Greetings from Pisco, Peru – guess what we’ll be drinking tonight!
It was an early (5:30) wake up call, to get to the airport by 6:30 (thanks Flo!) for our flight take off at 7:55. It all went like clock work – no waiting, just a slow, steady shuffle of queues dripping past the official form stampers, until we sat in our seats. Then a 3:45 hour flight and very quick ‘processing’ in Lima.
We had failed to prepare adequately for car rental – since the financial turmoil last October, internet quotes are very confusing and un-competitive, because no-one knows which way the exchange rates will go – prices tend to be quoted in US$ or (less attractive) GBP. And they all follow the US system of quoting a low base price that doubles with the add ons. Unreliable internet connections make it difficult to compare various suppliers, so in the end we decided to wait until arrival in Lima and play various companies off against each other. Wrong! There were only Hertz & Budget stands and they were both quoting the same costs, with Budget offering 240 km free per day (with US$ 0.50 per km extra) instead of 200 km with Hertz.
It turned out quite expensive, but we have a 3 litre diesel Nissan Frontier with heavy duty tires, only 35,000 km on the clock and feels like a new car to drive. We also opted for the most expensive insurance cover, as I feel sure that cars here pick up a scratch or two (or worse) in these conditions, and I don’t want to pay US$1,500 own risk for each blemish.
And so we drove right through Lima, about an hour after touch down. Cliff did an excellent job of driving, aiming the car into any hole going, just as the local drivers do, and confusing everyone by correctly using his indicators. I contributed my local knowledge, gained last year during our brief stay in Lima, by having a reasonable mental overview of where we were and where we needed to go. Before too long we were heading south on the Pan Am, to find out that it’s a toll road and that we did not have any Peruvian Soles as yet. This was quickly remedied at the next fuel station where the ATM coughed up enough notes for the next day or two. But we got away without paying 5 Soles at the first toll booth as the chap did not want to accept our generous offering of US$ – he probably knew more about currency fluctuations than we do.
After leaving the urban sprawl of Lima, the Pan Am runs through very arid looking desert sand dunes, interspersed with green oases where rivers (or rather streams) run to the Ocean, which always is very near by. Where ever there is such an oasis, there are fuel stations and snack bars / restaurants, where we eventually stopped to have fried fish with chips. The fish looked like a salt water piranha, with rows of teeth, served head, tail, fins and all. We believe that the is in fact the Chilean Sea Bass a.k.a Red Snapper that we enjoy under the name Corvina in Chilean seaside restaurants, where they are served ‘incognito’ or ‘faceless’.
We made it as far as Pisco, but were aware that this area had suffered badly from earth quakes in 2007 and 2008. On August 15, 2007, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake occurred about 90 miles (145 kilometres) southeast of Lima, Peru, at a depth of about 25 miles (40 kilometres). 500 people died. Then, on 9 July 2008, a magnitude 6.0 earthquake occurred on Tuesday in southern Peru. The epicentre was in an uninhabited region about 33 miles from the city of Arequipa.
For Pisco, the guide book recommends The Regency Plaza hotel. So do we – it’s the only one left standing! As a result, tourists seem to be a rarity and we seem to be the only guests staying in the Hotel. They are still building the first and second floor, but importantly – they have wifi facilities so that I can send out my Diary pages, and check out Google Earth to see how many cactus habitat locations we drove by in ignorance today, and to avoid doing the same tomorrow.
Right, so where do we buy these Pisco Sours?