It's a creekmore world

Peru Day 8: Travelling the Ica Coast; pirates and communists

Leaving Nazca withour backpacks on

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The southern coast below Lima is mostly desert and has the three main cities, Paracas, Nasca and the not-so-nice province capital of Ica.   It’s been a difficult place to fit in our itinerary, because it’s not that easy to get in and out of.

Most people take the bus, which is slower, but at least cheap.  We took the overnight one, which saved a full day, giving us 3 days in the area, although you have to do a red-eye.

The Ica Coast

The Ica region of Peru
It’s a place people skip on their itineraries a lot, preferring Lake Titicaca or Colca Canyon, (after Machu Picchu, of course.)  I can see why.  The cities aren’t the best.  They have all had earthquakes in the past few decades and had their buildings destroyed.  And crime is a little higher, especially in Ica.

There are a few high end hotels, especially in Paracas, which is trying to be a seaside resort.  But mostly it’s mid-range or budget hotels. It is, however, incredibly popular with the Lima crowd, who flock there every weekend to escape the grey Lima climate.

Emma loves the sandboarding in the Nazca desert.
But it’s an area that has some ‘must-see’  attractions.  Aside from the Nazca lines, there are the great sand dunes including the tallest in the worls, and the Islas Ballestas, which are a small set of islands that contain hundreds of penguins, sea lions and thousands of birds.  It’s one of the best sea-animal sighting opportunities in the world.

I figured those three activities were worth the hassle, and judging by yesterday, I was totally right.  It’s not just a great spot, but the Desert/Pacific Coast environment is a fantastic break in between the cool, wet climate of the Sacred Valley, and the Hot, swampy climate of the Amazon.

Day 8 -a simple travel day.

We accomplished both our objectives in Nazca yesterday (the lines and the sand boarding) so we gained a day and decide to take it easy.  If there is one ‘complaint’ I have about this trip, it’s a little bit fast.  But there is nothing we would sacrifice from the itinerary.  This is the way we like to travel.

Horsing around in the pool in the morning desert sun of Nazca
It’s incredibly fun to just eat breakfast late and hang out all morning before the 12:30 bus ride.  The kids take a dip in the pool and adults use the internet and reconnect with home. The hotel, Oro Viejo, is really nice compared to our other hotels.  We got a walk-up rate of about $80 for a quad room with breakfast – a great family deal – most hotels don’t offer quad rooms.  And they have a pool, cute kitties and ice cream.

Travelling without reservation

We again are on the Cruz del Sur bus, this time just for 3 hours through the desert up the coast via Ica to the seaside ‘resort’ town of Paracas.  This time we are on the top of the bus and get a fun view of the highway from the front.  Everyone is relaxed.

On the front of the double decker bus for the drive throgh the desert.
At Paracas, we get off on the outskirts of town at the Cruz Del Sur bus station and the air mixes humid salty sea and hot desert air.  The smells of travel are undocumentable, but it’s a huge part of the experience.

Like Nazca, we get off the bus with no reservations.  Of course we need a hotel, but tomorrow we are also going to Islas Ballestas for an animal tour by sea that promises Penguins and sea lions.  Most importantly though, we need a private car to the Lima airport because our plane leaves for the Amazon jungle tomorrow afternoon and the bus schedules will not make the connection in time.

A very nice woman greets us at the bus station and offers us a tour for the Islands tomorrow.  Having gotten ripped off somewhat yesterday, we pass.  (It turns out her deal was a little cheaper.  shrug.)

Emma and Lily are psyched to have a balcony and be in the warm beachside sun.of Paracas
Using trip advisor and Lonely Planet, I had my eye on one hotel and went there first to see if they have room.  Trish and the kids stay in the car while I check at the front desk of the Hotel Posada del Emancipador.  This was one of the places I had emailed in advance for reservations and having gotten a boilerplate spanish reply, I had no idea what to expect.

As always when I walk-up for a room in Peru, they pull out a gigantic 3-ring binder, and thumb through it as if they are hunting through thousands of records.   Yes!  She has a room, and will let us stay in a double-double, which means the girls have to lie head-to-toe and Trish will kick me all night as she thrashes in her sleep.  But again, Peru mid-range hotels are pretty cheap for a family.  It’s about $80 again.

Shining Path poster celebrating 5 years of war.
Even better, they can book our trip to the Islas Ballestas and set up a driver to the Lima airport tomorrow.  Fantastic!

Peru’s number three industry

Tourism, is, somewhat sadly, the third largest industry in Peru.  It should be number one given what we have experienced so far, but it’s still in it’s infancy because of the Shining Path trauma of the 80’s and 90’s.  At the peak of power, the Shining Path maoists had destabilized most of Peru with violence and intimidation, bringing foreign tourism and infrastructure investment to a halt.

Today, tourism is growing at an incredible rate of 25% a year – the fastest in South America.  My hunch is that when we come back here, which we will most certainly do, we will see a much different place.  You might want to see it in a more ‘authentic’ state while you can.

Typical peruvian ceviche
The number one industry is fishing (Mining is #2) and a lot of those fish become Peru’s national dish:  Ceviche.  Fresh fish, briefly marinated in lime, shredded onion, salt and hot peppers cover a thick slice of sweet or white potato.  The tangy dressing turns the cubed edges of fresh fish white as it ‘cooks’ but the inside stays raw.

Ceviche was invented in Peru, although it was probably a method of preserving fish and would have been marinated longer until fully ‘cooked’.

Eating fish straight from the boat

Strolling the beachside ceviche restaurants of Paracas.
Paracas is one of the fishing centers of Peru and it has a strip of restaurants on the beach that all feature various kinds of Ceviche.  After a quick dip in the pool – it’s 70 degrees here, a little chilly for swimming, we make the 5 minute walk to town as the sun sets.

Dinner is amazing for Lily and me.  She gets fresh fried Calamari and I eat a huge place of ceviche – although my ‘mixto’ was mostly calamari and I wish I had ordered just fish.  No matter, it’s delicious and eating 300 feet from the Pacific Ocean is always fun.

scary, sugary, syrupy, sweet soda
Trish gets offered a Pisco Sour – the cocktail of Peru and thinks it’s pretty gross.  Emma orders an Inca Cola, the soft drink of Peru and likes it at first, but the cloyingly sweet beverage which is sometimes called ‘liquid bubblegum’ is too sugary even for Emma.

Assault of The Creekmore Pirates

After dinner I look for an ice cream place and an internet cafe but everything is shut down.  It seems the seaside market of paracas doesn’t stay up very late.  The only problem with our hotel is that it has no internet access.  I have a lot of things I want to post out before our flight to the Amazon tomorrow because I know there won’t be much bandwidth on that part of the trip.

Paracas, Peru at sunset.
We walk past our hotel to another hotel across the way, thinking maybe they will have wifi I can steal.  But we can’t find the entrance of this walled mostrosity of a place.  A security guard nicely strolls up to us and Trish asks ‘reception” with as good a spanish inflection as she can give.  He talks into his walkie-talkie for a minute, gets some kind of clearance, and tells us to follow.

What the hell?  The illuminated paved walkways, and manicured landscaping tell us we are heading into some kind of luxury compound.  After a five minute walk through resort style mini houses, we are passed to another guard who nicely escorts us into a fully air conditioned, glass doored and marble floored gigantic room with multiple reception people and lounge furniture for guests.

Hotel Paracas (we just ate dessert and pirated wifi here.)
I realize we have stumbled on the Hotal Paracas, one of several Starwood (Sheraton, W) hotel luxury resorts that I had read about in the guides.  At one point, I took a look at staying here when I thought we might have time for a few-day ‘luxury’ break like the unforgettable one we took in Sharm-el-sheik two years ago.  It’s listed by Travel and Leisure as one of the best affordable Luxury resorts.

We smell, the girls have dreads and we have no luggage, so it’s pretty obvious are aren’t really checking in.  Maybe we are pirates.  The hotel manager treats us courteously when we ask about getting some wifi and ice cream.

Trish the Viking Vampire Pirate.  With Boobies!
$65 dollars later, I am browsing at high-speed, the girls are eating a trio of home-made ice creams and sorbets on a georgous veranda with tiki lights and a water pool.  Trish gets a mango creme brulee served in a halved mango ‘shell’ that she is savoring (and will remember forever.) I got a plate of chocolate desserts: ice cream, tort, mousse that is so rich I can only take a few bites.

It’s almost equals the cost of our entire room and food for the night, but it’s worth it.  But I’m not sad that this isn’t a resort vacation.  We are experiencing so much more by being outside the compound than in.  I stay afterward to post a few more pictures, until my battery runs out then back to our mid-range hotel for sleep.

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