Even though we had only seen 13% of Lima, it was time to move on. We’d marked out a basic itinerary back in Nashville, which as it turns out, follows something called The Gringo Trail.
I’m proud to be a gringa, even one in a strange land, so this did not dissuade me from our plans at all…in fact, it makes it a lot easier as there are lots of tour companies that route gringos like us through these places fairly comfortably. At this point in our trip, I was beginning to get a little sick of unraveling the mysteries of Central and South American bus terminals, bus schedules and killer taxi rides so I was delighted to find a fairly young company called Peru Hop, which offer a hop on/hop off bus ticket through all the places we had planned on visiting.
Their recommended schedule, if you are short on time, is to take the Lima to Cusco route in about a week. We have about two weeks to make it to Cusco, so we are doing more hopping off and on than the usual rider. Our travel mates for the first leg (Lima to Paracas) were a fairly young crowd, although not too young to be absolute prats, and included a lot of people traveling long term.
We started at 9am in Lima, where we were picked up at the hostel along with fellow Flying Dog resident, Rich, who was sporting a remarkable pair of peruvian pants and flipflops. Our little group grew as we picked up Tom, from the Netherlands, along the way. As we were waiting for our bus to arrive, we were interrupted by an unusual man. This fellow was a mildly deranged, nervous David Sedaris look-a-like who was trying to sell us some business cards depicting a variety of Saints. He spied Rich’s bare toes and started maniacally giggling. He slipped off his boat shoes and pressed his bare feet upon Rich’s toes. Rich, in a very polite and British manner, drew his feet away from the onslaught. “No, thank you very much!” Our foot-fetish sprite continued to slip on his shoes, slip out of his shoes and cover Rich’s feet with his own. Slip on, slip off, press, giggle, slip on about 5 more times…all the while, Rich is becoming even more polite in that wonderful British way…”No! Sorry, thank you!” Poor Rich! Our man finally scurried away down the street, laughing to himself the whole time, delighted at the whole experience. Meanwhile, we were left in a small circle, trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
The conversation turned to the usual backpacker talk…where did you come from? How long have you been here? Where are you going next? The boys eventually started to talk about pooping, including some colorful talk about our last three days worth of sickness. While they were distracted, our foot-man crept up behind Rich again. He had doubled back for some extra foot-pressing. “Watch out!” I warned, and Rich dodged the worst of the action. It was the funniest thing that’s happened since the huge bug invasion of Monteverde in Costa Rica. We amused ourselves by shrieking giggles at each other for the next couple of hours.
Our first destination on our journey to Paracas was to swing by a huge version of Peru’s new brand. In an effort to garner some national pride, the government commissioned a new branding strategy, intended to create some goodwill amongst the Peruvians who were thoroughly pissed about the government’s previous hobbies: corruption and questionable ethics. The plan worked, and it’s common to see this logo on t-shirts and hats worn by actual Peruvians. The spiral in the “P” is borrowed from the Monkey glyph at Nazca, the shape being an exact copy of the monkey’s tail.
Before we left Lima, we headed up to the outskirts of town for a bird’s eye view of this huge city that is home to about 10 million residents.Our bus climbed through shanty towns, which make up a large part of the edges of Lima, and to the top of a peak that is home to a war memorial and a large statue of Mr. Jeezy-Bits himself.The statue was a gift from an unpopular President to the people of Lima. Word on the street is, this statue was supposed to be bigger than the Christ in Rio, but they ran out of money so they had to compromise and chop his legs down a bit. The way our guide was talking about it, I got the sense it’s like the ugly gift you get from your aunt that you have no desire to display, but you have to…just in case she pops by. You feel the need to explain it away to all the cool people that come ’round the house… “Oh that old thing…it was a gift…”
We bussed on for about an hour, before stopping in El Silencio for lunch. We were still a little gun-shy of food stuffs, but I prodded John into getting the ceviche. Ceviche is the national dish of Peru and involves fresh, raw sea-food, thrown in a bunch of citrus juices and cooked via oxidation. It’s delicious, but it needs to work on it’s image. At first sight, it looks like a bunch of sea scraps in a pile…like the left over stuff blocking the plug hole in the sink after you’ve done the dishes. There is a tentacle here and there, some fish bits and something you hope is a squid. It is delicious, especially the octopus bits (which I felt a bit terrible about). We were at an abandoned beach, eating right on the beach at the only open restaurant in a row of about 30 other places. It was here where we all introduced ourselves and made quick friends.
After lunch, we were treated to a couple of movies on the bus: Action-thriller Non-Stop, starring a haggered and troubled Liam Neeson who is trying to stop some baddies who want to blow up a plane…or is he??!?!? Following that masterpiece, we were treated to an exquisitely awful Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler flick, Blended, all copies of which should be thrown away immediately…or possibly, get your cuisinart out and actually blend those sons of bitches up into nothingness. Or, make some art out of the DVDs…do something with them, but for god’s sake, don’t watch them.
Our final destination for the day was Paracas, where John and I are staying for three nights, while the rest of the group moves on the next day. We arrived at night, so the only thing to do was eat and drink…John and myself befriended Mitch (Aussie) and his girlfriend Rebecca (Irish/Aussie) and we sat at the cool table away from the group, swapped travel tales and managed to plow through a couple of jugs of Pisco and Ginger Ale. Becca and Mitch were great, and we hope to catch up with them in Cusco, and perhaps Australia one day.
The next morning started at 7:30am with a boat tour of the Islas Ballestas. Calling them the “poor man’s Galapagos” is a wee bit too much, but it was well worth the price. We got up close and personal to big waves, sea lions and many, many birds.
On the way out to these moody islands, we passed several pods of dolphins surrounding the boat. John continues to be enamored with them. I remain suspicious. To quote Sir Terry Pratchett, “be wary of trusting anything that grins all the time…they are up to something” We also passed a large number of boats, which seem to be doing no more than provide a place for enormous pelicans to hang out and intimidate everyone.
The Islas Ballestas are home to honking sea lions, Humboldt penguins, pelicans and thousands of sea birds. There were about 30 of us in a boat, bundled up in layers and all wearing hats to protect us from the guano. Bird poo has been vital to the economy of Peru, as it’s an incredibly efficient fertilizer. The Islas Ballestas is absolutely covered in bird-poo, and was a guano goldmine for this new business, so much so that the Spainish tried to occupy the islands in the late 1800’s resulting in fast retaliation by Peru and the Chilean Navy. Peru got their poo islands back, and still export the stuff today.
I think my favorite part was the sea lions. They were busy honking and hooting, pushing each other of the rocks and bobbing around in the ocean. These rocky outcroppings are also covered in sea birds and shit, lending a lovely odor to the air.
On the way back to Paracas, we sailed by the Candelabra Geoglyph, a 150m high figure etched into the sandy hills of Paracas. No one knows who made the Candelabra or what it’s purpose is. The theories range from an extension of the Nazca lines, aliens, a navigation landmark or a shout out to an hallucinogenic cactus found in the area. What ever the real reason, it’s quite impressive at 150m tall and about 50m wide.
After our tour, we parted from our fellow Peru Hoppers and headed back to our hostel for a nap. Our level of creature comforts has rapidly declined since Europe. The room in our hostel, which we consider quite acceptable for $16 a night, is made of corrugated tin, has a mattress stuffed full of rocks and a toilet with a sun roof. I shared my shower this morning with a bee, who buzzed in through the open roof. Neither myself or the bee were very happy about the arrangement. We woke around noon, and took a wander down to town. The beaches here are a far cry from the shore line of Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica. Apparently, the beach is where your trash goes. We walked out past the town to a stretch of the shore which we have dubbed Death Beach. Picking our way through the rocks and trash, we discovered many dead things, which were studiously poked with sticks and documented. As always, when we are wandering through fairly remote areas, I asked John what he would do if we found, say…a human head, or maybe an ear. We laughed, until we started to find a lot of bones, which looked suspiciously like human remains.After we found the dehydrated corpse of a sea lion, we decided they were probably sea lion bones…although we haven’t done much research on sea lion skeletons…just in case we find out that we were terribly mistaken.
The beach kept on giving…sea urchins, skulls and an entire dead bird were some of the many delights that were examined. Don’t worry, Mum…we washed our hands. There were also a lot of onions strewn about…onions del mar. I’m assuming onions don’t grow in the sea, but I’ve been wrong before. They were one of the many mysteries Death Beach provided on our afternoon walk.
We also came across lots of living animals as well. This old dock was covered in cormorants and pelicans. The pelicans here are enormous but fairly oblivious to us scampering around on the rocks taking pictures of them.
Leaving Death Beach behind, we headed back into town and walked on the beach the other way. Very soon we were in luxury resort and vacation home territory…both of which we left behind after having a good poke around and a quick snoop through the windows. We walked until we ran out of beach, about 4km later. After a quick rest on the rocks, we turned around and walked back to town, stopping for a while to trespass on the resort’s dock to watch the sunset.
Tomorrow we plan to sleep in and bum around town, resting up for the day before we hop back on the bus to head to the desert oasis of Huacachina. The main thing you do in Huacachina is ride around on the sand dunes on dune buggies, rocket down the dunes on sand boards, watch the sunset and lie underneath the stars…hopefully not nursing any broken bones from the former activities. More news as it happens!