paprika peppers visible from the highway along with some vineyards. We carried on our way thru to Chincha, a small town that is renowned for its wild Afro-Peruvian music often played in the penas of the district of El Carmen... Peru has its share of African heritage just the same as the US since the Spaniards brought African slaves to serve them....Chincha was recently subjected to an earthquake in August, 2007 and damage was visible throughout the town...the same earthquake also hit the next town, Pisco, which takes its name from the white-grape brandy that is produced in this area and which is used to make the Pisco Sour...Peru and Chile argue over who was the first to make this drink and both lay claim to it being their national drink...Pisco is the point where one can head out to see the Peninsula de Paracas and the nearby Isla Ballestas with its incredible wildlife and it is also of historical significance, having been home to one of the most highly developed pre-Inca cultures known as the Paracas from 1300 BC to 200 AD....we turned off at Pisco to go to Paracas, a seaside town where we got on board a boat captained by Leo and with a local guide Luis, headed out to Isla Ballestas just off the coast where we marveled at the various bird-life and the sea lion colonies, not to mention the rock formations of the islands themselves...as the boat made its way towards Isla Ballestas birds began dropping out of the sky and crashing into the water....we were astounded until Luis told us that they were Peruvian Boobies who were catching fish...apparently these birds dive into the water at a breakneck speed of 147 kph and just before they hit the water (so as not to break their necks) they blow air out of their beaks which creates an opening in the water's surface so as to ease their entry into the water and allows them to catch the fish which they spied while flying high above just mere seconds before...Isla Ballestas is famous for its place in the development of the fortunes of Peru during the mid-19th century...the islands were covered in bird droppings that in places was as much as 50 metres deep...and which was exported overseas as fertilizer...today, fertilizer exports are at a minimum with the guano being collected for shipment about every five years... enroute to the islands we saw a three-pronged Candelabra etched into the coastal hillside, some 128 metres high, 47 metres wide and 20 - 30 centimetres deep...there are three accounts as to how the markings came to be...the first is that they were made by the same civilization that carved the Nazca Lines (more on these tomorrow) since the carvings were similar in style to those near Nazca that were made from 900 BC to 600 AD...the second theory is that the Spanish conquistador who liberated Peru in the early 1800's, was a Freemason and that after sending letters back and forth with the earlier Spanish settlers, Freemasons that were here already left a sign for San Martin to find to help him locate the area...the third version is that aliens made the markings at some point during their extraterrestrial travels...whichever one holds true, the markings are indeed an interesting sight...after our trip out to the islands and back, we stopped at El Choritos Restaurant for a Peruvian seafood lunch and then made our way towards Ica and stopped at El Catador, a place where wine and pisco is made by artisans still using traditional methods of production...the Peruvians claim that they still cling to the old time-tested traditional ways of making Pisco and wine using clay pots to ferment the juice and old cisterns and stills for distilling while the Chileans use stainless steel containers and modernized methods...for this reason, Peruvians feel that they rightfully lay claim to being the originators of Pisco brandy and the Pisco Sour...after sampling five different varieties of Pisco (wine, pre-mixed Pisco Sour, two types of Pisco brandy and a cream-based liquor containing pisco and fig liquor) we weaved our way back onto the bus and continued on our way thru the town of Ica to the Huachachino Oasis. This is truly an oasis in the middle of the desert...a small lake fed by an underground spring surrounded by palm trees and sand dunes...the likes and size of which we have never seen before...the sand hills between Radway and Redwater don't have nuthin' on these guys..in Huacachino we had the opportunity to go for a dune-buggy ride...seven of our group (including Barb) plus Enrique (who goes by Kike) strapped ourselves into the dune buggy and headed for the sand dunes with our driver Alex....as we made our way up the first dune, Alex kicked the accelerator and Barb gave a squeal (not of delight, but of panic...she does not like carnival rides let alone going up and down humongous sand dunes in a go-cart)...we made our way up and down the spectacular wind-swept sand stopping on top of the dunes to take pictures of the town of Ica in the distance as well as of some of the dunes themselves...in another spot Alex took us straight up a steep hill and as we crested the top, he brought the cart to rest for a brief moment, like a rollercoaster about to make its descent, then we plunged downward almost vertically, under the grip of the dune-buggy's engaged engine, making our way safely to the bottom...we came upon another oasis, "Orovilca" and saw the remnants of a road that was built by convicts in the days of yore and which was covered over by the constantly shifting sands...a few more spins on the desert sands and we returned to home base, with a little sand in our clothes, teeth and hair, but none the worse for wear....despite being scared almost to death, Barb still enjoyed the ride...all she could say when she un-strapped herself from the cart was "Oh my God!!!"....after a Pisco Sour and a quick shower to wash away the sand we were back on the bus and carrying on our way to Nazca, another two plus hours down the Panamericana Highway thru coastal mountains and along stretches of arid desert flats...we arrived after dark and made our way to the Hotel Majoro (in Quechua, majoro derives from "Ma" meaning place and "Qoro" meaning thickets or together, "a place of thickets) a renovated old Hacienda that was preceded by a convent which existed at this location from 1698 to 1910...it is wonderfully decorated and appointed with original paintings by Peruvian artists, pottery, tapestries and art from ancient cultures and with Colonial and Republican furnishings...a most comfortable place to stay...we look forward to what tomorrow will bring...