I spent my last day in Lima visiting the ruins of Huaca Pucllana, which were built around 600AD by the local Lima civilisation and which are situated right in the middle of Miraflores. Excavations were only begun in the early 1980’s. Prior to this, the huge mound that looked like a dirt pile had been used by bike riders! Excavations are ongoing and there is still a large part that resembles a giant mound but at least people are prevented from trampling over it now.
Afterwards, I walked down to the seafront and watched the activities. As it was Sunday, it was, of course, very busy. There were so many people paragliding off the cliffs that I was surprised there weren’t any collisions.
On Monday, I had to leave early to catch a 7.30am bus to Paracas. I managed to find one of the grumpiest taxi drivers in Lima, who agreed to take me for less money than he originally demanded (although it was probably still too much). The bus was practically empty so I am not sure why I was offered one of the only 2 cheap seats, next to the toilet, that were, supposedly, left when I booked. It was a 3 1/2 hour trip, which passed very smoothly. We were even given breakfast, which I wasn’t expecting. I had already had some before I left Lima, but I ate the offering anyway.
On arrival, I found the hostel just across the road from the bus stop so, thankfully, didn’t have to battle any taxi drivers, just the touts for the tours to the Islas Ballestas and the National Park. After checking in, I had a wander around the small town of Paracas, which is basically two strips. One is along the waterfront and full of cafes/restaurants and souvenir shops and the other is on the hinterland side of the road, and comprised dense housing for the local population in small houses, most of which I could see from the balcony of my room. There are a couple of somewhat smarter hotels at one end of the town but otherwise the accommodation in principally in hostels. If the others were anything like mine, they are fairly basic and overpriced for what they are.
I had lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon, such as it was, in my room before venturing out again to watch the sunset and drink pisco sour, for this is the home of pisco. As it was happy hour, I was forced to have 2, although, I would have to say, they were not up to the standard of the ones I had had in El Calafete a few years ago, and half the glass seemed to be froth.
On Tuesday, I was woken exceptionally early by a cacophony of dogs and cockerels, most of which seemed to be parked under my window. The cockerels would certainly have excelled in any competition with those from Rarotonga!
I had booked a tour to the Islas Ballestas, as well as to the Paracas National Park for today and it was leaving at 7.45am. A young Australian couple were also going and we were picked up from the hostel and escorted to the bedlam on the marina, where hordes of tourists (mainly tour groups) were waiting to board the boats. Our guide disappeared to get change for us and, whilst he was gone, we were hustled on to a different boat and that was the last we saw of him and our money for a while!
The trip lasted about 2 hours. On the way out, we stopped to look at the lines carved in the earth entitled The Candelabra. This is similar to the Nazca lines but created, probably, by the Lima people, rather than the Nazcans. The carving is etched 2 feet deep into the earth, on the side of a dune that is protected from the wind and, as it never rains, has never eroded.
The islands are so called because Ballesta means archway, in Spanish. No one is allowed to land on them as they are completely covered in birds! I don’t think I have ever seen so many altogether and this was one of the most impressive parts of the visit. There are also sea lions.
Needless to say, there is a lot of guano and the rocks appear white as a result. However, underneath, they are actually red. It was hard to believe, when looking at them. The guano is harvested every 7 years and is protected by one resident guardian in the meantime. That must be one very smelly occupation! The layer is currently about 30cm thick and due to be harvested in another 2 years when 200 – 300 people will descend with shovels and scrape it up. Another lovely job! It is then sold for fertiliser.
Back in Paracas, I returned briefly to the hostel before being collected for the trip to the Paracas National Park. The Australians and I were, thankfully, reunited with the guide and our money. The Park is completely desert and quite amazing. We first stopped at the Interpretation Centre, which is opposite the mound where Tello, the ubiquitous archaeologist, discovered hundreds of mummies, which are now housed in the museum in Ica.
Afterwards, we visited various beaches and view points to admire the scenery before arriving at a beach for lunch. Naturally the guide recommended one of the 3 restaurants in the location, which is a small fishing port on the peninsula, with some very fresh fish was on the menu. Having decided to have lunch, I was then furious with myself for doing so as it was so overpriced. This area seems to specialise in obtaining as much tourist money as possible as I was also vastly overcharged for a beer at the local shop later on. When I queried the price (having been charged more than was indicated on the bottle) the woman just shrugged. I know that tourists are always charged more but this was so blatant.
Aside from feeling taken advantage of, financially, it was a very enjoyable day and I was very impressed with the scenery. Like the rest of the coast, it is extremely dry as it never rains. Coming from the climate that I do, I find quite hard to imagine one without rain.