Sea Lions and Sand Dunes

Who knew Peru had such a diverse landscape? I certainly didn’t..
To the east there is lush, humid Amazonian jungle and rivers, in the central Highlands there are chilly damp lakes, mountains and high altitude Incan cities.  Then along the coastal region there are sand dunes, dry deserts and rugged craggy cliff sides.

Paracas on the coast, is a sunny, scruffy seaside town that is a popular weekend destination for the wealthy from Lima. This was our original planned sunshine destination for New Year week that we couldn’t afford, as there are either bedbug cheap backpacker hostels or fancy overpriced resort 5* hotels that cost from $150 US upwards. But we managed to find a simple hotel, the Bamboo Lodge that had pretty views over the bay where seagulls perch on the fishing boats and families play on the seaweed filled beaches.
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A visit to the Galapagos Islands off the northern coast of Peru was totally out of our budget. So while in Paracas we took a bargain boat ride to the marine nature reserve of the Ballestas Islands, which is dubbed the ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’. The reason being, is that this small group of islands is home to a vast array of cohabiting birds and marine life. The cold Humboldt ocean current from the south sweeps by and is a mouth-watering seafood buffet filled with fishes and masses of anchovies for the wildlife to fill up on.
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Due to the enormous number of birds nesting on the islands there is of course a huge amount of bird poo, each bird can eat a kilo of anchovies a day. So along with the briny rock walls covered in mussels and the stinky mating sea lions, the smell that circulates is astounding! A couple of times a year, the thick white, honking, crusty guano is shovelled off the surface by hand and exported as prime Peruvian agricultural fertiliser.
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With hats on and mouths closed when we looked up (I was convinced we’d be pooed on!) we were able to see thousands of Peruvian Boobies, Inca Terns, Guanay Cormorants, pelicans, turkey vultures and a penguinery of cute, funny looking Humboldt penguins. Everyone loves the Penguins, especially Mr E they’re his favourite!
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I’ve never seen so many birds in one place, each one of the black dots on the rocks is a bird jostling for their place to roost. Luckily only one person in our boat got pooed on and won the booby prize, unfortunately for him he wasn’t wearing a hat!

The word Ballestas in Spanish means suspension, there are plenty of weather worn natural rock arches and bridge formations that add to the scenic beauty of the islands.
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On the way out to the islands we had opportunity to view the mysterious ‘Paracas Candelabra’ a geoglyph carved figure on the cliff side. No one really knows what it is, some think it’s a marker for where pirates buried looted Incan gold, it could be a giant cactus indicating direction of the land for the pre-Inca fisherman or the trident belonging to the Inca God Viracocha born in Lake Titicaca. It’s also thought to be connected to the nearby Nazca Lines, the top of the candelabra points in the direction of the famous carved figures which are only fully visible by air. Then again it could be an ancient alien landing craft pointer…
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Back on dry land we took a bus ride though the sand dunes and desert of the Paracas National Reserve. The coastal cliffs are impressive with red and black  beaches.
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Back in 2007 a large earthquake damaged the rock formation called the Cathedral, the archway collapsed and the following tsunami washed the rocks away. There are precarious cracks in the cliffs just waiting for the next earthquake to inflict further damage.
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We stopped at a harbour for a delicious fresh Cerviche lunch and watched as the pelicans gobbled up the leftover catch of the day.
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While the town of Paracas was a bit naff, the National  Reserve was well worth the visit and it was good to be back at sea level drinking beers with the sun on our faces.

Next up – relaxing in Lima.

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