If four days wasn’t nearly enough for Lima, it was more than enough for Paracas.
From Lima we caught a pretty classy bus 165 miles down the coast to Paracas. Each seat had its own headphone thing, so it was blissfully absent the various explosions and crashes associated with most of our bus rides.
There’s really only one major reason to go to Paracas, to tour the Ballestas Islands. They’re a small group of islands maybe 30 minutes by boat from the mainland sometimes called “the poor man’s Galapagos.” Well, having been to the Galapagos Islands a few years ago, I would say that’s a pretty grand overstatement. But, since you go to both the Galapagos and Ballestas for the same reason – to see animals – I guess there’s something to say for the comparison. Just not much.
OK, then, we took one of the two-hour tours of the Ballestras Islands. Mostly what you see are birds, seemingly millions of birds. You never get off the boat, but rather drive around a bit looking at all the birds. Some Peruvian boobys, we were told, lots of pelicans, and cormorants. Some penguins, even, since the islands sit right on the Humboldt Current coming up from the Antarctic and thus are cold enough for the penguins. (Oh, there you have another Galapagos connection; the Galapagos Islands are on the Humboldt Current, too.)
Sea lions, too, lots and lots of sea lions making all sorts of sea lion noises. The guide showed us their “retirement home,” a beach where the older lions go to spend their last couple years, and the “maternity ward,” where baby sea lions are born and raised for a few months. (They stay there because otherwise the various dads would eat them. Seems unpleasant.)
That’s what you see, but what you smell is bird shit. It’s pretty powerful stuff, all those birds in a relatively confined space, and there’s a lot of it. They recommend you wear a hat while in the area, since the birds aren’t polite enough to leave all their droppings on the rocks. There’s enough that does hit the rocks, though, that every few years the Peruvian government authorizes people to go out to the islands and harvest the bird shit (oh, I’m supposed to call it guano, but that’s just a fancy name for bird shit) for its properties as a great natural fertilizer. I don’t imagine I’ll ever think of many jobs that would rank lower for me than harvesting tons of bird shit. After 45 minutes or so of poking around the edges of the islands I was definitely ready for some clean air.
Another fun sight you see on the trip is world-famous Candelabra geolyph. I’ll admit, I’d never heard of this world-famous geolyph, nor did I have a clue what a geolyph was. Well. A geolyph (this is so annoying; every time I type “geolyph” spell check wants to correct it to “glyph”, which doesn’t seem like a more common word) is “a large design or motif (generally longer than 4 metres) produced on the ground and typically formed by clastic rocks or similarly durable elements of the landscape.” Make sense? According to Wikipedia, at least, the most famous geolyphs are the Nasca Lines which just happen to be our next stop.
At any rate, the Candelabra geolyph looks as though it’s just somebody’s sand art, the kind of thing someone etches into the sand and then gets blown away after a few days. In fact, it’s over 2,000 years old, having been carbon dated to about 200 BC. It’s almost 600 feet tall and probably half as wide, and can allegedly be seen from 12 miles out to sea. There are lots of theories of how it got there and why it’s there – a symbol of Freemasonry? put there by the great Latin liberator San Martín? a navigation tool for sailors? – but in fact no one has figured it out. It’s fun, though, to gawp at this 2,200-year-old geolyph, just sort of amazed at all it’s been through.
And that’s pretty much it, for us anyway. There was nothing much in the town to recommend itself; we had one lunch that would rank as perhaps the worst meal we’ve had in many months, or even years. There was one good restaurant that we found but it was closed two of the four nights we were there. Our resort was beautiful, but it’s strange being at a beach place where there’s no beach; the water was brown and smelly and there was not even the pretense of it being a beach anyone would swim in. Oh, and the smell of bird shit there was pretty powerful, too, when the wind came from the wrong direction. Because the area was pretty flat, though, there was some OK running and even a fun two-hour bike ride.
From here we continue by bus south to Nasca and then on to Arequipa, Peru’s second city, before eventually getting back up to Cuzco and Machu Picchu.