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Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Sign of the Thick Knees

Star shaped ancient aqueduct

Lunch started with a nice bowl of hot beef knuckle & noodle soup

This morning's flight over the Nazca lines wasn't the only adventure of the day. I thought it was borderline too hot, when we headed downtown from our hotel, where we enjoyed lunch at a tiny shop full of Peruvian locals.

After lunch we strolled around stopping at two 'adventure' purveyors, each of which promised us the thrill of a lifetime. Local adventures around Nazca include desert dune buggy rides to see ancient aquifers, ride down the world's biggest sand dune on a board, viewing ancient Peruvian mummy grave sites and seeing ancient Peruvian aqueducts. As is customary, Ingrid bargained with the adventure sellers, and finally put her foot down that no way were we going to go out into the hot desert on a open sided dune buggie that seats more than a dozen people at a shot. The guide shot back that for a paltry 70 Soles (which is about $24 USD) he could offer us our own personal English speaking guide who could take us to see an aqueduct and a ruins, and he would do it in an enclosed van. Deal!

Ingrid & our tour Guide

Our guide was an interesting guy. He was the United Nations personified in one person; being part Asian, part Peruvian and Heinz 57 in general. He was a great guide - chock full of knowledge about Nazca and its specialties.

Our first stop was to an ancient aqueduct, shaped like a star. The aqueducts were built by ancients to allow desert access to ground water. There is a series of round aquifers as well, which Ingrid saw already so we had opted for the one she hadn't visited yet.

The rock lined stairs and terraces were amazing
Ingrid & the guide walked base of the star aquifer, but I stayed higher up because frankly, I was more into photographing the birds at the aquifer than the landmark itself.

Croaking Ground Dove
Hooded Siskins
Our next stop was the ruins of Cahuachi, which was relatively recently escalated recently in 1982. 

The Ruins of Cachuachi
In a nutshell, our guide said the set-up there were ancient holy men who lived and worshiped at the site. Local desert dwellers brought offerings and what-not to the holy men in exchange for interceding with the gods for everyone's benefit.

We hiked up to the top of Cahuachi, viewing the many terraces of the site. Lots of pottery, food offerings, and a great number of other objects were 'discovered' and 'recovered' from the site. Ingrid and the guide went on to view another area of the ruins, while I stayed close to where we parked. I was interested in an as yet unidentified by me flock of small birds in a parking lot tree.

Vireo-ish flock of birds continue to evade my ID
The grave remnants; hair, shroud, twine and pottery

I had a second reason for hanging behind. Back in the 1970s, my friend Barbara & her Mom visited Peru. Fast forward to recently, Barbara discovered her mother had removed items from one of the Peruvian grave sites they visited. Yikes! Barbara was horrified to discover the bits her mother brought back to the states include a shock of dark hair, a bit of shroud cloth, grass twine and shards of pottery.

The grave bits, laid to rest, more or less

Barbara asked if I would do her a HUGE favor, and return the bits to their homeland. I agree. I know the stuff taken originated in Peruvian desert, and I decided this site was as good as any a place to return the artifacts, I had traveled with, carefully wrapped in cloth. With a few good thoughts for a peaceful return to its homeland, I laid the little objects on the desert floor and left them there.

I was a little weirded out by the grave bits, and I wished there were was some way I could know I was doing the 'right thing' by the bits. I mean, I had no way of knowing where exactly they came from, so returning them to Peruvian ground - sacred or otherwise - was the best I could do. I figured if I'd done right, maybe I would 'feel it'.

When Ingrid and the guide returned I told them nothing, and we headed off back towards Nazca. We had only traveled a kilometer or two when I spotted two weird little birds on the side of the road. I shrieked, "BIRDS!" The guide was amiable and soon we were stopped across the dirt road from the strangest birds I've seen in ages.

The strange little birds, the size of skinny chickens
I was besotted & thrilled! I have seen such birds before but only in photos and in zoos. I could only guess 'knees' and 'stone curlew' in connection with the name of the little buggers. The guide said he never saw such birds before, but driving past them the way he did, no surprises there.

The birds rose to their feet.
I felt bad that the pair rose up to their feet after we stopped. However, when two full dune buggies shot past at at least 60 kph, raising clouds of desert dust, I was certain the birds would fly off.  Nope! the birds looked a bit startled - not surprising with those huge pale yellow eyes - but miraculously they stayed put.

Peruvian Thick Knees - a nocturnal bird
Later as we drove back to Nazca, I decided if I wanted a sign I'd 'done the right thing' in my choice of where to leave the grave remnants, well, for me, that pair of birds were as good a sign as I could possibly hope for.

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