Peru: South to Araquipa

Peru is about twice that of France in size and has a population of around twenty million people. Five million of these live in the metropolitan area of Lima. Lima is placed almost in the middle of the two thousand three hundred kilometre ribbon of desert which stretches the length of the Peruvian coast. It is a vast uninviting landscape dotted with the occasional oasis or fishing village. Covered with massive sand dunes, rocky interludes. The lone bird migrating overhead.

The outskirts of Lima are a mass of depressing looking shanty towns. Slums. No running water or sewerage or planned roads. People fighting for the most meagre of existences in the most uncompromising of lands. The streets into the city are unkept, full of holes and traps for the unsuspecting driver. People scrounge through the endless piles of garbage, small fires burn and the smell unpleasant. A child sits complacently in the middle, flies festering its face. A bike repair shop has sprung up in the middle of nowhere; a bus stop full of blank faces.

The traffic becomes heavier as we round a corner and join a major traffic vein. There's increased noise; mufflers must be seen as an unwarranted optional extra, and there are continued exclamations of horn language. There are no marked lanes and it's a free-for-all. Australia's worst "hoon-lout" highway. The cars are old, crinkled fenders and broken lights the fashion. Fumes seem visible and shimmer upward in corrugated waves to join the brown haze above.

We pass a streetside chess "hall". A series of sunshades erected with poles and ropes. Flour sacks sewn together to provide protection for casual games of chess. The loser always paid the cost of the board hire. Silence and concentration, blocking out the disorder which surrounded them for three hundred and sixty degrees.

Life here seems to hang together by exposed threads. Everybody seemingly trapped, resigned to the fate of life as a Peruvian. Lima, I term "the ugly city", is a place where it's impossible to oversee the problems, the distress, poverty, desolation. The sick and uncared for, the oppression and the corruption. Their history and future. Nowhere to hide.

Being back in Lima seems to be some form of self-inflicted punishment. I find a hotel, offload my excessively fattened pack, and head towards the American Express office to collect long awaited-for mail. There's a juicy pile of letters and, without shuffling through them to see who has written, I put them into the security of my day-pack. With haste, I retreat to the peace and calm of my hotel bed. An afternoon of letter reading, exchanging home news with Brad, and drifting in and out of sleep.

I meet a Canadian named Blair and spend a day pounding the tourist path with him. He's a weird character from Bam-ff-ff-ff! He wanders the whole day shirtless, burnt to a cinder. Human lobster. I'm inspired to capture his memory in cartoon.

My bed is creaking. Moving ever so slightly. Back and forth, back and forth. A dream. Or is Brad perched hidden at the end of the bed playing yet another of those pranks. Grasping for my watch to find that it is two o'clock in the dark hours of the morning. I reach for the light switch and as it goes on I flop back down onto the bed. The bare globe and single wire that support it from the heightened ceiling above, are moving. I hear the Swiss couple in the room next to mine shuffling and talking.

Just twenty seconds have passed since my mechanical bed woke me. Now I'm sitting up on the edge throwing on shoes and socks and jocks. It's an earth tremor ..... an earthquake? On the second floor of this old hotel I was prospective "rubble" in the making.

But as quickly as it came, it passed. Before long sleep took back its rightful place as my number one priority. Back to even more exotic places and events.

Brad and I parted ways as travel companions. I would head towards Nazca to see the famous "lines" and he would set forth to Cuzco, the extraordinary heart of the Inca civilisation.

Maria Reiche has been studying the mythical and mathematical properties of the Nazca lines for over thirty years. She's now a very old lady. Able to converse in German, Spanish, Italian, English and French. She asks what the majority language in the group that has gathered to hear, English wins the way, so she proceeds to give us a short verbal excursion over her works, theories and the history of the area. A life's work in a half hour. Abstract thoughts of time.

Next day day I hitch a ride on top of a cattle truck out the thirty kilometres to where a tower has been erected, so as to give you a vantage point out over the stony desert that is home to the ancient graphics of Nazca. A desert engraved with the hieroglyphics of unsigned artists. Of monkeys and condors. Theories of outer space, advanced knowledge of astronomy. Questions and equations unsolved.

Arequipa is the next stop; a true air of Peru prevails. Cobblestone streets and vast red sunsets.

I venture forth into the world of exotic eating and have baked "cuy" or guinea pig. Best described as an emaciated rabbit or large rat, it provided little meat, less taste and what I believed to be the vermin that led to serious illness some days later.