Ballestas Islands and Nazca Lines

So much for a good night’s sleep.  Despite my wearing ear-plugs (I always bring ear-plugs whenever I am sleeping away from home) I was woken several times in the night by the persistent ‘boom boom’ bass notes of disco music.  It went on all night ( I kid you not) and, when we got our early-morning wakeup call at 5.30am and emerged from our little cabins just after 6.00am, it was still going strong.

It appeared to be coming from a night-club adjacent to the hotel, and when we arrived in the dining room for breakfast the rest of our party were talking/complaining about it as well.  Apparently the hotel’s karaoke went on until 3.00am, and the disco music took up where the karaoke left off.  Rosario, our guide, explained that today was “Mothers’ Day” in Peru, and the disco was part of the celebrations.  Hmmm… how many mums do you know would boogie on down until the sun comes up?  Not many, I’m sure.

Anyway… once breakfast was over we went back to our room and packed all our stuff up, leaving the cases outside our room for the porters to put on the coach for us.  As dawn broke we were on the bus and on the road once again.

Our first stop today was at the resort town of Paracas, where we were going to take a boat tour to the Ballestas Islands.  These are a group of small islands composed mostly of rock formations and covering an estimated 0.12 square kilometres and are an important sanctuary for marine fauna like the guanay guano bird, the blue-footed booby and the tendril.  Other notable species include Humboldt Penguins and two varieties of seals (fur seals and sea lions), amongst other mammals.

At the harbour we disembarked the bus and made us of the ‘facilities’ (as Rosario was fond of calling them) before walking along a small pier to the boats.  We saw a great number of pelicans, some of the them swimming hopefully up to the fishing boats in search of a titbit, others sitting along the dock wall.  One enterprising guy had a bag of fish and was enticing one of the pelicans to sit on the wall so that he could charge visitors a few soles to have their photos taken with it.  However, I don’t like these ‘contrived’ photos; if I’m going to photograph (or be photographed with) wildlife, I would rather it was just that – wild, and spontaneous.

Once we were in the motor boats we donned the life-jackets that had been placed on our seats and set off.  The weather, once again, was cloudy but the temperature was mild.  We saw an old abandoned boat which was hardly more than a shell; it had been taken over by loads of cormorants and boobies and looked like something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds“.

On our way to the groups of rocky islands we passed a barren,  sandy hillside containing a curious Geoglyph called ‘El Candelabro’  that was believed to have served as a beacon to mariners.  The mystery as to the origins of this particular geoglyph is ongoing with much speculation.

We arrived at the ‘islands’, the large rocky formations, and saw where the relentless pounding of the Pacific ocean had hollowed out some of the rocks to form arches and shallow caves.  On the tops of the rocks we saw many penguins and other birds; the rocks were covered in guano which had a distinctive, fishy smell.  The guano is actually harvested and dried to make a rich fertiliser, and our guide explained it was sold and exported as such; he made us laugh when he said the economy of Paracas was “built on shit”.   🙂

We saw some small rocky ‘beaches’ at the foot of the large rocks, and on these there basked a large number of seals and sea-lions.  You can tell the difference between the two easily – sea-lions have visible ears, whereas seals do not.  They made a tremendous din with their barks, growls, yelps and yaps.  Some of the sea-lions had pups with them.  Several of them were swimming around and frolicking in the waves.  In fact, we even saw them quite high up on rocky columns; goodness knows how they got up there.

The boat trip was really exhilarating; we enjoyed the smells and sounds of the sea in addition to the cries of the wheeling sea birds and the barks of the seals.  We wondered how long it would be before one of us received a little ‘present’ (ha ha) from the birds and indeed our guide had his hair and spectacles liberally splattered, to much amusement.  The rest of us prudently kept the hoods of our cagoules firmly over our heads.  🙂

The boat trip lasted about an hour and a half, then it was time to return to the harbour.  We disembarked, walked along the little pier once again and arrived at a café/bar where we would have an early lunch (it was only 11.30am. but we’d been up since half five).

We enjoyed a plate of fish and chips; it was actually fried sea bass (without batter; it was quite salty) and the chips were certainly nothing like you would get at home.  Nonetheless we washed it down with a bottle of Cusqueña beer, went to the loos before the queues started to form, then we found we had some time left, so I decided to go and have a look in the little souvenir shops along the shoreline, some of which displayed their goods temptingly outside.

Before coming to Peru, I had read that the best local buys were Peruvian silver and alpaca knitwear.  One shop was selling knitted/woven wall hangings, throws, shawls and wraps as well as silver rings and bangles and also leather goods.  I had a good browse around the shop before I spotted an adjustable hand-tooled silver wirework choker, which had an unusually-shaped cabochon at the front made of lapis lazuli.  The necklace was very unusual and totally original;  just my style.  It was only 126 soles (about £32.00) so very cheap.  As I didn’t have that much cash on me, I practised my Spanish to ask the vendor ¿Puedo pagar con tarjeta de credito? (Can I pay with a credit card?) and he shook his head and said I wasn’t spending enough to use a card!

Once we started to walk out of the shop, however, he soon changed his mind and let Trevor pay with his Visa card.  🙂

Shortly afterwards, Rosario came out and rounded everyone up and back onto the bus for the next part of our journey.  We would spend a lot of time on the bus this holiday as we had a lot of ground to cover, but it wasn’t really too bad as I had my travel pillow and my trusty Kindle to read if looking out of the window became too boring.

The bus set off once again, and we marvelled at the scenery.  We’d noticed so far that Peru has a very diverse landscape; the wide sandy beaches of the Pacific coastline, rolling desert and sand-dunes, and the mountainous backdrop of the Andes.  Little shanty towns, isolated buildings and concession stands popped up here and there in the most inhospitable places, where their residents tried to scratch a living.  In the greener valleys and hillsides, we saw many grazing llama, alpaca and vicuña.  Vicuña look a bit like alpaca, but they are smaller and have slightly longer necks.  Like alpaca, their wool is very soft and luxuriant, and is much sought-after.  In fact, the Incas valued vicuñas highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments.

After another couple of hours, mainly going through desert landscape, we arrived at another well-known landmark – the famous Nazca Lines.  These are a series of ancient geoglyphs, believed to have been created around 400-650 AD by the Nazca culture.  They were made a World Heritage Site in 1994.  As they are spread out across a wide area of desert, the best way to see them is to fly over in a light aircraft; however, the bus parked along the roadside, nearby which was a high tower that you could climb up for a couple of soles (about 50 pence).

Trevor and I made our way up to the top of the tower where there was a viewing platform over the desert.  The lines are really curious and depict animals as well as a large pair of hands.  One of the most famous (and recognisable) of the Nazca lines is the monkey with the spiral tail, a symbol that we kept seeing throughout our holiday.  Even the word “Peru” tended to be symbolically written as a logo on postcards and other souvenirs, with the loop of the “P” going round and round in a spiral.

Next to the viewing tower a couple of the local craftsmen and women had set up their stalls to sell their wares.  There were a lot of leather goods, trinkets, jewellery and postcards, as well as hand-knitted gloves and hats and the like.  One thing we’d noticed so far in Peru was how cheap everything is compared to Britain.  There are about four Peruvian nuevo sol (or just sol, plural soles) to the pound so at that rate we should pick up some good bargains.  I am on the lookout for a good alpaca shawl or wrap, and a handbag.  🙂

Once we got back on the bus we relaxed and napped a little bit en route to our hotel at Nazca.  We arrived about teatime, and by this time the sun was out and we fancied a nice freezing cold beer.  Our hotel was one of the Casa Andina brand, and this time the layout of the hotel was such that there was a central atrium, with palms growing inside, with separate landings which led to the rooms.  Inside the hotel we spotted our cases in the pile before the porter brought them to our room, so to save time Trevor just got the cases and brought them up himself.

Our room was large and had two big single beds instead of a double, as well as a large airy bathroom.  We dumped our stuff and went in search of Stephen and Alison to see if  they fancied a pint.  🙂

Downstairs we made our way through the restaurant and out to a pleasant courtyard at the back, where there was a small swimming pool, some sun-loungers, tables and chairs with umbrellas, and a small bar.  Climbing flowers wound their way up some trellises around the edges of the courtyard, and relaxing Spanish music was piped through invisible speakers.

Trevor, Stephen and I ordered a Cusqueña beer each and Alison took a chance and ordered a glass of the local vino tinto.  It was unpalatable, however, so she left it and got some mineral water instead.

We enjoyed a couple more beers each in the sunshine, then it was time to go back inside where we would just have time for a nap before getting washed and changed for dinner at around 7.00pm.

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