After two days of my stomach feeling “off,” my fever hit on Peru’s Independence Day in the coastal tourist-town of Paracas. You know Paracas. It’s that town you absolutely avoid on holidays. Hundreds of vendors compete for your attention to sell you a little plastic toy that is better than the other guy’s little plastic toy for a reason that nobody can explain and all the while you are asking yourself “Do they think I like toys? I’m an adult” and then everyone gets drunk starting before sunset and the dance music pounds until 2am or, in Paracas, until 5am.
Meanwhile I was wallowing in a bed in an unfinished concrete room that the hostel only rented to us because it overbooked the holiday and so we were placed in their new, yet unfinished, expansion. Okay, enough of that. The fever was gone the next day.
Paracas is actually known for two things: the Islas Balletas and the Paracas Reserve.
The islands are small rock formations in the ocean known for their massive bird populations (so massive that they harvest 4000 tons of guano from the islands every 8 years). We joined the obligatory boat tour (you pay extra for the photo bomb).
We passed by this 600-foot-tall geoglyph. A few theories exist as to the origin of this human-made landmark that can be seen from 12 miles offshore. I don’t buy any of them. I think it was just a group of 12-year-old boys visiting the beach for the first time and playing in the sand.
Then on to the islands where hundreds of thousands of sea birds nest (Peruvian Boobies, Inca Terns and Humboldt Penguins to name just a few).
Back on shore, we headed to the Paracas Reserve, which encompasses an entire sand dune peninsula and an area of coastline to the south. We skipped the tour here and instead rented bikes and pedaled our way across the desert.
Unfortunately, this is where I started to feel really off, so we didn’t make it quite as far as we had hoped. But we got a sense for the area’s stark beauty and for Peruvian’s “different” approach to rules than the Costa Ricans we just left.
But I got ahead of myself. Obviously, we started our Peru adventure in Lima, the grand capitol of 9 million people. Well, actually our Peruvian adventure started with an unexpected trip to the VIP lounge at the San Jose airport due to the fact that our frequent flier tickets were apparently first class. Our seats were so awesome I took a picture of the leg room.
Okay, and the pineapple dessert after dinner…
Erin and I both enjoyed Lima more than we anticipated. The public transportation was easy, the city cleaner than expected, the Miraflores neighborhood felt modern and alive, and we loved the Lima Backpackers Hostel where our host Marco was super-friendly and made killer pisco sours in his rooftop bar. Or maybe it was just nice to be in a real city again where we can buy things like … our new Birds of Peru book!
But Lima was also a surprise for two reasons I probably read about but forgot:
- It is on the coast but it is not green. It is in the desert. It feels oddly desolate despite being home to so many people; and
- It does not rain in Lima, it just mists (really?!). The garua, as it’s called, is a shroud of bright grey described well by fellow Portland traveler’s Harry and Kerry. The result is a surreal brightness in the city that looks depressing on film but actually put an extra spring in our step as we explored the city.
The historic city center is where you find your stone government buildings and old churches.
Here is the justice building.
A small but ornate church.
Some cool graffiti (literally, “The water is not for sale, the water defends itself,” a very common phrase among Latino activists fighting against water privatization)
Sunday Mass at la Iglesia de San Francisco. Later we took a short tour of the monastery’s artwork and its bone-filled catacombs where 25,000 franciscans were buried over the centuries.
And last but not least we visited the 2,000-year-old Lima (the people, not the city) site of Huaca Pucllana. We learned that this former administrative HQ was conquered by many armies before it was commandeered by the most well-known empire, the Inca, in the late 1400’s.
The Lima people paid taxes by making adobe bricks which, by placing on their end with lots of airspace, resisted collapse in this earthquake-prone area.
The craziest part is that this excavation only began 30 years ago and it is right in the middle of the city! Before the excavation, it was just a big dirt hill for neighborhood kids to play on.
We were surprised to find that we wished we had planned a day or two more in Lima, but we had bus tickets reserved the next morning to Paracas. So we headed south into the holiday madness and a little Atahualpa’s Revenge.
First birds of Peru: peruvian pelican, peruvian booby, humboldt penguin, blackish oystercatcher, inca tern, red-footed cormorant, sooty shearwater, neotropic cormorant, guanay cormorant, grey gull, kelp gull, whimbrel, snowy egret^, great egret^, grey-hooded gull, grove-billed ani^, chilean flamingo (^ denotes species seen previously on this trip in other countries)
ALL of our photos (now mostly captioned!) can always be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexanderin/.