Monday, April 07, 2008

Peru Wrapup

A combination of laziness and busyness have combined to drag on this whole "talk about Peru" thing on forever. So I'm going to try to wrap it up here.

Our last leg of the trip was a quick journey to Paracas. It's about 4 hours south of Lima by bus (and the bus is very nice by the way - sorta like what flying used to be only add Bingo and desert scenery) and on the coast. This part of Peru is basically one giant desert. Not much to see aside from the coastline (which is beautiful at times), some farms (sorta Star Wars-esque), and lots of sand. Also, Paracas was pretty much leveled in last year's earthquake, so there is basically no place to stay there. The hotel we would have stayed at is currently 1 floor. I have no idea how many floors it used to be, but I know it was more than one.

So, we stayed in a small town about 45 minutes inland called Ica. This would be a pretty nothing town except that it's astride a desert oasis - yeah, the kind you think about in Lawrence of Arabia or something. We were only there for a very short period of time (less than 12 hours total) but it was very cool. My wife even climbed up a huge sand dune and rolled back down. She loved the sand.

At any rate, the sole reason to travel to Paracas is to go to Islas Ballestas which is a rock island about 40 minutes off the coast that has penguins and sea lions. Early on Easter Sunday, we hopped into a boat with about 30 other people, and jetted out to the island. On the way you can see a giant Incan "drawing" on a rocky coast that is called the "Candlestick". They really have no idea where it came from or what it's function was and there is no organic matter there so they can't even carbon date it. Very cool.

Anyway, Islas Ballestas is, like I said, a giant island of rock that holds an uncountable number of birds in addition to pengiuns and sea lions. The birds produce such an enormous quantity of guano that they actually harvest it and sell it as fertilizer. So if you ever see fertilizer with the words "made in Peru" or "imported from Peru", that's where it came from. I wasn't terribly interested in the guano (no matter how many times our tour guide proudly declared its importance) or even the birds for that matter. It was the penguins and sea lions that got my gander up.

I can confirm that, in the wild, penguins do stand around doing nothing. They are awfully cute and it's easy to understand why penguins are so personified in animation. You can just imagine them with glasses and a bow tie giving a lecture on particle physics. As far as appearances go, penguins come across as distinguished and clever.

The sea lions stole the show, however. Our first encounter was with a female sea lion teaching a baby how to swim. She was somewhat aggrieved by our passage but probably more concerned with her baby than anything. Either way, she chatted us up a bit fiercely all the while encouraging her little one to keep at it. We found at least one other mother teaching her cub to swim.

And then we found the men. When the women are doing all the work, what are the men doing? Lazing on the beach while having a talk-about. I imagine they were debating England's World Cup chances or something given how loudly and boisterousy they were arguing, although I did not see a bar anywhere. The male sea lions were also rather fat compared to the females which I guess makes sense. If you sit around all day going on about the merits of English football versus Peruvian football instead of actually doing some of the work around the house, you'll fatten up quick.

After our excursion to the island, we had about 5 hours to relax in Paracas before our bus back to Lima. We essentially did nothing but walk around, have lunch, and sleep a bit. It was very nice.

On the last night I was in Lima, my wife and I stayed at the conference hotel which is a lovely 5-star joint in San Isidro called "Las Delfines" or "The Dolphins". I only mention it because it has a large tank that contain two Dolphins that swim about and do tricks. They were apparenty injured in the wild and now can not be returned to their natural habitat. In the basement of the hotel is a bar which is partially under the tank. We had a drink there and watched as one of the dolphins swam about. He was very graceful. The other one was a bit of a sluggard though. At first we thought he was dead but then we realized he was sleeping. Either way, it's pretty cool drinking a pisco sour in the middle of a dolphin tank. I think I should build a hotel and call it "The Sharks" or "The Hammerhead" or something and then equip it accordingly.

In conclusion, Peru was a very nice trip, albeit a short one. I heartily recommend it. As I said before though, minimize your time in Cusco and plan more days. Cusco just isn't worth it and you really need more than a week in Peru. Instead of Cusco, visit Ollantaytambo which is the site of some Incan ruins relatively near Macchu Pichu or just hike the Incan trail. We missed out on the Nazca lines as well which I gather is a must see kind of deal. With more time, you can visit Paracas then go to Nasca before returning to Lima or possibly continuing south to Arequipa and then on to Cusco/Macchu Pichu (completing a circle). There are various options. Finally, the question of when to go comes up frequently. I recommend end of March, beginning of April. Any later than that and you're going to run into some serious crowds and it will prove more expensive. And if you're gonna book a trip the week before Easter, book in advance. A lot of people travel in Peru that week and you don't want to get screwed out of hotels and/or buses.



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