Paracas – It’s all Ballestas and Candelabras!
Paracas is a beach town next to the peninsula of the same name lying just off the Pan-American highway that we seem to be wedded to. More desert with some rugged coastline. The main attractions are Las Islas Ballestas.
Having flown into Lima from Iquitos we declined to stay in Lima – once again – and hopped on the first bus to Paracas. Checking into our hostel we secured a room with a view, sought the advice of Alberto the extremely friendly and talkative manager and booked a couple of trips.
Lydia who supervises during the day has a fabulous morning routine. Once seated she plays her favourite song “Todo esta bien” at high volume (not sure this link is the correct version). Before the end she’s singing and swaying in time and smiling from ear to ear. As you sit eating breakfast, her routine cannot help but make you smile and look forward to the day.
Then we took a walk to get the layout of our new surroundings. Five minutes later (okay twenty) we were well acquainted with most of what Paracas has to offer: three tiendas, ten mid price restaurants, twenty low price restaurants, beach, buskers and artesanal market (presumably an offshoot of the friendship bracelet empire). The gringo count was high and all of them appeared to be in one restaurant/bar with the others lying empty despite the best efforts of the touts. The next night they were all at another restaurant, a testament to the herd mentality of the gringo trail adherents. A prize for the best collective noun to describe them (and us).
Maybe we should have followed the herd; but buoyed up by having negotiated cheap pisco sours in a two for one deal we came crashing back down when the varmints delivered one tiny pisco sour in two glasses. To be fair the second night we had a great meal in one of the row of cheap restaurants – all named after their female proprietors – I can highly recommend scallops with parmesan.
And so to the traveller coincidence, that small world situation that happens entirely according to the laws of probability but seems spooky when it does. Talking to one of our fellow hostellers, we found out that she lived in Southampton, worked in marine biology and at the same place as my sister. In fact they are colleagues and friends. Colleagues too of Alison who is a visiting fellow at Southampton; when not travelling the world cataloguing small mammals and ranking them for cuteness. Ever mindful of the chance of a bit of gossip on my seemingly respectable sibling, we shared a fun dinner with Kat and Maria, adding a solo traveller Irish lass on the way. What we learned I’ll publish someday in a separate post titled “Debauched sibling corrupts Southampton” 😉
Las Islas Ballestas sit 17km off the coast of Paracas. Home to huge quantities of sea birds, sea lions and a few permanent rangers. They serve as an industry as well. Walls on the islands help collect guano and every few years, locals harvest it in buckets using gantries to lower it down to waiting boats. Once harvested it’s shipped around the world for use as fertiliser.
At 8am, all the gringos in Paracas descend upon the dock and are loaded into sleek oversized speedboats. Squawking and jostling there’s a certain similarity to the colonies of birds they’re off to see. Informed that the crossing would be super smooth, we were subjected to a roller coaster ride complete with added shower. The poor people in the back were soaked to the skin.
En route, we took in the Candelabra a 150m design on the hillside built by colonials in a poor imitation of the Nasca lines (which weren’t discovered yet). Various theories abound as to the purpose: religion, navigation, boredom.
At the islands the flotilla turns into a sinuous convoy as the boats weave through the coves and arches looking at the sea-birds: boobies, pelicans, penguins and one I can’t remember. There’s a beach full of sea-lions frolicking in the surf. We see the gantries and get a wave from the rangers who stay out there months at a time.
Fairly quickly it’s turn about and we head back to shore at high speed. The guide explains in French, English and Spanish that the wind is up early and that Paracas will live up to it’s name this afternoon. The name means rain of sand and it does rain sand!
Next tour a whistle stop circuit of the Paracas peninsula. Desert with roads made of salt, seascapes with soaring cliffs. The center piece “The Cathedral” a collapsed sea arch. It collapsed in the earthquake that devastated this region in 2007 but since it looked good all the promotional posters show the former arch.
Lunch is provided for those who wish it in a small fishing port on the other side of the peninsula. On this side the sea is blue, no pollution. We hastily imbibe the free pisco sour and eschew the expensive lunch. Instead we take our sandwiches up to the apex of the port on a small hill and take in the view, watching pelicans and boobies soar and dive.
We finish off with a natural history museum, full of information. The highlight a giant prehistoric penguin with a bill that could skewer a whale. By this time the sand rain is up and we’re happy to hit the hostel, ditch our twenty five fellow tourists, and chill.
The desert and peninsula are breathtaking but we’ve become a little inured to all the sand. Inured as well to the acres of tourist tat. But it’s all good … and great to have been in a quirky little place, energised by Lydia’s singing and to have shared dinner with friends of my little sister (who never phones me by the way).