Poor mans galapcos island and a desert oasis

Trip Start Nov 05, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  , Ica Region,
Tuesday, January 7, 2014

We made our way to Pisco on the 5th January after a brief stay in Lima. Pisco had been a key stop on our list ever since we decided we couldn't go to Ecuador due to time and expense. We had read that Pisco's nearby Paracas Reserve offered the far cheaper version of the galapacous islands albeit with fewer animals. Still better to see something rather than nothing!

So after a 3 and a half hour bus trip we arrived in Paracas bus station to be greeted by our tour operator and boarded the tour bus to see the mainland reserve. It wasn't what I expected... I think I had been in lush green mountains or jungle for so long, that I expected more of the same but with different Animals. So imagine my disappointment when it was desert as far as the eye could see! It was an under whelming tour after the amazing sights we had been treated to for several reasons, a) sand isn't that exciting, b) the mist rolled off the sea so we couldn't see much of anything after awhile.
After the tour, where I caught up on some shut eye, we went into Pisco where our Hostal was located. Pisco is a city located in the Ica Region of Peru with around 133,000 people living there. Pisco is a Quechua word that means "bird", hardly surprising due to its proximity to the Paracas National Reserve (also known as the Peruvian Galapagos). The city is around 9 metres (28 feet) above sea level and was founded in 1640 close to an indigenous camp of the same name. The town Is known for several things, primarily for its name sake Pisco (Peruvian brandy) which is grown in nearby vineyards and exported from its port and for its proximity to the Paracas Reserve. To be honest if the reserve hadn't been there, it would have been a very sleepy stop, the town isn't up to much.
I think the most memorable bit for the town would be the fact that it survived a devastating 8.0 magnitude earthquake in August 2007. The media reported that 80% of the city was destroyed, including the central San Clemente Cathedral of Pisco, located in Plaza de Armas. Mass was taking place at the time of the earthquake and the resulting dead count from the cathedral account for a reported 30 percent of the total fatalities caused by the earthquake. A very modern cathedral is now in its place and compared to every other city where there is a huge old cathedral shadowing the square, it made for a change, albeit for horrible circumstances.

Our second morning saw us take in the Ilsa Ballestas which are rocky islands off of the reserve and many bird species can be seen in the islands including pelicans, penguins, cormorants, Peruvian boobies, and Inca terns, as well as sea lions, turtles, dolphins, and whales! We also went past the El Candelabro, a giant lamp dug in the rough sand in the method used by the creators of the Nazca Lines. This has stayed in place due to no wind or rain ever touching it. We got incredibly close to the wild life and thankfully didn't get bird poo'd on! We did get told about the guano which is bird poo that the birds use for their nests (see pic) and is harvested every decade from these islands. Apparently it's amazing fertiliser and commands a great price. Not sure I would like the title of 'poo collector' though...

Our next stop was Huacachina which was a late edition to our trip plans. It had been on the original schedule and then removed when we thought we didn't have enough time. Oh how glad I am that we decided to spend the time there and far less in Nasca. This place is just outside the city of Ica and is an oasis, with hotels and restaurants surrounding a natural lagoon in the desert. You can find a picture of this small village (population of 115!) on the back of the 50 Neuvo sol note.

Legend holds that the lagoon was created when a beautiful native princess was accosted while bathing by a young hunter. She fled, leaving the pool of water she had been bathing in to become the lagoon. The folds of her mantle, streaming behind her as she ran, became the surrounding sand dunes. And the woman herself is rumored to still live in the oasis as a mermaid.
With the increased tourism the hotels have created their own wells to have more access to water for pools and showers (apparently water shortages for days is common), which had lead to the areas water table reducing. This has drastically affected the lagoon water level and as a result it is now artificially pumped to keep its full. Wouldn't be much fun to be looking as a muddy puddle I guess...
We spent our time here enjoying the hotel pool and got a sand boarding and dune buggy tour on our second day. It was brilliant!! Slightly terrifying how they drive these buggys, at times I was sure we would roll or be driven to our deaths. If you could see anything beyond the screams of terror on my videos I would attach them, but it's just a bumpy, screaming mess.
We got to board down several dunes, increasing in size each time until the final one when even the bravest of the group went down on their bellies. Adam being of sturdier (now bruised) stuff had a go at properly boarding down as I went down on my belly after falling over before even going off the edge. He did pretty well and I got some good videos but they don't do him justice. Particularly as I missed his one and only perfect board (sorry!). In my defence he filmed several strangers thinking they were me coming down the last gigantic dune! We came back with pockets filled with sand and one poor fellow lost his wedding ring on one ride, but we all had very big grins on our dirty mugs! It was a tour which was worth every penny!

Some information on the Paracas culture, which is interesting as we have left the inca regions that we were immersed in for so long.
The Paracas culture was an important Andean society between approximately 800 BCE and 100 BCE, because of their extensive knowledge of irrigation and water management. A lot about these people has been found from the Paracas Cavernas, which are shaft tombs set into the top of Cerro Colorado, each containing multiple burials. It looks like these tombs were reused over the years and the bodies or just the skulls were actually taken out of the tombs for rituals. Each mummy was buried sitting up and facing north across the bay of Paracas, next to offerings such as ceramics, foodstuffs, baskets and weapons. Each body was bound with cord to hold it in a seated position, before being wrapped in many layers of intricate, ornate, and finely woven textiles. We will be seeing more mummies in Nasca so this is more to give you an idea of traditions and what is to come and to prepare you for the photos to come!

What's next?
We will be going to see the Nasca Lines and the cemetery near Nasca. We then head on to Arequipa to take in the 2nd largest Peruvian city and the Colca Canyon! The 2nd deepest Canyon in the world (FYI the deepest is not the Grand Canyon but a canyon found a short distance from the Colca Canyon)
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