Paracas & the bus trip from hell


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South America » Peru » Ica » Paracas
July 12th 2013
Published: July 13th 2013
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Arequipa to Paracas


On our last few days in Arequipa we trawled through the local cheap eateries with Shane and Tom, demolishing massive hamburgers for $2 and other grease laden goodies for not much pocket change. The boys left for Bolivia and we headed north to Paracas, on the coast just up fom Ica.

We had bought tickets for a mid-priced bus, which we will never do again. The overnight bus left 30 min late and this must have been enough of a reason for the driver to thrash the bus down the mountain, with the bus lurching from side to side as we weaved down the mountain towards to sea level. The better buses here are fitted with an alarm that is triggered off when the bus goes over 90km. The ear piercing alarm did not stop the driver though as he continued at break neck speed, and we started wondering whether he was drunk.

After about 3 hours of this we suddenly pulled into the side of the highway and stopped. After a while i ventured out to see what was going on and found the two drivers tinkering away in the engine bay. Maybe they were trying to disable the alarm i chuckled to myself, but alas we were broken down. It took them 2.5 hours of tinkering and cursing to get us going again, and if we thought the driver went fast after a 30min delay, the speed which we went after the breakdown was downright ludicrous. I am surprised the maximum velocity alarm did not disintegrate, or rattle itself apart. It was very sketchy, and the only thing we could do was put our mp3 players on maximum volume to drown out the alarm and try and sleep, hoping we saw daylight.

Miraculously we saw the sunrise as we drove through Nazca. We had played with the idea of seeing the Nazca lines, but were put off by reports from other travellers of dodgy pilots and the possibility of dieing from boredom in the city after the flight whilst waiting for the next night bus. The town was not much at all, and when we pulled into a truckstop outside of the city we were greeted with a thick fog that would have rendered flying impossible. From Nazca it was another 2.5 hours to Ica where we were getting off the bus and trying to make our way to Paracas, another 1.5 hours north on the coast.

We found out the hard way that there is no bus terminal in Ica, instead we were dumped on the side of the Pan American highway and accosted by numerous taxi drivers vying for our business, but not before the bus hostess accused us of taking the crappy bus blankets. I pointed them out to her under our seats and she begrudging muttered something and went back into her coven inside the bus of death. Did she really think that i would want a souvenir from this godforsaken bus company!

I had read that Ica is a bit dodgy, it is a poor region, some of it made worse when an earthquake flattened Pisco and the surrounding areas 7 years ago. Realising that we had no other option, we chose a taxi driver who offered to drive us around to the two bus companies that went to Paracas. We soon found out that there were no buses until the early evening, and Adolfo proposed that he would drive us to Paracas in his 'Ferrari'. Not so much a Ferrari, but a little yellow matchbox that ran on a gas tank strapped in the boot, and sounded like it was missing an exhaust system. Not wanting to hang around in Ica for the best part of a day, and we had a good gut feel about Adolfo, we sucked up some more courage, and decided to take the taxi ride to Paracas, albeit initially with hands clasped around our pocket knives.

Soon we relaxed and enjoyed the ride and Adolfo's company. It made the bus ride from hell seem a distant memory as we flew up the single lane highway safely weaving in and out of traffic. Although Adolfo's Ferrari would have run on the smell of an oily rag it rattled along at a good chop as we sped past the rubbish strewn desert. It felt like we were back in parts of the Bolivian Altiplano as the amount of rubbish was overwhelming. It is all sand, interspersed with some Pisco grape plantations and mountains of plastic bags, bottles and shitty nappies. There was some massive sand dunes towards Huacachina, but the were greyed out by the foggy sky that had been with us since Nazca. Our big backpacks were in the boot, next to the gas bottle and each time the Ferrari breaked, the weight of the bags would cause our backseat to slightly fold over. And as per every other taxi in this continent we have caught (except Brazil) there were no seatbelts. Despite all of this, we surprisingly felt quite safe, a lot more safer then in the bus, as we smiled our way up to Paracas listening to Adolfo gun his Ferrari and chatted in spanglish over the roar of the missing exhaust.

Paracas is a sleepy little village that mainly exists to cater for the tourism industry, ferrying tourists to the Islas Ballestas and the Paracas Nature Reserve. There is a Hilton here, and another 5 star resort, but at $200+ a night they are far out of our budget, so we decided to stay in a nice little hostel that is run by Alberto, who used to run a 5 star resort, a good compromise. The town is quite unremarkable, except for the rows of cevicheria's and a great little pizza place run by some kiwi's. We found our cevcicheria, and have tucked into a huge plate of ceviche (raw fish, cured in lime juice and spices) every day. It is different to the ceviche we had in Chile, more like Ica Mata which we had in the Cook Islands. It is delicious, and a nice change to the food served up in the Altiplano. It is also the first time in over 4 months that we have smelt and seen the sea, and is quite peaceful except for taxi drivers who constantly beep their horns to garner attention, even with passengers.

For our last day we took a tour out to Islas Ballestas, known on the gringo trail as the poor man's Galapogas. It is a small group of islands about 30 minutes of the coast of Paracas by speedboat. First we went past the Candelabro, a huge engraving in the side of a small mountain near the head of the bay that Paracas lies in. It is some 50m in height and the engraving is 60cm deep, and similar in design to the Nazca lines. Noone really knows the engraving is or what it stood for, but the two main thoughts are that 1) It represents a candle (hence the name) and was used as a beacon for sailers returning back to the coast. The second theory, and the one that i prefer is that it represents a cactus, that was carved by the locals when hallucinating on Sand Pedro cactus.

From the Canelabro, the boat took off at a rate of knots towards the Islas, as millions of boobies flew into the bay from the Islas. I am not lieing with the millions, the amount of birds was phenomenal, there a constant stream of them all the way to the islas, and as we got closer it seemed that there would be no birds left on the rocky outcrops that make up the islands. This was completely wrong though as there were even more birds on the islands, from a distance they made the islands look like there were covered in fur.They collect guano here, selling it to fertiliser companies, and the smell of it was overwhelming as we got closer to the islands. It's collected a couple of times a year after it gets to 60cm deep, and they have a permanent ranger who lives on the island to ensure that there is no illegal guano collecting.

The main birds on the Islas are blue footed Boobies and Guanay Cormorants, along with some terns and the Humboldt Penguin, a crazy creature that sleeps up on top of the cliffs and is capable of diving through the water at 60km. On the smaller rocks seals bask, away from the birdshit, fighting each other for the prime position on the limited space. Peru has 1% of the world's coastline, but provides 10% of the fish to the world. The currents are fed straight up from Antarctica, the water is cold and deep, and as it lies 10 degrees south of the equator, the sunlight is long and plentiful. Peru supplies the most anchovies in the world, and for this reason the birds of Ballestas do not migrate, just staying put for the whole year stockpiling the guano.

Back on land after visiting the Islas, we went into the Paracas Nature Reserve, a parched piece of desert that stretches down the coast for 80km. The nature reserve is 70% marine, with the land segment purely existing to make sure that noone lives in the area and pollutes the pristine water. There is not a single tree, just rocks and sand that form massive cliff lines.

We are off to Lima now, actually i am typing this up in the bus as they have Wifi....


Additional photos below
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Red beach in Paracas Nature ReserveRed beach in Paracas Nature Reserve
Red beach in Paracas Nature Reserve

The red is from broken up bits of magma
The remaining bits of the CaterdralThe remaining bits of the Caterdral
The remaining bits of the Caterdral

The earthquake in 2007 causes the arch between the mainland to fall down


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