The poor man´s Galapagos

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Flag of Peru  ,
Saturday, October 20, 2007

As usual anything worth doing means you have to get up early.  So for our two hour boat tour of the Paracas Reserve that was exactly what we did.  Paracas is known as "the poor manīs Galapagos" due to its plethora of animals on little islands and the fact that it cost us a whopping 100 soles (33.33 dollars).  Thatīs for the two of us (it was supposed to be 90 but we gave the guy a 100 and he didnīt have change and we never saw it the next day).  Consider that the Galapagos are upwards of $2000 per person (on a cruise, which seems to be the way they do it).  But we didnīt get weird lizards and ancient tortoises.  Oh well.

When we arrived at the Paracas pier there were already a zillion other tourists and pelicans.  Yay, pelicans!  Apparently we werenīt the only people to disallow the earthquake to put a damper on our travels.  While all the tourists congregated at the end of the pier a little boy came with a bag of fish bits and began feeding the pelicans, drawing them toward the tourists.  He also charged you a little money and you could feed the pelican yourself.  At one point one of the pelicans was standing right next to my leg and I looked down at his pretty colorful beak and noticed that pelican feet are a really weird shape.  See the photo. 

It seemed like everyone else got to go on the boat first, but finally it was our turn and we got a brand new boat and had our pick of the seats.  They say itīs best to sit on the left side of the boat for spotting animals, but the captain did a pretty good job of turning around for big things, and most stuff was pretty high up, so itīs probably not a huge big deal.  We sat on the left side, and it was super!

Paracas Bay is the site at which José de San Martin arrived in Peru and began his short-lived liberation of said country.  It is therefore thought of as a special, historic bay in Peru.  As we made our way through the bay we spotted a pair of bottle-nosed dolphins and a lone sea lion popping in and out of the water.  When there are only two dolphins itīs really hard to take a photo, but I managed to get the top of a dorsal fin.  Woot!  Everyone got all kinds of excited. 

The first stop on the freezing cold boat ride is at the Candelabra.  Itīs actually only cold when you are zooming in the boat, which is a total of about an hour, so dress warmly.  The Candelabra is similar to the Nazca lines in its representation and mystery.  Itīs a giant image carved into the side of a mountain, mostly straight lines, but at the tops of the three "candlesticks" there are round things, which makes it look more like a candelabra and less like some random stick drawing.  There are lots of theories about the candelabra, and the mystery will remain for ages, since they donīt even really know how old the thing is.  It may have been carved by indigenous peoples ages ago, as the Nazca lines were.  Some think that it was carved by San Martin as a sort of beacon and that there are masonic symbols within the carving.  Or it may have been a piratesī brotherhood beacon.  For a while they even thought that it was for the aliens, pointing them in the direction of the Nazca lines.  Then they found out that it didnīt point toward the Nazca lines so there went that theory. 

If you look at pictures, you will see that the candelabra appears to be entirely made of sand.  So how on earth does it stay where it is and not erode away, like, overnight?  I will tell you, because I know the answer.  The mountian is in fact a limestone mountain covered in sand, so the actual carving is not in the sand, but in the limestone.  Furthermore, there is a maximum of two millimeters of rain per year in this part of the desert, so thereīs not much opportunity for erosion.  And so we can all marvel at this bizarre thing for centuries to come.  Or maybe decades if all the ice melts and the ocean levels drastically rise.  Whatever. 

After we left the Candelabra we sped across the ocean for about half an hour before achieving the Islas Ballestas.  The first island we saw was apparently the pretty one, because of all of its caves and holes and sea-carved stone.  It was gorgeous and picturesque, no doubt about that.  The first birds we saw were boobies, and they were all over the place.  There were a few clusters of them flying with us at sea, divebombing every now and again when they saw a tasty fish.  Watching divebombing birds is SWEET!

All the passengers got all kinds of excited again when we spotted our first cluster of penguins.  The most common type of penguin is the Humboldt penguin, also known as the Peruvian penguin, and they have pretty black and white countercoloring, with sort of swirlies around their eyes.  There was also another type of penguin that lived down in the caves, but we canīt figure out what they were, so itīs a mystery.  Travis doesnīt seem to care and says that penguins are penguins.  Which they are.  They were so neat to see in real life!  Theyīre maybe a little less than two feet tall, and they almost blended in with the other birds they were chilling with.  Also on the little island was a flock of pelicans.  Apparently they like to keep to themselves, because they were only in one spot and there were no other birds there.  The big island boasted so many cormorants that the entire flat surface was black on top except for a giant yellow mound that may have been a guano mountian.  Cormorants are the main guano producers on the islas.  Just so you know.

The Islas de Ballestas were, during the 19th century, a very wealthy place due to their huge amounts of guano, which was at that time Peruīs main export.  Guano has lots of nitrogen and is an excellent fertilizer, or at least it was until synthetics came along.  The guano is extracted every 7 years, otherwise, the birds are left to their islands in peace.  In some places guano can be up to 50 m deep.  Thatīs a lot of crap.

Of course, everyoneīs favorite thing on the islands is the sea lions, which hang out (quite literally) on sunny rocks just about anywhere on the island.  On one beach there was a whole colony of sea lions and some of them swam close to investigate us.  In case you were wondering, you can differentiate a sea lion from a seal because sea lions have foot-like tail flippers that can be bent around, and they can stand up, like when you see a sea mammal show at Sea World, and the animal is sitting, thatīs a sea lion.  Also, sea lions have little ear flaps, which seals do not possess.  So, now you know, sea lions walk on land, seals flop.  And I learned that when I worked at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, so donīt think that this boat ride is an educational experience.  Itīs a lot of tourists getting really excited about animals.  We were definitely guilty of taking a million pictures and saying, "sea lions are SO CUTE!"

All in all it was a good morning, but we were ready to escape the earthquake territory and get to Nazca to see some sweet archaeological sites.  Woot!

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