After finishing the Huayhuash circuit, stopping in Huaraz for a shower, a beer and yet another pizza at El Horno in Huaraz (my regular post-trekking dinner of choice), it was straight onto the night bus to Lima. After spending longer than planned in the mountains, I needed to head south pretty quickly in order to meet my friend Adrian (who was flying over from London for a three week holiday) in Arequipa.
Rather than rush all the way south in one go, I decided to break the trip up with a couple of stops along the way. First stop was Pisco, jumping off point for the Islas Ballestas, also known as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’.
Rougher seas later in the day meant it was yet another early start (I was quite used to that after 6am starts every day while hiking – funny how I’ve been up before 7am more times in the last five months than I have done in years of working) to catch the boat from the nearby port of Paracas.
After being herded onto a little motor boat, we were soon out to sea and heading towards the giant geoglyph called the Candelabra. Vaguely similar to the Nazca lines further south, noone is quite sure who made it, with some theories claiming it was created by an ancient culture similar to the one in Nazca, and others claiming it was as recent as the time of the liberation of Peru (the liberator of Peru landed in Paracas from Argentina in 1821). To be honest, it was slightly disappointing (although I’m not sure what I was expecting).
With no time to mess around, the boat soon moved on to the islands themselves. The reason they’re famous is that they are home to one of the biggest seabird colonies along the coast of South America. Thanks to the Humboldt current, which brings oxygen-rich cold water all the way up the coast from Antarctica, marine life is abundant. And where there are lots of fish, there are lots of birds. Thousands and thousands of birds in fact. Every metre of the islands is covered with them – cormorants, boobies, penguins and many more.
And what do lots of birds mean? Yes, lots of shit. Or guano, to use the technical term. So much of the stuff that for years guano was one of Peru’s biggest exports (it makes fantastic fertiliser). So valuable was it, that Peru & Chile even fought a war over the area. Even now today that it’s less important (thanks to chemical fertilisers), every seven years a hardy group of men from the mountains travel to the islands and spend the summer months systematically collecting it all – and after seven years, the guano is METRES deep. Not a job I’d fancy, personally.
It’s not just birds that are attracted to all that fish – the islands are also home to a pretty big group of sea lions, who we got to see lazing around on the rocks in groups. I’d never seen sea lions outside of a zoo before, so getting to see them in their natural habitat was pretty impressive.
Despite that though, I came away from the whole thing a little disappointed. Maybe it was because I’d just had the best experience of my life trekking in Huaraz, so anything afterwards was bound to be a bit of a letdown. Maybe it was because the uniform grey skies made everything look a little dull. And maybe I’d just seen too many recent photos of other travellers’ recent trips to the real Galapagos. But whatever it was, I just couldn’t summon up all that much enthusiasm (and to be fair, it was probably just me – other recent visitors seem to have had much better fun). Still, it was pretty good value (just 40 soles, around $13), so I’m not complaining, and I was soon on my way to my next stop, Huacachina.
Oh – and what of Lima? Well, far from being the dump that many travellers (and even my mother) had warned me about (recent quote from a friend’s email: “twelve hours in Lima is twelve too many”), I actually found it a really pleasant city. I spent a lovely four days there before and after Huaraz. However there are times when my blogging inspiration runs dry, and in this instance I just can’t think of anything particularly exciting to say about the place, especially when others – try here, here, and here – have done a pretty good job of it elsewhere recently. There was one thing in particular that stood out that’s worth a mention though – on the night I arrived back from Huaraz, I got to meet up again with my friends Cathal & Sarah, who I’d originally met in San Gil, and then seen again in various places in Colombia, and we had a fantastic night out in Barranco, at an indie club called Sargento Pimienta (i.e. Sgt Pepper). Easily the best night out I’ve had since I’ve left home, it’s a great club with fantastic music, and a very friendly crowd. If you’re in Lima I can highly recommend it, and it was a lovely way to say goodbye to two great friends who I’m really looking forward to seeing when I get home.