Once everyone had their fill of human remains from the Nazca desert cemetery, we rode our “buggy” deeper into the desert and toward the sand dunes of Cerro Blanco.
Here’s the video of fun our driver was having with us as he gave the buggy hell riding the dunes up and down:
Cerro Blanco was our last scheduled stop, after which we were to return back to Nazca. However, because the tour started more than an hour late, the journey toward the dunes was done when daylight was fading, and by the time we had our share of fun snowboarding down the dunes, it was dark and we had ahead of us almost an hour long journey back to town, but this time not only through the stormy winds, but also through near freezing nighttime temperatures.
Sandboarding was hell of a lot of fun, though. We already had sand everywhere – in our teeth, in our eyes, in our ears, as well as in all our clothes and inside our socks, so rolling around in sand was not gonna make it any worse than it already was. So we just went for it and enjoyed every minute of gliding down those endless sandy dunes:
But the ride back was rough as all hell. The wind was as relentless as ever and it was just overall brutally cold, so with the “buggy” providing absolutely no protection from the elements, the endless ride back through the pitch black desert as nobody could catch a break from violent shivering, was savage. I was a trembling wreck walking to the hotel after being dropped off, but at least at that time I knew that the hellish ride was over.
The harsh weather continued as we were getting hit by strong winds and sand kept blasting into our faces and every bodily orifice. The entire landscape we were passing through however kept me very appreciative of the experience.
I have never seen anything like this before. I kept thinking to myself – if NASA wanted to fake another moon landing or a Mars mission, they could film it here and nobody would believe it could have been filmed on Earth. In Peru. Absolutely mindblowing, moon-like scenery kept emerging from every dune, after every turn.
After passing several kilometers across unmarked desert (props to the driver), we reached the cemetery, which was essentially a large swath of the desert within the endless sands of which the Nazca culture buried their dead.
The graves were disturbed by treasure hunters who thought they would find gold or other valuables with the dead, as other ancient South American cultures used to do that, but the Nazcas did not. Consequently, the looters came off either empty handed, or with little of truly high value, forever changing the historical site they had ransacked.
It would appear that the Nazcas were creating mass graves, which would consist of the piled up dead who were then covered with sand, creating sand hills within which the corpses of the deceased were meant to dwell. The living, having had the strong beliefs in the afterlife, buried their dead along with pottery filled with food, so they have something to eat on their journey into the outer world.
As a result, the sun bleached bones are often mixed up with blackened corncobs, clay pots, even ropes. The whole area has a very surreal feel to it. Some of the skulls still have the original hair attached to them. Many are remarkably well preserved by the dry, dusty climate.
Our tour guide told us the cemetery had been lost under the sands of the Nazca Desert until 1920, when it was rediscovered by tomb raiders. The ransacking left many of the bones and skulls unearthed, offering one a unique opportunity to find themselves surrounded by a sea of bone matter, but the ransacking caused that peace of the ones buried there has been disturbed.
Our driver snapped a picture of me sitting in the buggy, while other tour-goers still wandered among the bones of the dead:
Unless you visit Nazca or its surroundings between January and March, the weather you will encounter will be sunny and hot, with no clouds to obscure the sun during the day, but bone chilling cold at night.
You can tell by the entire surroundings that this place is baked by the unobstructed sun a lot, and by just visiting outside of the brief rainy season, it’ll all make sense why. Nazca is for all intents and purposes a desert with everything that makes a place a desert.
At 2pm when the Edunas tour was scheduled to start it was an unbearably frying day. At 3 something pm when it factually started, the day was still unbearably frying. Taking a bit of an air in an open “buggy” during the ride to and from the aqueducts was a welcome refresher. But things quickly changed after we started the passage across the vast desert field separating Nazca from the Adobe Pyramids at Cahuachi – ceremonial center of the Nazca culture.
A few minutes into the ride, we were hit by a savage sand storm. The wind came out of nowhere and hit us with so much force, every single one of us had sand in every single orifice and pore. Our driver told us he’s been doing these tours for years, but has never experienced anything like that before. He however encouraged us by saying that the storm will likely pass in maybe 10 or 20 minutes and everything will go back to normal. That actually never happened.
We arrived at the Pyramid, where we were getting relentlessly hammered by the wind so strong we could barely hold our footing. A guide was trying to tell us the history of the pyramid, but no one could hear a word of what he was saying, plus standing in this wind that relentlessly blows sand into you and shows you not a bit of mercy was no fun at all. I remember catching something about only 5% of the entirety of the complex having been uncovered so far. Yet the uncovered part was already expansive.
Being an active archeological site, the visitor walkways were marked with white stones and signs everywhere reminded us all to not wander off marked walkways. Meanwhile, the storm kept pounding the living crap out of us, and whereas our vehicle was an open “buggy“, we had absolutely nowhere to hide from it.
The road to the pyramid consisted of about 20 kilometers of an unpaved desert crossing. The storm encompassed the entire desert, so we were within it during the entire crossing, the visit to the pyramid and basically the entire time henceforth.
All those scenes you see in movies about people layng on the ground and covering up with specialty blankets to wait sand storms out, before they emerge from two feet of sand on top of them – that’s what we should have done, but instead kept going.
You could not keep your eyes open because sand was getting blown into them. Your regular shades are worthless during a sand storm. No matter how tightly you kept your lips together, you could always taste the crunch on your mouth as sand got in there anyway. When I reached into my ear to clean off the collected sand from the ear canal, I was surprised by the thick layer that accumulated in there in minutes. The clothes – I stopped worrying about those very quickly. I could feel sand between my toes as it snuck its way through my hiking boots into the thick sheep wool socks.
It was simply brutal and I got to say I got more than I bargained for from the tour. How awesome is that? Sure I got the absolute living crap beat out of me, but the whole time I was thinking to myself – holy s%$t, I’m riding a massive sand storm in Nazca, Peru.
Money could not buy that experience. I’m in the real desert and the desert sure lets me know she’s indeed real. No joke, this was some serious sand storm and we spent hours in it without any protection, including an hour after dark, when the temperature dropped to near freezing. Talk about adventure in every sense of the word. This I will surely never forget. I’m not even sure the word “relentless” does it justice.
Check out the video that provides a better perspective of what the storm was like. We stopped because we thought the storm would pass. It didn’t. So we rode through it. It would not have been easy getting that on camera:
I was however not too excited about the proposition to extend my stay in Nazca due to the fact that the availability of fruits in the city is very limited, and they are very expensive. Most expensive from all places I have visited in Peru so far. Being a person who likes his fruits and wants an ample supply each day, this was off putting.
Nevertheless, as I was deciding on whether to stay a bit more in Nazca or make my move elsewhere, I stumbled upon one of the tour agencies that caught my eye. There are many of them all over Nazca, but Edunas somehow felt right.
A brief search on the internet however showed that some of the other interesting sites around Nazca are way too far off to get there on foot, and are also not along paved roads, so the access would have to be in a specialty off road vehicle. Nevermind the fact that the dozens of miles of unmarked passage across the desert can only be done by someone who knows how to navigate the endless dunes.
Edunas had a tour lined up that was to commence at 2pm and last until 6pm. It was in an off-road “buggy” as they called it, and involved visits to Aqueducts of Ocongalla, the Pyramid of Cahuachi, the desert cemetery, and it all got topped off with sandboarding on the Dunes of Cerro Blanco.
The cost the tour was 50 Soles, which I was assured by the agent selling me the tour was a good price. At the time of buying I had no way of knowing whether that’s true or not, but in hindsight I think it was indeed a decent deal. The vehicles take a good deal of beating having to ride on rock covered arid soil, and the distances were truly in the tens of kilometers, 90% of them were off road.
Overall I would have been reasonably happy with the tour, but whereas we were told the tour would commence at 2pm, and come 3pm there was hardly any sign of it beginning anytime soon, the first impression was not the greatest. It was only made worse by the lies that the reason the “buggy” has not shown up yet was because it was picking up other tour-goers from their hotels. That was obviously not true, seeing as it showed up (when it finally showed up) without anyone, and the lot of us already at the office got on, and only then we went to pick up the rest from a nearby hotel.
I could have used the time I spent waiting at the Edunas office for something more productive to do, had they been frank and told me the tour would be delayed. And I would have expected them to make up for it by coming to pick me up at a chosen location, or whatever. Instead they were telling me the “buggy” was only 10 minutes away, but every time I asked, it was always 10 minutes away. It ended up being more than an hour and nobody was being picked up during that time.
When it finally arrived, we took off but at that time I had no idea that what started as your seemingly plain everyday tour, would turn out to be a major adventure involving wild riding on the storm – quite literally.
Everything went normal during the trip to the Ocongalla Aqueducts, which were an ancient cascading structure that funneled underground water for irrigation and drinking in the area with virtually no surface water.
It was an impressive feat of ancient engineering, planning and thinking and a wonderful showcase of human ingenuity dating back hundreds of years.
Here’s a GoPro video of the ride down the dirt road to the Ocongalla Aqueducts, right outside the city limits of Nazca:
This was it – here I was at the doorstep to Angkor Wat ready to start exploring the temple that’s been at the top of my “Must Visit Before I Die” list for ages. The morning was in its early stages yet the sun was already pretty intense. As I took my last turn around the moat that surrounds the temple complex, I noticed a bunch of locals having a big laundry washing day in its waters. None of the hundreds of locals passing by in both directions seemed to pay any attention to it and neither did the policemen that ride their motorcycles throughout Angkor making the laundry washing look like doing it in the moat is a normal, every day thing.
I found it rather weird that you would take all your clothes to the moat where everyone can see you and pour loads of washing powder in it to openly poison the environment – especially when it comes to such significant piece of history as Angkor Wat yet since I was the only one who seemed to have found it awful, I just moved on and continued riding towards the entrance gate which was only a few hundred meters ahead of me. The excitement was unmeasurable at this point. I was only minutes away from entering and exploring Angkor Wat, however before one gets to that point, the dark side of Angkor Wat is revealed to them – extremely aggressive touts, hustlers, peddlers and other con artists.
There was a super high density of locals right opposite Angkor Wat’s entrance gate that’s proceeded by a sandstone causeway over the near 200 meters wide moat. Countless Tuk Tuks and unceasing ruckus left little for guessing. This is Angkor Wat – the most famous and the best preserved temple of the Angkor Archaeological Park which also happens to be the closest temple to Siem Reap from where all organized tours originate so mobile touts concentrated around here in anticipation of fat profits.
As I was riding by I had just about every local screaming at me to make me stop but it wasn’t until a woman came running across the street to block me from going any further that I stopped. She came after me with such haste it looked as though it was a matter of life or death. At first glance I thought that maybe I have done something wrong, perhaps by entering a road that’s off limit and she ran to stop me so I don’t get into any trouble but the real motifs came to light right away. She used the moment of surprise to get my attention so she can make money on me. Now that she had me stopped it was up to her to make the most out of the opportunity. Afterall, there are hundreds of other touts and she was the only one who got me stop and listen to her.
She could see this was my first time here and I didn’t know my way around very well so she fooled me into believing that I couldn’t go any further. I didn’t mind that one bit because I was gonna stop and go to Angkor Wat anyway, but this was yet another lesson that taught me that one should never trust a Cambodian who’s on a mission to get your money (are there any who are not?).
The woman said that I could park opposite Angkor Wat for free, but I had to buy cold water from her. She insisted that the temple was big and there was no water to buy inside. As soon as she said that I could park there for free, I knew I was dealing with a simple scam artist who is ready to throw any lie that will work my way just as long as it ends up in her making money off of me. With this being finally clear in my mind, I turned away from the woman and drove through the parking lot, alongside countless Tuk Tuk drivers who saw me riding a bicycle yet kept asking me if I needed a Tuk Tuk ride anyway. I rode until I found a chain fence and locked my bicycle against it.
Within two seconds I had dozens of kids with postcards, bracelets, water, bootleg guide books and other junk surround me and bash at me from every side, unceasingly demanding that I buy something from them. Within additional seconds they were joined by dozens of adults who insisted that I buy a hat from them because it’s hot, the sun is scorching and there is no where to buy a hat inside Angkor Wat. Everything that can be sold was offered to me, but I use word “offer” sparingly., Those people were extremely pushy, surrounded me, got in my face and never took “No” for an answer.
It was clear that they are used to harassing tourists and used to being told “No” so they had a response at the ready no matter how I responded to their pressure. I showed them I had water of my own and didn’t need any more weight on me. I also showed them I had a hat of my own and was happy with it. I was well equipped for a whole day on a bicycle riding in this extreme heat yet it mattered not to them. They were continuously bashing and bashing at me and pulling more and more of their handy tricks to get me buy something from them.
After I had about five dozen touts on me, they were joined by new way of hustlers – tour guides. To avoid scam, legitimate tour guides must wear pale yellow-ish shirts with a badge on it to identify them as licensed tour guides. Because it is possible to earn $20 or more (in case of non English or French guides) as a tour guide, it is an extremely popular money maker so supply far exceeds demand. As a result, tour guide who got their license and are not booked for the day yet hang around the most popular temples at the right time of the day to try to score a gig right on the spot. Dozens of them got on my bum to get me buy their services, most of them by instantly starting to “guide” me without my permission in anticipation that they will stick with me until I feel obliged to keep and pay them.
I remained adamant that each of them is wasting their time using the most solid reply they have nothing on:
“I’m out of my money. All I have is one dollar and I’m saving that for a bottle of water in the afternoon. You are welcome to guide me for as long as you understand that you are not getting paid for it. And no matter how hard you try to argue me into hiring you, I simply have no money to give you. End of story.”
There is no such thing as a “helpful local” in Cambodia. They all make it look like their sole purpose is to help you yet the only people they are looking to help is themselves. A tourist who doesn’t realize this sets themselves up for a big surprise. I continued on keeping my pace disregarding all attempts to get money from me so now that they could tell there was no way I was gonna buy anything from them, they used passive aggressive lines to make me feel obliged for the future. They did it by saying something like this:
“OK so then you’re gonna buy on your way back, OK? I’ll be waiting for you. Don’t forget you promised to buy from me!”
It is notably shocking that everything any of these touts lets out of their mouth is a lie. Ancient temples of Angkor are widely regarded among Cambodians as sacred places with powerful deities patrolling them. Angkor Wat where all these touts jumped me is particularly powerful in that regard since it has been a point of pilgrimage ever since it was built, being the only temple in Angkor Archaeological Park that has served that purpose without being fully abandoned.
Everyone in Cambodia will tell you that you should never lie in proximity to Angkor Wat (or any other temple for that matter, but Angkor Wat in particular). If you do so, you are bringing very bad karma upon yourself. However, if you do so knowingly, karma effect gets hundred times more powerful. If these Cambodians are fully aware of the fact that they mustn’t lie in presence of a temple, how come they all do it openly and without a wink?
Once you have walked inside Angkor Wat, you cross the passages inside the exterior wall and walk along the sandstone causeway, there will be small libraries on both sides followed by small ponds also on both sides – right before the steps that will lead you to the first level of the central temple. On the left hand side, where the most popular spot to observe sunrise at Angkor Wat is (also the best spot to take pictures of Angkor Wat) hidden from the sun under the line of trees, there is a long line of stalls selling everything you may need.
Each time any of the touts outside of the temple tells you that you must buy water/hat/scarf/food/whatever from them because there is none of it available inside, you will know they are straight up lying. And this starts with kids as young as three years old. These people grow up being professionals liars. After decades of doing nothing but lying each and every day of their lives – what have they grown to be?