It's a creekmore world

Peru Day 9: A sea-fari in Paracas, Peru: the Islas Ballestas

This guy was only about 30 feet from our boat.  (We don't have a zoom lens)


After a short breakfast, we pack our bags and are driven to the docks at Paracas for our departure to Islas Ballestas, the best known activity on the Peruvian coast.  Our little van takes us on the 5 minute ride to the tourists lined up in long formations, ready to attack the 8am boats.

There are a bunch of extra small fees to pay, but it’s not a complicated process.


Excited to be going to see penguinos and sea-wolves
On the 50 person high-speed boat, Emma and Lily get life-vests labled with the name of the boat ‘Penguino’.  Lily calls her self ‘Penguino’ in her cute baby-talk voice that she does on an off all trip – sometimes with great hilarity, sometimes to excess.  (Later she would transform ‘Penguino’ into ‘Pay-Inka’, which she insists is the baby-talk version of ‘Penguino’  – ooo–kaaay)

The Candleabra geoglyph at Paracas, Peru
We launch quickly and the sun and sea spray is a welcome condition for travel compared to the Cruz del Sur bus and dilapidated taxis.  The ride out to the small islands is about 30 minutes and we stop for a good look at another geoglyph: the candleabra, which is not related to the Nazca ones, but was made much later in the sand.  It survives, amazingly because this area gets under two millimeters a year of rain and has little wind.  No one knows what it was for.

South of Paracas is a national reserve, the only one on Peru’s pacific coast, that protects hundreds of species of birds, and provides great views of the Pacific.   We will miss the reserve because of time.  It gets low reviews probably because the Islas Ballestas next-door are comparatively amazing.

Humboldt penguins!

Thanks to the Humboldt Current, a deep and food-filled waterway that sweeps northward along the Peruvian coast, the Ballestas Islands host an incredibly dense number of animals in a small area, including sea lions (called sea-wolves in spanish), Peruvian Boobies, Inca Terns, cormorants, pelicans, Turkey vultures, and if you are lucky, Humboldt Penguins in their most northern habitat.

Islas Ballestas

Can you hear the bird cries and smell the guano?
There are times that this blog is completely inadequate to describe a travel event.  The scene at the small rocky islands off Paracas is one that pictures, and certainly words betray.   You can’t capture the smells and sounds of Islas Ballestas, and they are a huge part of the experience. (click on that photo – all those dots are birds.)

In addition to the ever-present briny smell of the sea, the islands smell like bird shit;  Ripe, pungent bird shit, which we are fortunately just far enough from that it wasn’t a gaggingly overpowering fume.

The blue sea washes the white guano exposing the red rock.
Guano is everywhere.  The rocks, except where they are washed by the sea, are covered in a thick white, dry crust that is at least a few feet deep in places.  It’s not ‘painted’ on like the rocks at your friendly neighborhood park.  You could shovel it.

In fact, for a period in the 1800’s guano was one the major exports of Peru before artificial fertilizers were invented.  In fact the word Guano originates from the Inca/Quechua language ‘wanu.’

Guanay Comorants below, piqueros above.  Both are major producers of the guano.
It’s still collected and manufactured here because the dry climate preserves the nitrogen content of the bird shit.  The boat guide tells us that the market rate for raw guano is about $300 a ton.  It’s mostly used for organic farming now.

Of course the good news about animal stink, is it means there are animals nearby.  And holy cow are there animals.  The sound is cacophonous, mostly birds, but also the barking of sea lions.  God it’s loud.

Lions and Penguins and Birds – Oh my

Those teeth!  I like the spanish word for them:  Sea-wolves
I use that trite header on every trip but today it really applies.

The boat moves up closely and I expect the hundreds of birds to scatter because we are so close to the edge – maybe 20 feet from them.  But they seem fearless.  Maybe they recognize their overwhelming numerical superiority.  They could sink one of these boats if they were organized enough.

The rock formations are beautiful.
The rocks are beautiful in themselves, lying unconnected to anything else in the nearby ocean.  This must be like heaven for them.

And then we turn the corner and get our first glimpse of wild penguins.  What a sight!  One does not expect to see wild penguins without going somewhere pretty cold.  They waddle around and little baby penguin fuzz-balls sit waiting to be fed.  We see many on this trip, at least three dozen.  I feared they would be a rare spotting.

Penguins and boobies.  (heh heh.  boobies)

The sea lions, in big packs, are just adorable.  There are also lots of babies and big ones.  They sun themselves, and flop effortlessly in the water.  At one spot, we saw hundreds playing on a beach in the surf.  We couldn’t get that close, but it was really cool.

They fish and play and sun themselves, undisturbed by our boat nearby.

We turn around for one final look at the islands after the 60 minutes tour, and depart for Paracas.  It seemed longer than an hour, maybe because my senses worked overtime.  I was so engaged with the wild animals.   This was an amazing sea-fari.

Our boat approaches the mysterious Islas Ballestas

Check out the pictures below, there are many great ones that I can’t include with the text.

Onward to the amazon.

The daddy sea lion with his cub.
Our 3 day stint on the desert pacific coast of Peru is done.  We are heading to our final region, the amazon basin near the city of Iquitos far over the Andes.  Our plane leaves this afternoon and we hop in the car for the three hour drive.

The drive is simple for the first few hours but we hit snarling Lima traffic, which may be related to the holiday weekend coming up (Easter.)  But it leads to an anxious hour in the car, at one point completly stopped for 20 mins, before we hit the city center and the airport outsikrts.  It didn’t help that I had thought the plane left earlier than it, in fact, did.  doh.

Soon without electricity, the girls play their last games at the Lima airport before flying to Iquitos.
The flight is easy and on time.  We like Peruvian Airlines and the flight is only 90 minutes over the andes to Peru’s biggest city in the Amazon.  It’s raining in Iquitos and we check into the hotel that Ivy, one of the owners of the lodge that we will be staying at in the Amazon, has helpfully booked for us. I had figured we could find a place like elsewhere, but she says the town it completely full.

The room has three beds, so Emma and Lily sleep head to tow for the second night in a row.  It’s damp but the have a weak air conditioning unit that we switch on.  We take our last hot showers for a while.

Tomorrow we will be in our final destination, the Amazon!


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