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So do you spell Nazca with a ‘z’ or ‘s’; and the same question for Cuzco? Both spellings are seen, with a ‘z’ at the toll booth, but with an ‘s’ on the sign entering the town. I just love consistency.

We started the day with a walk around the Plaza at Pisco (always spelled with an ‘s’, unless you are pizzed) to take some more pictures of the earthquake damage. This was even more poignant since we realised that the empty space next to the damaged town hall was the space where the cathedral had stood and where many people died. It seems that the decision to rebuild or not lies in Rome, with the Pope, so don’t hold your breath. It made me realise that when you hear on the news about such disasters, the affect on the people carries on for years, while the news-machine turns its attention to the next disaster. And also, that although the news may report an earthquake near the better known town, hundreds of people living in small villages are equally affected for years to come. A very humbling experience.

We fought our way through a stream of ‘put-put’ motorbike taxis (giving the place an Asian feel) to get to R1S (not R15 as reported yesterday), the Pan American highway, and headed south, turning inland at Ica. The coastal area is heavily developed for agriculture, an activity that here may date back to pre-Inca days. Crops include grapes, corn and cotton. Past Ica, we hit the ‘desert proper’, sand as far as the eye could see, with here and there some failed projects, and others doomed to fail, like a row of Opuntia ficus-indica pads planted in the sand with what looked like an irrigation hose alongside it. I guess that the folk in charge of the tap had gone on holiday, as most of the pads looked to have given up the ghost.

We passed the signs for the famous Nazca lines. I suggest that if you do not know about this World Heritage feature, you run a quick search on Google. Fascinating stuff, but nothing to see on the ground, so you need to fly over the area (on a clear day – this is a fog zone!) to observe the human endeavour dating back to a time when there were no planes.   

We arrived in Nazca in good time and by 14:00 had booked ourselves into a cheap hotel and were back on the road, heading inland, up the Nazca (?) Valley. The wifi they had promised at the hotel later proved to be non existent, but at the equivalent of GBP 8 for the two of us for one night, wifi was perhaps a little too much to expect. So what did this valley in store?

S1163, at km 14.75, had ample cacti on display: Neoraimondea arequipensis, some in pristine condition, some ‘wrecked’; Armatocereus procerus, Melocactus peruvianus (in flower and in fruit), Cleistocactus hystrix. A bit farther along, at km 24.3 (S1164) we found Weberbauerocereus rauhii, a very variable species in terms of the colour of spination, unless there were more taxa here that we failed to recognise. All the plants from the previous stop were here as well. Although we had only driven 10 km, we had climbed 1200 m. to 2,039 m. altitude! [checking later, the real altitude was only some 1,500 m. after the GPS had settled down, confirmed by Google Earth, still a climb of some 700 m. ].

We also found a shrub / tree here that seemed to be coming just into leaf and flower. The spine like hairs on its new growth made the alarm go off in my head – Jatropha, of the stinging variety. I warned Cliff, who got stung anyway.

We made one more stop S1165, at km 36 to take pictures of Browningia candilaris and Neoraimondia arequipensis together. The waxy epidermis of the Neoraimondia seems too great a temptation for tourists, who have to carve their initials, or there name and even it seems their life story onto the stems. On the plus side, it seems that some of these messages date back to 1963, providing an indication to the age of the plant.

We drove back to Nazca, had a stroll around town and had dinner.

While writing up the notes at the end of the day, a reality check indicated that with a 240 km per day limit imposed by Budget Rent a Car  (Peru) and a US$ 0.50 per km excess charge, we were currently facing a US$ 91 dollars surcharge. Going up and back down a valley as we had been doing is nice, but not distance efficient, so we’re looking at maps and rejigging plans.   We also want to be in Arequipa on 18 January, when Paul Hoxey is due to arrive as we’ve promised to buy him a beer.

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