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Published: August 20th 2007
View of the Paracas shoreline from the pier at Zarcillo.
It was an early start for us this morning as we had booked ourselves on the Ballestas Islands tour, one of the main attractions here in Paracas. After a small breakfast, we made our way to the jetty conveniently situated at the back of our hostel (the hostel owners also run the tour) for the 8.15am start. We boarded the 25-seater speedboat, donned our tasteful dark blue lifejackets and braced ourselves for an exciting journey into the area dubbed the poor man's Galapagos.
The first port of call was to the famous Candelabra, a massive drawing etched into the side of one of the hillsides leading down to the water. It's an impressive sight although I'm not 100% convinced it's as ancient as the locals make out. Something about it didn't look quite ancient enough to me although our guide, Ricardo, informed us that the type of sand around it and way the wind blows makes it look different than you might expect. Whether it's real or reproduction, it was still interesting to see and I was pleased to note that we spent more time there than the couple of other tourist-laden boats, testament to the excellent and detailed Spanish
How´s this for a view from your hostel?
and English commentary we received.
We next zipped across the water for about 15 minutes spotting pelicans and cormorants along the way. The pelicans are a lot bigger than I expected although we didn't really get close enough to get a properlook at them. As we rode across the swells, we descended into a heavy mist and for a while it was impossible to see anything much around us. It felt like we had just stepped into the world's worst horror movie but then suddenly, a large wall of sandstone cliffs came towering out of the gloom - we had arrived at the Ballestas Islands.
The claim to fame for this particular group of islands is the abundance of wildlife here. Birds here line every surface of every cliff and we got to see whole colonies of pelicans, cormorants, boobies and penguins all living together in perfect harmony. We had missed out on the chance to see penguins in New Zealand and this definitely made up for it. We watched as one plucky little penguin made its way towards the water's edge, seemed to say a quick prayer and then leapt off the ledge into the churning waters
Bird on the Wing
One of the local cormorants in action.
The mists didn't completely leave us for the journey around the islands but we liked the eerie atmosphere it provided. As we powered on, the boat took us to a beach absolutely heaving with sealions. We had to keep our distance but the noise of the sealions barking to each other was just phenomenal. Every now and then we caught a glimpse of a mum sealion teaching her baby pup to swim by carrying it on her back through the water, which was really cute. Sealions are quite curious creatures and some were daring enough to swim right up close to the boat.
The trip was really worthwhile at US$11 each for the amazing 2-hour trip. If you ever get the chance to come here, I can recommend sitting on the left side of the boat as you will be closer to the action - everyone on the right-hand side of the boat had to stand and take photos over other people's heads.
After we got back from the boat trip, we needed to get some cash out to pay for our room but there's no ATM in Paracas. As a result, we found ourselves
A wee colony of pelicans along the desert shoreline.
bundled into the back of a collectivo heading for neighbouring Pisco. A collectivo is essentially a clapped-out minibus that drives back and forth along a route, picking up and dropping people off along the way. Just 2 Soles and 20 minutes later, we were in the small city of Pisco.
Our first impressions of Pisco when we passed through on the bus hadn't been that favourable but visiting the place gave us a far better view of it. It was really busy all around town with little tuk-tuk type taxis whizzing around and people on every inch of the footpaths. It made for a lively atmosphere and I really regretted not bringing the camera. We found the bank by the Plaza de Armas and chatted to the friendly security guard who told us he is learning English in his spare time.
Had we not been carrying a large sum of cash on us, we would have explored the city some more but as it was, we made our way down to the marketplace and attempted to track down a collectivo back to Paracas. This was easier said than done and we nearly got roped into getting a taxi
The famous candelabra of Paracas or a tiny trident for fighting midget seafarers?
by mistake so we were very relieved to see the same collectivo that brought us here, sat waiting for passengers. Moments later we were on noard and heading back to our hostel.
In the evening, we ventured out along the promenade and opted to eat at the same restaurant as last night, seeing as the food and service had been so good. We made it in time to catch the sunset over the bay and the sky was illuminated in the most glorious reds and golds. After dinner and a cold beer, we wandered over to a souvenir shop and were surprised to find a little alleyway filled with small stalls, all selling similar trinkets and jewellery. I was tempted to buy almost everything I saw because for once the souvenirs were actually very tasteful and unusual. We chatted away with various locals and ended our day with the feeling that outside of Lima, Peru is a completely different place - and we love it!
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