Wildlife, Wine and Wari

Our first stop after leaving Lima was El Chaco.

P1020611It is better known as Paracas but that name actually refers to the whole peninsular, not the village. As you can probably guess from the photo, tourism is its raison d’être and, although it was not my first taste of Pisco – or my last for that matter – one of the small bars along the malecón was an excellent place to sit watching the sun go down sipping a “Pisco Sour”.

P1020617Although it remains a fishing village, it is the de rigueur [sorry – seem to have a French head on today] boat tours of Islas Ballestas  and the half day trip around the bald, desert Paracas reserve which is the main source of income for the locals.

We did both trips in one day – organised by our hostel – and no more expensive doing it through them than any other way. At Nuevo Sol 55 per person [£11 approx] it was a fabulous day out.

Shortly after leaving shore in our high speed boat we rounded a headland to be faced with a fabulous geoglyph – the “Candelabra”.

P1020633We were given a few theories about the origin of this amazing feature from it being constructed as a navigational tool for pirates to it being a kind of Masonic sign. Most historians date it to approx 200BC – because of the pottery remains found nearby – and believe it to be a representation of the trident [the lightening rod] of the god, Viracocha. At 595ft tall and cut 2 feet into the sandstone it is certainly an impressive sight whatever its origins.

The Islas Ballestas….

P1020643…..  are nicknamed “the poor man’s Galapagos” and are teeming with bird life…

P1020737The most prolific were these Peruvian Boobies [not the famous blue footed ones – but boobies all the same!]….

P1020700aWe also saw cormorant, frigate birds and, best of all, the Humboldt penguin [also known as the Peruvian penguin].

P1020674aGetting supplies to the research station on the island looked like lots of fun! ……..

P1020781a………though fish is obviously in plentiful supply for the huge South American sea lion population which was  lazing around in family groups….

P1020712…. I love the male’s mane [I think I knew, but had forgotten, that’s where the lion bit comes from].

Some of the females didn’t seem to be getting along quite so well….

P1020692c….but this adolescent had found a quiet spot for himself….

P1020744a….and this baby was snug and safe in its mum’s flippers.

P1020752bAfter a last look at one of the sea lion “bobs” [apparently a collective noun for them along with herd, raft, pod, colony etc]……

P1020842……we sped back across the bay with time for a quick cup of coffee before setting out again to the first stop of the peninsular tour – the monument to General San Martin.

P1020850Then onwards to the Paracas Nature Reserve where the desert meets the sea….

P1020875…making for some very dramatic scenery

P1020876In the middle distance you can just make out some figures on the cliff top. Zooming in I realised they were fishing…..

P1020877We stopped at the Julio C. Tello Museum which offered information about the culture of the indigenous Paracas people as well as insights into the flora and fauna. We were surprised to read that Chilean flamingos fly down from the Andes to feed here on the rich sea life and, even better, to walk out to the shore and see them….

P1020860aWe continued around the peninsular to the Red Sand Beach…

P1020885….and then, in the distance we could make out the remote fishing village of Lagunillas.

P1020886We saw the catch being landed….

P1020913….and the hopeful recipients of any left-overs!

P1020903We thoroughly enjoyed our day and would recommend it to any travellers visiting Peru. In fact, if you had your own transport it would be a great place to spend a few days. We only saw the tip of the park and, if the rest is left to nature and not often visited it is probably even more spectacular.

Our next stop was Ica, just a one and a half hour bus ride down the coast. We had decided to stay in the Ica/Huacachina area because the Lonely Planet made it sound a much better place than Nasca. Having now visited both we would have preferred to stay in Nasca or even Palpa, a small village between the two.

Our hostel was situated on the Ica/Huacachina road and we walked to the “Oasis” of Huacachina….

P1020923…. where dune buggies and sand boarding are the order of the day. Very much part of the Gringo Trail it was not our favourite spot but we did find the landscape quite beautiful [if you like sand]….

P1020919….and some of the ridges looked knife edge sharp.

P1020925Ica, like Pisco and Paracas , suffered greatly from the 2007 earthquake. Though still standing its cathedral has been condemned…

P1020951….and the whole town is in similar disrepair. It is, however, famous for its vineyards. Quite surprising what can be grown in the desert….

P1020934We also saw cotton, fruit and were told the region also produces a lot of asparagus.

We first visited the Tacama vineyard ….

P1020941… a beautiful hacienda type property.

P1020943Of course, Mike was attracted by the pumps and bottlers [mainly of French origin]…

P1020939…but I was more interested in the tasting side of things!

P1020944Pablo, our guide for the afternoon was also, along with his mum, our “hosts” as they run the “Hostal Sumac” in Ica.

The Tacama vineyard is well set up for tourists…

P1020937a… so Pablo also took us to a family run small bodega ….

P1020946….where we were told about the ritual placing of floral “offerings” to ensure a good crop.

P1020947We also saw a rather primitive set up for testing the specific gravity of the Pisco [at least that is what we were told was happening here]….

P1020948a….which, if you didn’t know, is a by product of wine production – like the French Marc.

We had gone to Ica to visit the famous Nasca Lines. Practically everyone who goes to see the Lines takes a plane ride over the site. We didn’t want to do that – mainly because of the cost for a relatively short flight. With a limited budget choices had to be made somewhere in the planning and we chose to splash out instead on Machu Picchu [well you have to!] and the Colca Canyon [Condors and all that]. More of those in separate blog posts to come.

In the meanwhile, Pablo offered to set us up with a driver for the day to see the Nazca Lines from the ground and also visit other sites of historical interest. At £30pp this seemed like a much better offer than a 1-2 hour flight [depending on where you started e.g. Lima or Nazca itself] with costs ranging from around £200pp upwards.

Our tour started at 7am and we drove through the stunning Palpa Valley….

P1020954….to the Casa Museo  “Maria Reiche” – the home of the famous German mathematician and archaeologist who researched the Lines from 1940 until her death in 1998. She did much for the preservation of the lines though was unable to prevent a road going straight through part of the site.

The museum contains many of her maps and drawings of the Lines giving precise dimensions and sites….

P1020956But, these weren’t the only things she studied or the only exhibit. We also saw this mummified body of a woman – it was how people were buried by Nasca and Wari people. They were made ready for their rebirth by being placed in the embryo position before being wrapped in material and encased in a casket and then placed in a Necrópolis.

P1020961Then to the Lines themselves….

P1020971…. and a view from the Mirador. We saw the Manos [the Hands]

P1020967a…. and the Huarango [but I don’t have a translation for that].

P1020965I have enlarged one section of the Maria Reiche drawing to show you better what this looked like. The Huarango is in the middle between the Hands and the Iguana.

P1020956aMaybe seen from the air they would have been more obvious but we were happy with what we saw and, having visited the museum and the Lines our day had only just begun – there was plenty more to see.

We were taken to a local potter…

P1020972…who continues to use traditional designs and methods to make his pots, and then to a goldsmith where I was shown the traditional way of crushing stone to extract gold!

P1020975All a bit of fun [and I am sure the safety hat is hardly traditional!] – but there was real gold at the end of the process.

P1020977Next, Los Paradones – which was where we first encountered real Pre-Incan and Incan culture in Peru. The site comprised several terraces and buildings made of adobe and stone and became an important Administrative Centre for the Incas. It was part of the route that the Incan runners took from coast to mountain with fish and seafood to make Ceviche.  Our guide told us that the Nasca people first started building the site [adobe blocks]…

P1020978….and then the Waris introduced stone blocks….

P1020983The shapes of the walls…

P1020980…and windows….

P1020982…. have become synonymous with Incan buildings but, as many of the Peruvian guides were very keen to tell us, Peru is much more than Inca. Its history dates back well before the Incas came and the technology used by the Incas was initially developed by cultures that were around Peru much earlier.

We were shown, from a distance, the highest sand dune in the Americas – at least that is what we were told and we have no proof otherwise. I guess it doesn’t seem that spectacular from this angle ….

P1030003….and just so you know – its the white bit in the middle – giving it its name of Cerro Blanco.

The Aquaductos de Cantalloc were our last stop. The extensive network of channels…

P1020992…and reservoirs….

P1030005…… were made of stone and shaped in large spirals.

It was quite an impressive system and, once again, constructed by the Nasca people.  So , all in all, we felt we saw more of the culture and traditions of the indigenous people by seeing Nasca by land for which we have to thank our guide who’s name I am afraid to admit we have both forgotten!

P1020995So, this post has covered just four days of our trip. There is so much to see and do in Peru – a truly amazing and varied country.

And, just to finish for now – for no other reason than I liked it – here is a lovely flower which was growing alongside the aqueduct.P1020986a




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