The Rio Santa drains the high Conococha Lake at 4100m and flows down the Callejón de Huaylas past Huaraz, Carhuaz and Caraz, through the Huallanca hydro plant and finally down the Cañon de Pato to the sea near Chimbote.
I'm taking the more direct route to the coast following the Fortaleza the river down to Paramonga.
The 4000 metre descent to the coast is spectacular as you can see.
Finally we reach the Chimú fortress of Paramonga which defended both the Fortaleza and Pativilca valleys.
Peru's coast is a desert which would not support life if the seasonal runoff from the Andes was allowed to flow directly out to the Pacific Ocean.
Harnessing the runoff from the Andes by an elaborate irrigation system was the key to the Chimú's prosperity as it was for the Moche six centuries before and as it is today six centuries later. Both were defeated militarily, the Moche by the Huari and the Chimú by the Inca, largely because of the vulnerability of their economy which was based on irrigation.
It is possible that Paramonga also had a religious role as some astronomical alignments seem to indicate but its strategic position and its architectural design clearly identify it as an elaborate fortress required for the defence of the irrigated fields around it.
I stayed in nearby Barranca and tried to get to local people to tell me what they thought of that great structure down the road. Some thought it was a fortress, others thought it was a temple but nobody knew who had built it and when! It was strange to see how these ordinary people were disconnected from their history. What do they teach in their schools?
Plaza San Martin is in the center of colonial Lima and the Hostal Belen where I stayed was only one block away from here.
I have mixed feelings about Lima. On one hand it has a marvellous collection of very interesting museums and parts of the city can be attractive but on the other hand, it is not very clean and more importantly it is not very safe. I hate to mention this but right in the center of the city, Plaza San Martin is used as a public latrine and the stench of human faeces is terrible. I have seen that in public places elsewhere in Peru and I know big dogs don't use newspapers as toilet paper.
Colonial Lima is worth visiting for its fine architecture. It is also historically an important place for the Viceroyalty of Lima and its "Audiencia" (high court) ruled over most of South America for two centuries. It is a paradox that the Peruvian elites acutely remember and regret Lima's past power while neglecting to promote the much more brilliant and creative indigenous civilisations that preceded the Inca Empire.
The contradiction continues, the modern Museo de la Nación has some truly wonderful pre-Inca exhibits but it is so poorly maintained that it is falling apart. And you don't have to go inside to see it, look at the windows on the right.
Peru is not very safe. It is advisable to be on the alert all the time and to avoid the streets at night. In spite of that I think it is worth spending a week here just to see the museums. Not to be missed are the Museo de Oro, even if it is a bit far to get there, the Museo Arqueológico Herrera and the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, both in Pueblo Libre, the Museo Arqueológico Amano for its incredible collection of ancient textiles, and of course the Central Bank's Museum.
Apart from the museums, a couple of very good handicrafts markets are worth visiting as well as the modern Miraflores area. Going to see Punta de Calao at Lima's northern edge, will take you through a dingy port area which is OK by day if you are careful but best avoided at night.
Barranco, at the southern edge of Lima is a good place to take a break from watching your back all the time. It is more relaxed, it feels safer and there's a big park from which you can see some of Lima's beaches.
Here are the beaches I just mentioned with Lima in the background.
You might think me paranoid for mentioning safety so often but I had my back pocket picked in front of my hotel on the evening I arrived and the next morning there was a big puddle of blood where someone had his throat slit on the corner where I stood to take the photo of Plaza San Martin which I showed above.
I still think that Lima's museums justify at least a week's visit but if you go there to be careful... especially if you a travelling on a limited budget! I also recommend that you visit the clubhouse of the South American Explorers' Club where you can gather good advice as to what to see and what to avoid in Lima (they also have a clubhouse in Cuzco and Quito).
The place that had been the center of the Nazca civilisation more than 15 centuries ago was now just a small town. A nice place to relax after a stressful week in Lima.
I had stopped in Ica on the way to see the regional museum there but had been disappointed after Lima's great museums.
I had a room with private bath for 2.80 $US a night at the hotel Alegria. It was clean, comfortable and quiet.
I took an organised tour to see the Cemetery, the makeshift crushers where ore is treated with mercury to extract gold amalgam and of course the Nazca Lines.
I saw the lines only from a high tower because the local Cessna operator was asking more for a 20 minute hop than the airlines were charging for the 550 km flight from Lima to Cuzco. I don't mind paying a fair price but I do hate being taken advantage of.
The lines were impressive but difficult to photograph. I might have taken better photographs from the Cessna but I'm sure I would not have understood better than I do, after seeing them from the tower and reading all the fanciful theories that have been proposed to explain their mysterious origin.