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

History and politics

The coast at Miraflores is a popular surfing spot
The coast at Miraflores is a popular surfing spot

Today was one of those unexpected days that happen occasionally when travelling. I woke up early and realised that I hadn’t bought milk yesterday so couldn’t make a cup of tea, which was somewhat irritating given that I had actually got a kettle and fridge in the room. I tried to read the ebook Lonely Planet and plan my escape. I was feeling less than enthused about visiting Lima. Then I got dressed and went to the supermarket, which wasn’t open until 8.30am so walked around Miraflores for 10 minutes and returned to make my purchase.

Miraflores Pier
Miraflores Pier

Even though I had got the facilities in my room and delightful patio area, I decided to go downstairs for breakfast and use the wifi at the same time. I had just finished eating when another guest, whom I hadn’t even realised was there, appeared downstairs. As he was wearing an Irish rugby shirt, I assumed he was Irish and made a comment. As it happened, he wasn’t Irish but a Spanish political journalist, ex war correspondent, aspiring documentary film maker and currently contracted to Google communications department in Madrid. Any thoughts of updating the blog disappeared as we started chatting. And continued chatting for most of the day.

On the Miraflores Malecon
On the Miraflores Malecon

At one point, he went out for coffee and I continued with what I had been doing, but when he returned, we continued discussing (or rather, he did most of the talking) history and world politics, in general, but Latin America in particular, which was his ‘speciality’. The Irish rugby shirt was a result of time spent in Ireland making a documentary about I.R.A. member, Shane O’Doherty, who had apologised to the families of the people he had murdered during ‘The Troubles’.

I eventually decided that I should go for a walk and see something of Miraflores, at least, so Carlos decided to come too. We walked along the Malecon, stopping for coffee, and he didn’t stop talking. It turned into a most interesting and entertaining day.

Eventually, he went off to meet an ex girlfriend and I went to the supermarket for some much needed sustenance, which I ate on my patio, accompanied by some of the wine left over from last night (for, surprisingly, there was some!).

Paraventing off the Miraflores cliffs is a popular past time
Parapenting off the Miraflores cliffs is a popular past time

From the mountains to the sea

Cordillera Blanca from the bus
Cordillera Blanca from the bus

Today was a very, very long day. After breakfast, packing up and saying goodbye to Maruja and Guilf, who was drinking beer with his sister in law and, according to Maruja, had drunk far too much the night before, I caught the 9.30am bus to Lima. This is an 8 hour journey.

Down through the valleys
Down through the valleys

The first 4 hours saw us pass through the most magnificent scenery. We travelled through the high sierra, with a wonderful view of the Cordillera Blanca, and then descended down and down, through very many hairpin bends into a canyon, where the terrain became less green and more brown and dry. The valleys, however, must have been well irrigated as there was an abundance of crops along their floors. In those 4 hours, we descended from 3,900 metres to sea level. (One might think, at this point, that I am becoming obsessed with altitude!)

Sugar cane in the flat valleys
Sugar cane in the flat valleys

On arrival on the flat, where there was hectare upon hectare of sugar cane plantations, we stopped at a petrol station for lunch. I had brought a sandwich with me so sat on a wall with a couple of Peruvian ladies and ate it in the sun, whilst inhaling the traffic fumes. Nevertheless, I appreciated being able to stretch my legs and spend a little time out of the bus.

Lunch stop - typical 'collectivo' in the front and our bus at the back
Lunch stop – typical ‘collectivo’ in the front and our bus at the back

Afterwards, we were back on the road for the next 4 hours, following the coast and passing through some dry and dusty desert towns. At one point, there were high sand dunes next to us on one side of the road and the sea on the other. However, there was also a very heavy sea mist so everything was blurry (and this was not just because I had lost one lens out my glasses!). Unfortunately, I had picked the wrong side of the bus to be on as the most spectacular scenery was on the other side for most of the day.

Dusty town on the way down to the coast
Dusty town on the way down to the coast

After quite a few short stops, we approached Lima and the traffic built up and up and up. It was quite hideous after being in the mountains such a short time ago.

Big sand dune and sea mist
Big sand dune and sea mist

We eventually arrived at the bus terminal where we were immediately swamped by taxi drivers. Despite the tariffs being written on the wall in the terminal, none of the drivers would agree to the price ‘because of the traffic’, so I ended up paying more than I should have (surprise, surprise!). We arrived at 5.30pm but, by the time I reached my apartment in Miraflores, it was nearly 7pm. At one point, an intersection was being controlled by a policeman. He seemed oblivious to the traffic build up in the road I was sitting and kept allowing traffic on the main avenue to proceed. I could hardly believe my eyes. There was eventually much tooting of horns and he allowed us to go, by which time I was fuming, so I shudder to think how the drivers must have felt if they have to endure this every day. Admittedly, my rage was also partly due to the fact that I didn’t trust the taxi driver (particularly when his first question was whether the girls in N.Z. were pretty), and wondered if he had specifically taken me on this route to justify the fare.

A yellow suburb outside Lima
A yellow suburb outside Lima

The street the apartment is in is one way so the driver dropped me at the end of it. The number I had been given didn’t seem to exist. Having walked up and down, by now in the dark, I then realised that there was an extension of the street diagonally opposite (i.e. not obvious). It is a gated community of apartments and the gatekeeper had to go and track down the ‘maid’ who wasn’t answering the phone. By the time I actually reached my room, I was ready to implode! Where was the Lima exit door?!

The room itself wasn’t as I had anticipated. Once again, I seem to have struck an owner keen to make extra money by adding on rooms willy nilly (which, in this case, is a little tricky given that it is an apartment building). The room was described as small, with its own bathroom and patio area. Yes, the room is small (no problem), with a low polystyrene ceiling, definitely not permanent construction, and it also has a bathroom containing a shower and toilet, next to the laundry, and a patio that is a corridor between the bedroom door and the laundry area, so I have a lovely view of the sheets drying on the line. There is no sink but I can use the laundry sink for cleaning my teeth. Somehow it is not quite how I imagined it was going to be. The wifi didn’t quite reach the room and the password was incorrect. Hmm…… ! I went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of wine, which seemed reasonable in the circumstances.

After a couple of glasses of said beverage, the room didn’t seem quite so bad and, in fact, I even appreciated its novelty. I didn’t overcome my annoyance at the lack of wifi but really, is that important? I just have to walk down 3 flights and I can be connected to the world!

So, I went to bed.