Ica, Peru: population: about 170,000. The Ica valley is primarily an agricultural area where they grow such crops as cotton, grapes, asparagus, avocado, mango, olives, and other produce. Ica is known by Peruvians as the "Land of Eternal Sun".
The history of Ica dates back a very long time. Scientists have found fossils of penguins dating back 30 million years. They say those penguins were 4 1/2 to 5 feet tall and had a beak about a foot long. No kidding, they have the fossil evidence. As for people, there have been several different indigenous groups in the Ica area for thousands of years, with the Incas being the most recent indigenous group, that is, until the Spaniards arrived and conquered them. The Spaniards founded Ica in 1563. The Regional Museum of Ica has many artifacts from the indigenous people who lived here in the past. In 2007, there was an earthquake of 8.0 that did huge damage to the city and initially killed at least 17 people, then the church collapsed and killed another 70.
Just a couple of kilometers outside of Ica is an oasis, and it is the only and last natural oasis in Peru, although I did hear from another tourist that he heard the city has had to feed it water occasionally. Hopefully, it doesn't dry up and disappear as did the others. There is also the Museum in Ica with artifacts of ancient peoples all the way up to the Colonial Period. Oh, and around the oasis, Huacachina, are high dunes which you can ski down, or use body boards to slide down. You can also hire a guide to take you out for a few hours in the desert dunes in a dune buggy. In the oasis, there is no swimming or fishing allowed but they do have some paddle boats and canoes you can rent. Unfortunately, urban sprawl is getting to be too much for the oasis and it has been losing water, so the city has started pumping water into it. If it dries up the community around it will also dry up. There have been at least a half-dozen other oases in the area that have dried up and are now just big dips in the sand dunes. There are many hostels and gift shops around the oasis, of course. Oh, and there's a small museum at the oasis that shows how wine and the Pisco Brandy is made and is quite interesting. And it starts in a large wood-lined tank of grapes that are squashed by foot. See the photos in my photo album. This weekend is the Festival of Grapes. There is a large grape industry in this part of Peru and there is a weeklong festival to celebrate the beginning of the harvest, and today was a parade, and it was quite long. Photos and videos (maybe, if the web hosting company doesn't delete them) are in the photo album.
Ica has a very dry desert climate. Ica sits on the edge of the Atacama desert which is the driest place on earth. The average daytime high of 29° C (85° F), and the night average low of 14° C (57° F). The city's elevation is 406 meters (1332 feet). Ica averages 9.5 mm (.37 inch) of rain per year.
I've met several English-speaking people here in Ica, tourists and locals, and one expat from France. He lives here with his Peruviana wife and their two children. Out at Huacachina, I met a fellow traveler who is from Norway. We chatted for at least an hour or more. Then here in the hostel, I met another man and he is from Germany, we chatted for a while. And while out walking through town I met an older man who was out walking with his very old mother. That man also spoke very good English and had lived in the US for many years. Oh, and here in the hostel the young woman receptionist speaks very good English and the second-shift receptionist speaks a low level of English, an almost good conversational level.
So, my impressions: I like Ica even if it is bigger than my target cities. The town is clean, pretty, warm, and friendly, and even though it sits between very large sand dunes it does not have dusty dirty sandy roads (except the ones that are not yet paved which are outside the city center). There are many parks and they are clean and pleasant places to spend time in the shade of the trees.
This is my goal: to find a new place to live. So to reach that goal I am traveling most of South America, visiting the countries of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, passing through Argentina, visiting Paraguay, passing through a bit of Brazil, and finally visiting Uruguay. I have a list of towns, about 70, that meet these qualifications: Cities with average day temperatures of 22-28° C (72-83° F) and night temps of 14° C (57° F) and higher; and a population between 28,000-300,000. I analyzed climate and population data of around 700 towns in the countries mentioned above and then pulled out the ones that meet the previously mentioned criteria, which leaves about 70. My preference leans towards towns of less than 100,000 people. And, now that I have visited more than 30 towns/cities, I've decided I will probably want an inland town. I love the beach and walking in the warm water, but, getting sunburned is just too easy, even on a cloudy day. At least, here in Ecuador. I've also decided that any town with more than 100,000 population will be too big. I've decided that any small town/city (less than around 80,000 population) that meets the temp specifications and has a supermarket and ATM is one worth considering to live in.
My goal is to visit the towns and discover which one calls out to me - "Chip, Chip, make your new home here, this is your new home town". That hasn't happened yet, but the six towns listed below are very close to giving me that feeling. At any rate, I am not visiting tourist attractions or archeological sites, etc, those will have to wait for another trip through South America.
At this point in my journey I have four towns on my Top 10 list - San Vicente de Cañete, Tingo Maria, Moyobamba, La Merced, Peru, and Catamayo and Puyo, Ecuador. In my travels in Ecuador, I visited 31 towns/cities. At this point in my journey through Peru, I have visited 19 towns/cities.
Next up: Nazca, Peru.