Inca Archive

The Road to Arequipa

Puerto Inca’s Abbey Road. Click here for the socks version

We made tracks from Nazca on down to Arequipa, Peru’s white city, camping on sandy beaches in beautiful desert coves. First stop was Puerto Inca, once the main port of the Inca empire. From here, the Inca Chasqui relay runners ran the morning’s catch all the way up and over the towering Andes to the Inca capital of Cuzco, so the Inca could dine on fresh Corbina and Lenguado, or Sole.

Road’s end

After a morning swim, we toured the ruins of seaside Inca homes and storehouses that run up the hillside away from the cove, behind a cluster of bungalows built by the Puerto Inka resort.

A pensive moment

We took a long hike through desert moonscapes and down into rocky coves awash in foamy turquoise and emerald water.  Humboldt penguins are said to shack up around these parts, but we missed them.

Black pavement, pink sky. Mongo takes a sunset shot

Drew and Katarina went for an aborted, cove-hopping swim that ended with Drew gouging his foot on a sea urchin as he bolted to escape the icy waters. The southern Pacific’s Humboldt current is not for the light-hearted: the water temp felt like it dropped at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the 1,000 kilometers we traveled from my Lima surf spots. It was like taking a dip in Lake Tahoe in May, for those that have had the misfortune.

Burning man, meet Peru

On the road, Mongo proves to be strong like bull but slow like turtle. Though we didn’t get very far on any given day, the camping is great anywhere we pulled over along the Pan-American.

Camp at no place in particular on the side of the Pan-Americana

Our final stop came in La Punta beach, Camana. The long beach stretches past the horizon for miles on each end, but that Sunday you couldn’t see a speck of sand it was so full of day-trippers from Arequipa.

La Punta Beach = Little Tahiti

We tucked into a beachside hut for fresh cebiche and a couple of rounds of sweet Maracuja juice, spiking it with the last of La Blanco´s Pisco acholado from our T’inka sendoff celebration. As our food hangover kicked in we sat and watched kids whip past our perch in ATVs, and decided we needed one more day on the beach before heading up into the Andes. I think there’s an unwritten rule that says when you quit your job you have to spend at least a week with your shirt off near a body of water. If there isn’t, there is now.

Home, Sweet Home, La Punta Beach, Camana

By dusk La Punta is empty, and all ours. We are treated to a parade of bright orange crabs scuttling back and forth along the tide line as the sun goes down, and again the next day during our salty morning bath.

View from Arequipa rooftops up to Chichani and Pichu Pichu mountains: Lovely smogset…

Colonial Arequipa is a welcome respite from the road. Ringed by no longer white volcanic peaks, and built of pearly white volcanic stone, or sillar, the prosperous oasis city is in many ways Peru at its best. We tuck into delicious jumbo river shrimp soups, barhop down cobblestone alleys, and tour a dimly lit museum housing one of Peru’s strangest marvels – a fully preserved Inca ice princess under freezing glass – all under the benevolent gaze of the spectacular El Misti volcano.

Colonial Arequipa

Arequipa’s got the rep of being Peru’s elegant second city and a bastion of rich conservatism, even though it has the distinction of producing the messianic founder of the Maoist Shining Path, Abimael Guzman.

He eats, he sleeps: Burrito Miguelito

The city is also well known for its hospitality, however, and it didn’t disappoint, thanks to local green businessman Reth Córdova. After giving us a crash course in the pitfalls of Peruvian biodiesel production, Reth was kind enough to invite us out to Paladar, an excellent Turkish-Peruvian restaurant he partly owns, and to take us up to his second home in the majestic Colca Canyon. And of course, he loaded us up with a full tank of turbo juice.

Off to Colca Canyon. Nothing like a full tank of wegetables

- Andy, Photos by Elliot

Mystery and bad omens left by Peru’s Nazca civilization

The mysterious Nazca lines are a series of giant geoglyphs left in one of Peru’s southern deserts by the pre-Inca, Nazca culture (200 BC to 700 AD). Best visible by air, the enormous monkeys, condors, spiders, and other animals have puzzled scholars for decades while helping fuel bad movies about alien intervention in pre-Colombian America (my theory is Spielberg only makes good movies in odd numbered years). For more serious analysis of the purpose the geoglyphs served, check out and the work of Maria Reiche, the “Lady of the Lines.

The cheap way to see Nasca. You see fewer geoglyphs, but avoid the hassle of small aircraft . Make sure you do your research and fly with a good company if you do fly.

One thing scientists do think they finally have figured out about Nazca for sure, is how the civilization that created the geoglyphs managed to kill itself off. And the theory does not bode well for us 21st century kids.

A study by Dr David Beresford-Jones at Cambridge University’s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research reports that the Nazca peoples hurried along their own demise by razing groves of huarango trees integral to the desert ecosystem they inhabited. The huarango, a tree that can live for more than a millenium but is threatened today in its native Peruvian habitat,  plays a key role in fixing moisture and nitrogen into the desert soil and maintaining its fertility. By wiping out the trees to plant more cotton and corn, a civilization that flourished for centuries exposed itself to the desertification, soil erosion, and flash El Niño flooding that eventually led to its demise. For more info, you can check out the McDonald Institute’s archive for news clips and an interview with the doctor himself, or settle in for this excellent short documentary on the huarango: “The King of the Desert is Dying.”

The Nazca Tree geoglyph, a huarango?

With humans having cut down half the planet’s original forests, mostly in the second half of the twentieth century, and with 13 million hectares still being lost annually, the Nazca example should stand as a clear warning of the devastating affects deforestation and ecosystem destruction can have on human civilizations. Ecosystem destruction isn’t just the stuff of  treehuggers and captain planet fanatics anymore, it’s a threat to all humankind, as the Pentagon has duly noted. Let’s hope we can get our act together and figure out how to incentivize forest protection soon to keep our global ecosystem from going the way of Nazca’s so many years ago.

Mongo lookin pretty by the lines.

-Andy, Photos by Elliot

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