Day 4: Islas Ballestas to Puno …Sea Level to 12,500 feet …Gulp!
Carol’s i-phone “cricket” wakes us at 6:15. No one seems to be paying attention to the message on my new pyjamas that says “ I don’t do mornings”! I admit the mornings are beautiful and in this country the temperature is at its best while the sun is still lower in the sky. That said, here at 6:15 it seems much later in the day as the sun is as bright as twelve noon at home. By 7:40 I am showered, breakfasted, and on the bus with my luggage headed for one of the big hotels in Paracas where we are scheduled to take a speed boat out to the Ballestas Islands, an hour off shore.
Platoons of cormorants keep pace with the boat and I’m in a kind of Bill Lishman experience. It feels like we are flying with them! Just like Father Goose! In short order, their ranks are increased by the inclusion of flocks of gray pelicans. In my humble opinion, pelicans, have got to be the coolest birds on the planet! The boat slows as we approach a colony and the cameras become gatling guns as we try to capture, take offs, landings and their characteristic nose dives into the sea.
There are thousands of birds along this coast. We follow the peninsula that is included in the National Reserve and near its furthest point, spot the “Candelabro” etched on the cliff. Whether it is a navigational aid or a pirate sign (both are postulated in my guide book,) it is pretty impressive and like the Nazca Lines is pretty much a mystery in terms of its origin. Because it is made of limestone, it can not be carbon dated so its age remains a mystery.
We swoop across the sea on this sunny, clear day, watching blue-footed boobies and colonies of Humboldt Penguinsas they clamber over each other on the steep cliffs. The choir of barking sea lions is backed by the crashing waves and tumbling rocks. I am stunned by how high the sea lions climb and marvel at their ability to not just topple back into the sea at a weak moment.
The hugh bird population gives this place a distinctive and not that pleasant odour. I have no desire to put Guano collector on my resume and yet for three months every seven years, there is an employment opportunity here as the guano that is about three feet thick is removed from the tops of the cliffs and carted to the desert where it is cut with sand or water and used as fertilzer. It’s a five million dollar business!
Inka terns join the cormorants. The air is in motion , the cliffs are alive and at the edge of the sea, star fish and orange and blue, Sally Lightfoot crabs move across the slippery rock face. A local fisherman works the waves and his lines.
Two hours pass quickly. Back on shore we walk the malecon in downtown Paracas. Fishing boats are at anchor in the harbour and some fishermen are bringing their catches ashore. Tourists move through in waves. A group of nuns with sun hats added to their habits are having a great day. One says with a twinkle in her eye ” Their Father has given them a holiday”! They are friendly and excited and clearly having a very good time.
The squatters shacks, the desert, the police checks, the garbage, miles of sand, walls and half built houses and piles of rubble are all part of this landscape. Periodically, we pass fields of asparagus and corn being tended by workers who have been transported by bus from the shanty towns.
Lunch is at a restaurant attached to a gas station—the Peruvian version of a Canadian Tire “ Enroute”. The food is local with hugh portions. I hardly dint what turned out to be a steak with cheesy spaghetti.
As we hit the home stretch going into Lima, it is late afternoon and traffic is just as chaotic as it seemed my first morning when I had had no sleep. We retreat to the airport along the Costa Verde Highway.
Able tells us that Soccer is the hottest ticket in town tonight. Peru versus Paraquay. He adds that the stadium is not a safe place to be and although he anticipates a Peruvian loss, in the end the home team comes through with a victory. The sixty-five thousand seat stadium was sold out! The poverty that I have witnessed in this country makes me wonder who bought the tickets.
By six we are lining up to get rid of our luggage at the Lima airport. The 7:30 flight to Juliaca is only an hour and a half long. My anxiety ratio starts to climb as I witness the locals dressed in winter jackets. I think layers. I only have layers!
In 525 miles we climb from sea level to a ground level elevation of 12,500 feet. The streets are deserted as we weave our way through the dark streets of Juliaca and head south towards the Bolivian border. Overhead, the sky is crystal clear with millions of stars and an upside down version of Orion. That’s a good omen. A message from the universe. I think of it as I bed down at the Liberatdor Hotel in Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Reference – Aracari Guide, Wikipedia, Eyewitness Travel -PERU