We joined the Naturetrek group for the next part of our trip. Sixteen birders, well 15 if we don’t count Brian, and two leaders. Mixed ages, mixed backgrounds but all looking forward to seeing a little of the Peruvian culture, country and bird life.
A coach took us down the Pacific coast towards Paracas, the Ballestas Islands and our first Inca ruins at Pachacamac. Built centuries ago to blend in with the surrounding sand, sand, bare hills and more sand this was a huge site and we toured parts of it in the coach. En route to Paracas we stopped for lunch in the small fishing village of Pucasana. Anchovies are the main catch here, although they were almost fished out a few years ago with devastating results on the bird populations that feed on them. At the quayside, lots of bobbling boats and boatmen jostled to get the chance of earning a few sols for taking us for a diesel spin around the bay. Peruvian pelicans were everywhere, balancing on rails, sitting on boats, roofs, planks, fishing under the pier, dive-bombing for fish. Nesting on the cliffs, elegant and alert were gorgeous Inca Terns and flying around we saw our first Booby’s. Big red crabs, too.
Paracas is the setting off place for trips to the Ballestas Islands. By 8.00 a.m. on a perfect morning we were on the long white jetty, the boats bobbing gently. A light breeze, light cloud, light swell, then the speedboat roared off making a huge wake. Around us Peruvian Boobies dived into the water, pelicans effortlessly cruised just above the waves while Inca terns and Sooty shearwaters glided past. The Ballestas Islands are a breeding area for sea birds and known locally as the Mini or Poor man’s Galapagos; years ago they had a thriving guano business. Clinging to the cliffs of the island were the slowly decaying remnants of piers, staging, pulleys and lifting paraphernalia – now inhabited by masses of noisy seabirds. Seeing so many pelicans, Boobies and terns was wonderful; they must be natural optimists to lay eggs on those inhospitable, dangerous, narrow ledges!
(The strong smell of guano took Brian back to the top end of the greenhouse age 10!) The rocks had fascinating structures, there was a multi-layered effect looking through natural arches to other islands and islets. Sitting on unbelievably difficult perches were majestic sea lions, their harems and babies. Squabbling, barking and noisy despite their smooth-coated silkiness. This is a popular trip as there must have been another 5 boats bobbing about looking at the wild life.
Further down the coast are the remarkable Nasca lines. Immaculate straight lines and weird symbolic shapes either made by men from outer space, if you believe Von Daniken, or simply a left-over from a previous culture strong on wall building! The little airport was delightful; little planes on a little runway, wicker chairs to wait around on, a teashop and when it was our turn two pilots accompanying us to the plane. With their black sunglasses securely in place they whooshed us down the runway and we swung into the air, me clutching Dad’s altimeter and watching it steadily rise. The flight to Nasca took about 20 minutes and the land we flew over looked parched, brownish and a bit desolate. At last we came over the ‘lines’ and the co-pilot gave a commentary,
“On the left side we have ‘Hummingbird’ and the little plane banked hard to the left …. “and now we will see” … and the plane turned dizzily in a circle, “the Hummingbird from the right side” And so it went on – Tree, Hands, Spider, Monkey, Astronaut, etc. until the dizzying banking and circling for each of the designs made nausea uppermost in our minds! The altimeter showed that we flew up to 2000m, but we saw the designs from much lower. Back safely for free Mate de coca (excellent for altitude sickness!) which, despite its new-mown hay taste, was very welcome!
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