South to Paracas

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.

Huaca Pucllana built by the Lima culture c600 A.D
Huaca Pucllana built by the Lima culture c600 A.D
Part of the unexcavated area of Huaca Pucllana
Part of the unexcavated area of Huaca Pucllana
The bricks of the walls were constructed with space between to withstand earthquakes
The bricks of the walls were constructed with space between to withstand earthquakes
Preparing to paraglide off the cliffs at Miraflores
Preparing to paraglide off the cliffs at Miraflores

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.

Art in Kennedy Park, Miraflores
Art in Kennedy Park, Miraflores

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.

View from my balcony in Paracas
View from my balcony in Paracas
Sunset in Paracas
Sunset in Paracas

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!

The departure to Islas Ballestas
The departure to Islas Ballestas

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 Candelabra in Paracas National Park
The Candelabra in Paracas National Park

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.

A few pelicans in Paracas
A few pelicans in Paracas
Peruvian boobies at Islas Balletas
Peruvian boobies at Islas Balletas

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.

Sea lions at Islas Ballestas
Sea lions at Islas Ballestas

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.

Pelicans and penguins at Islas Ballestas
Pelicans and penguins at Islas Ballestas
Leaving Islas Ballestas
Leaving Islas Ballestas

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.

The Cathedral (minus the arch lost in an earthquake)
The Cathedral (minus the arch lost in an earthquake)
In the Paracas National Park
In the Paracas National Park

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.

At Playa de Roja (Red Beach) in Paracas
At Playa de Roja (Red Beach) in Paracas
Playa de Roja in Paracas National Park
Playa de Roja in Paracas National Park

Barranco

I didn’t feel like doing a lot today. After breakfast I walked to the Olturso bus terminal, which, as per usual, was a lot further than it looked on Google maps. According to their website,there was a bus on Monday to Paracas at 11am. However, it transpired that the only bus was at 7.30am so that will mean an early start.

View from the clifftop at Barranco
View from the clifftop at Barranco
House in Barranco
House in Barranco

Afterwards, I caught one of the smaller buses to Barranco, which is the next suburb to Miraflores and also on the coast. However, unlike Miraflores, which could be anywhere in Europe, Barranco has more Colonial buildings, is the artists and bohemian area of Lima and is somewhat more dilapidated than Miraflores.

It was extremely hot as I was walking and very noisy with a lot of traffic and car horns beeping. It didn’t take long for me to yearn for my (relatively) quiet patio so I caught a bus back, bought something for lunch at the supermarket and retreated for the afternoon.

Library in Barranco
Library in Barranco

Later on, I said goodbye to Carlos, who was returning to Madrid this evening, and strolled down to the clifftop to watch the sunset, which was remarkably unspectacular as it was very misty (or maybe that is smog?). I walked along as far as Larcomar, which houses many designer shops, as well as a food court. Having not investigated the shopping possibilities prior to this, I had a very quick look. The prices were well out of my budget and there were far too many people for my liking.

After this, I retreated once again to my rooftop for the rest of the evening. I think I have been in the city for too long and need the mountains again, although I have to traverse quite a lot of desert before reaching them!

A very delapidated church in Barranco
A very delapidated church in Barranco

Labour Day in Lima

One of the courtyards in the Santa Domingo Monastery
One of the courtyards in the Santa Domingo Monastery

Having been in Lima (or should I say, Miraflores) for 5 days now, I had yet to go to the historic centre, so today was the day. I walked over to Kennedy Park, which is the central park of Miraflores, home to a multitude of cats and from where most buses depart. I was lucky enough to catch one almost immediately. This was one of the more official metropolitan buses rather than the smaller buses, owned by who knows whom, which ply backwards and forwards across the city at great speed.

It was quite a long way and took nearly an hour to arrive at a stop that I considered close enough to walk.

The library in Santa Domingo
The library in Santa Domingo

My first destination was the Priory of Santa Domingo, which houses the tomb of Saint Rosa, as well as a crypt containing the bones of many friars. I somehow managed to miss this latter feature, but I did visit the old Library, the cloisters and ascended the Bell Tower where there was a spectacular view over Lima, which is, generally speaking, not a pretty city.

Whilst at the top of the Bell Tower, I could hear drums coming from the direction of Plaza de Armas, so, when I had seen all I thought there was to see at the Priory, I walked over to investigate. It transpired that there was some sort of competition taking place with various indigenous dancers and musicians taking part.

Not a very pretty view towards the Cathedral from the bell tower at Santa Domingo
Not a very pretty view towards the Cathedral from the bell tower at Santa Domingo

I stood watching for quite some time and marvelled at the number of tourists who stood right in the path of the procession in their desperate need to get photos of the artists and themselves in front of them. Needless to say, I did not join them but satisfied myself with photographs with various peoples’ heads right in the middle of the picture (and they weren’t indigenous ones either!).

I was extremely hot whilst standing watching so went in search of lunch and a beer. On the way, I encountered an old man from Chiclayo, who somehow managed to adjust his pace so that I had no choice but to walk with him. I still have not lost my suspicious mind and was wary of his motivation so walked with him for a while and then managed to leave, quite politely (I think!) I didn’t like to tell him that I thought Chiclayo was a horrible place and had to be very diplomatic with my answer when he asked what I thought of it. I did glean the information from him though that it was Labour Day and a public holiday in Peru, a fact which had passed me by prior to this meeting. This was apparently why the streets were relatively empty of cars, but full of people.

Plaza San Martin
Plaza San Martin
Church of Le Merced (Market)
Church of Le Merced (Market)

After walking quite some distance, through a very busy shopping area, I arrived at Plaza San Martin and a restaurant that I deemed in my price range with a suitable ambience. (We are, of course, only referring to a difference of a couple of dollars but I have my standards!) I ate my tamales, followed by goat stew whilst watching the people and cars go by and listening to an Australian girl at the next table telling a couple of Germans about her experience living in Eritrea and visiting the Yemen. She was obviously trying to impress them with her daring.

Fountain in the Magic Water Circuit
Fountain in the Magic Water Circuit

Feeling sufficiently replete and refreshed, I continued my walk to my next and final destination of the day, which was the Magical Water Park. This opens late in the afternoon and is a park full of fountains of various designs, which are lit up at night. There are a couple that people are allowed to play in and get exceedingly wet but the rest are off limits, as is the grass. The rules are vehemently enforced by whistle blowing, loudspeaker toting security guards.

The whole park is so extreme it is funny and the children, especially, appeared to be having a wonderful time. I stayed until the lights came on, which were quite impressive, and then made my way to the bus stop as I was starting to get cold. Once again, I was in luck, as a bus arrived at the same time as I did, so it was an easy trip back to Kennedy Park and then a short walk ‘home’.

One of the fountains in the Magic Water Circuit
One of the fountains in the Magic Water Circuit