October 11, 2005
I had to get up early again today for another touristy event, but it was well worthwhile. At 7:30 AM, I left the hostel with Miki from Israel, Yuna from Holland, and Morad to go to the Islas Ballestas. Sometimes known as "the poor man's Galapagos," the islands are host to thousands of sea lions, seagulls, pelicans, and boobies (yes, it's a real name).
As soon as we got to the port, I realized that this was a huge tourist trap. Until that point, I had barely seen any tourists, but the coast was crawling with them. I guess it would be hypocritical of me to complain too much, though, considering that I am a tourist as well. Still, I was immediately turned off by expensive restaurants with fake-looking decorations. There was even a "traditional" native band playing, but they looked like they bought their clothes at Wal-Mart. Obviously, I didn't think too highly of the place at first.
I changed my mind as soon as I got on the boat. Right away, we spotted a bunch of dolphins splashing around. Even though there were about twenty other tourist boats next to us, I still enjoyed watching them. I got a few pictures, but the dolphins weren't jumping high enough to get anything spectacular.
Our next stop was the Candelabra, a 150-meter tall drawing in the rocks whose origin remains a mystery. Our guide seemed to think that it was 2500 years old, which would put it at the same time as the Nazca culture. This makes sense because the Nazca Lines look very similar to the Candelabra, but our guide admitted that nobody knows for sure how old it is. It doesn't erode because it sits on the side of the hill that the wind never hits. The rain doesn't wash it away because there is no rain. Despite being a few miles out at sea, it's still a desert! This lead me to believe that either the people who made the Candelabra were geniuses who realized that it would never fade away, or they were idiots who wasted their lives creating hundreds of Candelabras, only one of which survived.
After driving about ten more minutes, we got to the actual islands. The first thing I noticed was the vast number of sea lions. Most of them were laying around and being lazy, but the a few were yelling, and others were fighting with each other. After driving to the other side of one of the islands, we saw tens of thousands of birds. They seemed to cover every inch of land. How could all of them find enough food to survive? And how could they live on the islands without any personal space? The islands amazed me from start to finish.
Yuna, Morad, and I had a short break before continuing to the second part of our tour: the Reserva Nacional de Paracas. After entering the reserve, we first went to the visitor center, where we learned how much humans were destroying the park. Next, we started driving through the park and learned that many parts of it were being used by the government to mine salt. It seemed rather odd that the government wanted to protect and destroy the place at the same time.
After driving through the desert for twenty minutes, we reached a lookout point on the coast. The rocks supposedly looked like a cathedral, with a woman taking a breather on the top. As I walked toward the edge to pose for a picture, I noticed how windy it was. One wrong move would've meant certain death. The cathedral could've been a graveyard instead.
Our last stop at the national reserve was at a small fishing port. Along with the dozens of fishing vessels, there was a little beach and a handful of restaurants. There was no electricity at the port, so the fish served at the restaurants was guaranteed to be either fresh or rotten.
Our kind-hearted guide informed us that most of the restaurants were ripoffs designed to get unsuspecting tourists' money. However, he said that he knew of one place that was cheaper than anywhere else, and through his benevolence, he would lead us to that very place. Sure enough, as soon as we got out of the bus, workers from every restaurant began harassing us to try to get our business. "Just ignore them," our guide said, "They're just trying to rip you off." I had a feeling of comfort as I followed him into the only cheap restaurant on the port. Then I looked at the menu. The cheapest meal was 20 soles, almost $7 dollars! I had never paid that much for a meal since arriving in Peru. As soon as Morad saw how much the food was, he decided to do some comparison shopping and left the restaurant. He returned two minutes later and informed us that the restaurant next door only charged 5 soles for anything on the menu. As we got up to walk away, the waiter instantly cut the price in half. Still, 10 soles was twice as much as the other place. I wanted to tell our guide to take a long walk off a short pier, which would've actually been possible there, but it didn't really matter. He had already suckered at least a dozen other tourists into paying his restaurant's exorbitant prices.
After my five sol meal and a walk around the area, it was time to go back home. I didn't do too much at night because I was so tired from traveling. Morad and I decided to leave for Nazca tomorrow to see the giant lines drawn in the sand before heading to either Arequipa or Cusco. My Inca Trail experience is now only two weeks away.