Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pelicans, penguins, cormorants, and even Peruvian boobies!

The dizzying bus ride from Ayacucho towards Pisco was magically scenic, and a stark contrast from the bleak desert landscape we found when we arrived in Pisco. This town was very near the epicenter of the devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake, which struck south central Peru in 2007, and although there has been some recovery, there is a feeling of emptiness and sadness here.

In Quechua, which is a pre-Incan language, pisco means "bird", so it is not surprising that the big tourist attraction here are the Islas Ballestas where thousands of pelicans, penguins, cormorants, Peruvian boobies, Inca terns, sea lions, turtles, dolphins, and even whales hang out. Their other claim to fame is pisco, a grape distilled brandy that is the special ingredient in the wonderful cocktail pisco sour.

Our bus from Ayacucho dropped us off at the side of the road (literally) in a small town called San Clemente. From there we picked up a taxi that delivered us to the Tambo Colorado Hostal, near the Plaza de Armas in the centre of Pisco. Reviews of this Hostal claim that they have friendly staff, clean rooms and are very helpful in organizing tours to the Islas Ballestas. We found this all to be true and with their help we were off early the next morning on a bus to Paracas where we met our (English speaking) guide and the boat that would take us out to see the islands.

Unlike our experience in Ayacucho, the dock in Paracas was filled with tourists. Most South American, as this is their summer, but we did see many more western tourists as well, which meant our English guide was probably going to actually know a bit of English! Paracas has almost overnight become a heaven for backpackers, so the streets were packed with dreadlocks, tattoos, tie dyed dresses, and hostel signs in several languages. It felt for a moment like we were back in India or Vietnam. But only for a moment.

We put on our funny sun hats for this occasion!

This area is known as the Peruvian Galapagos or baby Galapagos for short. It took only about 15 minutes by motor boat from the beaches of Paracas to see the white and black vision in front of us. From afar it was hard to determine what was bird, and what was guano! There were thousands of black and white birds and their lucrative poop covering every inch of the islands they call home. As our boat full of tourists and five or six other similar vessels got closer to the first islands, hundreds of birds took fight to greet us, and the sky was filled with them. As we all snapped photos, the clicks of our cameras blended with their voices and the flapping of their wings.

Here’s the scoop on the poop. Apparently it is such amazing fertilizer that the locals made a very good living harvesting it, until it became clear that it was ruining the habitat. Now the Islands are part of the Paracas National Reserve, which was established in 1975 to preserve habitat for the birds as well as the archeological finds of the ancient Paracas culture. There is a wonderful museum in the reserve that explains the ecology of the region and information about the birdlife.

We spent the afternoon in the reserve, stopping for lunch at a seaside restaurant, and for photos at Red beach and a rock formation called the Cathedral before returning to Paracas and our bus back to Pisco.

That night as we were hanging out in the kitchen of our Hostal watching two other “mature couples” like us, chopping vegetables and preparing to make their dinner. They started talking to each other in English and we soon discovered that one couple was from Quebec and the other from Vancouver Island. We chimed in that we were from Vancouver and an evening of conversation ensued. After a week in Peru, seemingly the only tourists everywhere we went, here we were in a little hostal in Pisco with four other Canadians! What a small world indeed.

Shortly after returning to our room and beginning to pack for our departure the next morning, one of the hotel staff knocked quietly at our door. On her tray were several pisco sours. We each took a glass and thanked her for her kindness. Nothing like a pisco sour on our last night here to remind us of our sweet visit to the land of birds on the edge of a great desert that was the home of the ancient Paracas culture.

1 comment:

  1. Another 'OMG!' post & pictures! The opening shot of that roadway took my breath away (as I imagine it did yours--it looks REALLY high up). And all those birds and the red beach--what a place. Of course, I'd guess that anywhere Canadians gather abroad must me pretty special... I hope you were wise enough to only take one small Pisco sour and not that entire tray into your room: I noticed that your description of the day ended with the drinks (!) More adventures ahead!