Thursday, December 5, 2013
Paracas Natural Reserve and Isla Ballestas, Peru
The next morning heading back towards the dock where boats leave for the islands, both Tom and I are struck by how much development is happening here. Fabulous large lots facing the ocean, huge condo high-rises and new hotels are all under some stage of construction. When we asked around we are told it is mostly people from Lima purchasing beach homes, so someone is earning enough surplus cash, make that lots of someones! We have forsaken a travel agent and going in a group to winging it by ourselves. And once again, it was easy. Boats leave frequently for the 3 hour long trip to the islands and it is the same price for all, so why pay an agent a cover fee. There is the price of the boat tour itself, admission from the reserve and a small port fee – in total the equivalent of about $10.00 per person. The boat first stopped just off shore so we can see the drawing called El Candelabra on the hill overlooking the Bay of Paracas, which is similar to the lines at Nazca. This giant three armed geoglyph is etched into the mountain side. More than 150 meters (480 feet) in height and 50m (160 feet) wide, it is not really known who made the geoglyph or when or why! While some archeologists connect it in some way to the Nazca Lines, others think it served as some sort of navigation aid for sailors. My favorite theory is that it is a dedication by the Paracas culture to a local species of cactus that had hallucinogenic qualities. Cactus leaves and coca leaves. Hello early drugs! From the Candelabra, it was on to the Isla Ballestas. We had been warned that the ocean is very choppy and it is. The boat we were on was uncovered and I was glad we had brought our rain jackets as without them it would have been a wet in addition to a wild ride. The Paracas Peninsula isn't as barren as it looks. The meeting of the cold Humboldt Current, rich with plankton and nutrients swept up from the ocean floor, meets the warmer tropical currents off-coast and provides feeding grounds for wildlife and superb fishing. In addition, the coastal fog known as garúa, forms in winter when the Humboldt cools down the warmer air and adds a bit of moisture to it. The huge reserve is very popular for birders and marine lovers. Birders flock to the reserve to see condors, pelicans and Inca terns amongst an array of others and those interested in the marine life can possibly see whales, dolphins, sea lions, Humboldt penguins, leatherneck turtles, hammerhead sharks and more depending on the time of year. I can only say that this was not the right time of year. Although the islands can only be viewed from the water, as no boats can land, the boats do get very close to the island as they cruise through and around the natural arches and caves, which are swarmed with sea lions. . We also caught sight of several Humboldt penguins ambling around the rocks. And yes, we did see gazillion sea birds. The most common ones are the guanay cormorant, the Peruvian booby and the Peruvian pelican which can be seen by the thousands. In fact one of the biggest concerns is to wear a hat because getting hit on the head by bird guano (droppings) is highly likely. People who visit the Paracas National Reserve in Peru's southern coastal desert, often refer to the prolific wildlife and the great scenery as the "Galapagos of Peru." All Tom and I hope is that the “real” Galapagos is more enticing. Although we enjoyed the trip overall, as Tom put it “we saw a lot of birds and a bunch of rocks covered in bird … guano”. You are right, he did not use the word “guano” and it wasn’t “droppings” either! After disembarking, we made our way back through a plethora of gift shops; stopping to buy a couple of T-shirts and gifts for the kids and then it was back to a very exuberant hound, who received a long walk and a treat for being so patient. We wanted to stat for lunch at one of the many seafood restaurants along the promenade but we also want to be on the road. Our goal is to get to one of the beaches on the southern outskirts of Lima and then be in Lima tomorrow. Tom needs to get online and make an appointment with the US Embassy to get his new passport underway. So, after walking Winston, we grabbed some fruit and snacks for the drive and were on the road.