The smell of Guano


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South America » Peru » Ica » Ballestas Islands
January 14th 2012
Published: January 16th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Morning seemed to follow the night before with indecent haste, as I rolled over to turn off my alarm. Although I'd gone to bed early last night, I still felt exhausted and longed for the comfort of my own bed. Having showered, I dragged my bags outside to pack them, not wanting to wake the other people in my dorm and sat at the bar to await my transfer to Paracas.

At 6.30am I was beckoned to the front gate of the hostel where I was met by Willy, the driver on my private transfer. Once I had slung my heavy bags into the boot of his taxi, I climbed on to the back seat and we made our way out of town and back towards Ica. We were joined on the journey by Willy's brother Juan-Carlo, whom Willy explained would be taking me the rest of the way to Paracas. As we drove through Ica, it looked as derelict today as it had been yesterday, and was clearly still rebuilding after the earthquake fie years ago. We soon left Ica behind and headed into the barren wastelands of the desert. It reminded me of something out of the 'Mad Max' movies, with dilapidated buildings and rusted chassis of abandoned cars lining parts of the road. Willy pointed out the many groups of vehicles that were on their way to the Dakar Raleigh as we went. I said that it must be good for the tourist trade to have such a well known event being held in Peru, and he agreed.

Before long we had arrived at the change over point, where Juan-Carlo collected his car and took me the rest of the way to Paracas. I thanked Willy profusely for his help, and having unloaded and reloaded cars, was soon on my way again. It didn't take very long at all to reach the small seaside town of Paracas, which was bubbling with tourists. Juan-Carlo helped me put my things into storage and I joined the throng of people who were also awaiting the tour. I was amazed that such a small place held such a huge draw to so many, because at a glance there really didn't appear to be very much to the town at all.

Once everyone had signed the departure manifest, we made the short walk from Paracas Explorers office to the dock to board out mighty vessel. I say mighty, because I've never ridden in a boat with two such big outboard motors! Having paid S/.6 (£1.46) for my dock and departure tax we set off into the Bay of Pisco. It was a relaxing ride and had the scenery not been so unique, I think I may have drifted off to sleep. Our first stop was just of the coast of the mainland, to take in 'El Candelabro', a massive lamp which had been dug into the rough sand. Our guide, Carlos, told us that the massive structure measured almost two-hundred-and-fifty metres tall and fifty metre wide. Carlos explained that although it resembled a geoglyph from Nasca it had been created using a very different method, and theorists believed a very different use. Once we had taken our pictures we continued on to see the Ballestas Islands.

As the boat began to slow down, I could smell the islands before I saw any wildlife, and it was almost unbearable. The thousands of birds that perched atop the island were renowned for their aim when it came to tourists, and the odour that filled the air confirmed that. It was thick with the stench of guano which, as Carlos explained, was actually a Quechuan word. Carlos told us that the Ballestas Islands were actually a source of income for the local community, who cleared the guano from the islands once every three years to use as fertiliser.

As the boat passed through the small network of islands I began to feel a little queasy, and was convinced it was the smell rather than the rocking motion of the boat. I had never seen such a huge concentration of birds of different species in one area all living quite happily side by side. There were Pelicans, Cormorants, Peruvian Boobies and Humboldt penguins gathered atop the cliffs. As the boat drifted in and out from the rocky outcrops of the island, I prayed that they didn't decide to all take off at once, because the cleaning bill would have been enormous! We drifted along and saw the huge numbers of Sea lion colonies that called the islands home, and it was amazing - I had certainly seen more wildlife on the South American part of my trip than anywhere else I had visited.

Eventually it came time to return to the mainland, where I had several hours to kill before my coach trip to Lima. I felt physically exhausted after my early morning wake up call, and was in desperate need of food. Although I looked at the menus of the many restaurants lining the promenade, I decided to opt for the small cafe which was selling chorizo and egg rolls for a mere S/.1 (£0.24) each. Feeling more human, and less likely to kill someone now I had eaten, I bought a couple of gifts from one of the many souvenir stalls before settling to write my blog. Although I had missed my own deadline of Christmas to catch up, I now wanted to make sure that they were all up to date before I arrived in the states.

Eventually the time came for me to collect my things and make my way to the Cruz Del Sur coach terminal. I collected my ticket, checked my luggage in and sat patiently to await the arrival of the coach. Surprisingly, my patience lasted quite some time because the coach was over an hour-and-a-half late arriving. I settled into my top deck seat to watch the first of many movies, as we left Paracas for my final destination in South America.

We drove through endless dessert on our way to Lima, which lined both sides of the Panamericana highway. Sadly we hit heavy traffic just outside of Chincha, which meant that we were delayed by a further hour-and-a-half. I couldn't help but sit back and smile as I watched the sun set over the pacific ocean, thinking that nothing ever runs completely to plan when traveling.

Arriving in Lima over three hours behind schedule, I dragged my weary body through the coach terminal and into the first taxi I found. After I had checked in at the Pariwana Hostel, I made my way to the bar for a much deserved beer, before pouring myself into my bottom bunk to sleep for what I hoped was an entire night!

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