We leave our very basic hotel, where the bathroom is too small to open the door completely as the handbasin is in the way and no external window and we head for Paracas. About 10kms out of town, we stop at a 13m high metal platform so that I too can get a glimpse of the Nasca lines. I get a different and interesting perspective of the tree and hand geoglyphs and the straight lines.
The ride today is simply glorious – up and down some lovely twisty parts near Palpa and along stunning fertile valleys along the Rio Grande where we see grapes, pomegranate, avocado, onions and rice.
As we get close to our destination, it is interesting to see the number of large agro-industrial companies and gas companies. On reading up about the area, I learn that Peru is one of 5 countries in the world with the greatest biological diversity.
We arrive at our hotel in Paracas early afternoon. Wow, I love it when Anthony decides where we’ll spend the night!!
The reason for coming here is to visit the Islas Ballestas, a bird sanctuary of some 600,000 birds apparently, also known for guano (bird droppings) that is produced and collected for export.
We board a lovely boat with 7 other hotel guests. We first see many Peruvian and brown pelicans on the shore – that’s an impressive number of pelicans I think. Before heading for the Ballestas islands, we stop to see the Candelabra geoglyph, etched into a hill and only visible from the sea. The design is half a metre deep, 180 metres long and 50 metres wide and can be seen up to 20kms away. Again, theories abound on the origin and meaning of this geoglyph however pottery found near it has been carbon dated to 200BC. Ours is not the only boat heading to the islands but there seems to be respect between the captains of each boat, each one waiting its turn to provide their customers the best view.
As we get to the islands, we are amazed at the amount of bird life. There are thousands and thousands of birds, either clinging to the rocks or flying around. What an assault on the senses – sight, smell and sound. The cacophony has to be heard to be believed. Luckily in this instance, we cannot record the smell – it reminded us of the first morning we arrived in Antartica. The smell of bird and penguin poo in such concentration is potent to say the least. We get to see sea lions, Humbolt penguins, Inca terns, blue-footed booby and tendril and pelicans. We get to a beach that appears to be a nursery for sea lions. There are crying babies being washed up by the waves, mothers keeping a close watch, males arching the large necks and heads back, showing their large teeth, others simply lounging in the warming sun.
We feel like we are in the middle of one of David Attenborough’s fantastic films. We hadn’t expected to see so many birds. It is good to see that the sea life must be good enough to support such numbers. Tourism there is regulated, which is a good thing and from what we saw, operators respect the need to keep a distance from the birds. Visitors are not allowed on the islands and so long as boat operators keep their distance, we hope our visits do not disturb birds. Only the guano collectors are allowed, once every 5 years, to collect the valuable fertiliser which is worth S$40/kg!!
As we head back, we are escorted by flocks of birds flying in formation, helping each other with their own slip stream. It is so graceful. At one point, they get so close to us. Then suddenly, we notice a massive cloud of birds – birds have spotted a school of fish just to our right and hundreds, thousands maybe arrive and dive for their catch.
Then we are spot 3 bottlenosed dolphins who follow our boat for a while. What a treat!! So graceful!!
Enjoy Anthony’s video below:
It is an easy ride from just south of Paracas, where we stayed for 2 luxurious nights, to Lima. Luckily, we’ve already had a couple of weeks in Peru to get ourselves used to the lack of driving rules here before we hit Lima. Driving here is yet again a totally new experience. It has a bit of Uzbekistan, Iran and India all in one! As the timer ticks the seconds left on a red light, horns start when 7 seconds are left and cars take off at 5 seconds of red left. The trick is not to end up first in line or first to stop or you will end up being rear ended. The cars on the road are a mixture of absolute wrecks and modern cars all driven by drivers in a hurry – need I say more. And like in India, it is all a question of getting your nose in front and not leaving any space between you and the vehicle in front. Finding 1cm between yourself and a car trying to get past you is common place so we just have to get used to it and concentrate on what’s in front rather the side or behind. It is common to have a car (or bus or truck) driving in the fast lane and cutting in front of you at an intersection to turn right with no warning. And finally, where there are no traffic lights, there are no give way or stop signs and if there is the odd one, it means nothing. There is meant to be a give way to traffic on your right rule, but no one observes that. So it is a battle of wits – the strongest, pushiest, biggest one, the one with the nose furthest in front wins, and that works for traffic coming from a side road wanting to cross yours. We soon learned that you don’t look for stop or give way sign but for the humps in the road. While drivers don’t respect road signs, they will slow down for the massive road humps and that is an indication of whether you need to give way or not. Easy!! What is amazing though, is that when a vehicle suddenly cuts in front of someone, or just stops with no indication, drivers don’t hoot – there is no road rage. On our first day, we rode our bikes 13kms in Lima to drop our bikes at BMW. At one point a 5 lane freeway goes down to 3 lanes at a massive roundabout!! Haha, what fun… We got there, no problem!! But neither of us enjoyed the experience.
When we were traveling through the Stans, we wondered how nations that were once part of the same country could so quickly develop their own ‘style’ of driving. Chile and Peru couldn’t be any more different. We had even commented while riding in Chile how pleasant and easy it all was. I have no doubt this is just useful preparation for what’s coming as we make our way towards Mexico City!!!
As we were waiting for the paperwork to be done to service our bikes, Anthony got talking to a young lady who had just bought a new Mini. Chat chat chat, we say goodbye and she leaves. Then she came back and handed me her business card with all her contact details, just in case we need anything, whatever, while we are in Peru!! Just so lovely!!
As Anthony mentioned in his last post, we have finally started seeing more tourists and motorcyclists than we have in the past 9 months. In the lobby of our hotel in Lima, we meet Dessy and Coral from Australia. We immediately click and decide to have lunch together. From there, Anthony and I get tickets for a 4 hour tbus tour of Lima – an easy way to get to see more of the city we think. After 2 hours of blahblah which we can hardly understand, we give up and walk around a bit on our own before returning to our hotel.
True to their word, we catch up with Ian and Stephanie whom we met on the road. They chose a restaurant called Panchita so that we could try some typical Peruvian cuisine. Wow, it was delicious. And what a feast!!!! When I showed a photo I took at the local supermarket of what I thought were very colourful potatoes, they tell me they are not potatoes and ask the waiter to bring me a plate of them so that I could try this vegetable – yumm. We had such a lovely evening – and they insisted on paying for it all – so generous. It has been interesting to learn more about Peru – those tiny shacks we’ve seen are ‘invasions’, people claiming land, and hearing about the kidnappings of kids that used to occur in Lima so often for ransoms.
You meet many people in your life and sometimes, albeit rarely, there are people you feel a deep connection with, people with similar life values as you and people you can open yourself up to. While age and travel has enabled us to open up to people, when others do that with us, it touches us deeply.
Originally, we had decided to only spend just 2 days in Lima, big cities not being our thing, and we had visited Lima before 28 years ago. Then we thought, let’s stay an extra day. So we arrange to catch up with Stephanie and Ian again the following evening. That day, we found out that Kristjan, remember our Icelandic friend we first met in Dubai, had just arrived in Lima. He was just back in South America after his father’s sudden passing. We have to see Kristjan! We invite him to join us and meet Ian and Stephanie tonight but he is too tired. So we decide to stay yet another day.
On our second day, we decide to take a bus tour – not our usual kind of activity but we thought it would be an easy way to get to see more of Lima, which is a huge city, where one third of the whole Peruvian population lives. We decide on the 4 hour tour but we give up after 2 hours and walk around ourselves, discover some of the non-touristy parts which we always find very interesting.
When we see Ian and Stephanie again, this time they chose a very special and famous organic coffee shop – Pan de la Chola, we tell them we are now leaving a day later, Saturday morning. What a shame they tell us as they would like to introduce us to cock fighting and Caballo de Passo horses on Saturday. Oh, what an offer! Think about it they say and let us know tomorrow. Anthony and I instantly know the answer, no need to think about, we look at each other, it’s obvious, we’ll stay another day.
The next day, Friday, we catch up with Kristjan. We have all been on the road exactly 8 months. And we have also been home briefly. It is good to talk, exchange how we all feel having been on the road for that time, having returned home briefly and how we feel travel has or will have changed us, our priorities, our thoughts on our future… We share feelings and experiences that have touched us, laugh and cry together. It is good. Travel on such a scale changes you, on so many levels. I have such a clear vision of what is important and what isn’t in my life. Material possessions are not, positive energy and good friends are.
Originally, we had planned on leaving our bikes at BMW until we left Lima, as we really didn’t enjoy the ride across Lima but we are leaving Lima Sunday morning now so we have to collect our bikes Saturday morning before heading out with Ian and Stephanie for the day. Ian kindly offers to meet us at BMW and escort us back to our hotel. Anthony has his brand new chain and sprocket and both bikes have had maintenance done and given a good clean – they look brand new. They even bolted Anthony’s screen, which got snapped in 2 when he came off in Argentina, back together – we really didn’t want to pay for a brand new one.
It is interesting to see how Ian rides and handles traffic: to be visible to car drivers, you need to move around and be faster than them (or you are invisible if you move in the same direction and at the same rate as traffic). And you can just pull out in front of traffic and it will stop – that’s what he did a couple of times to help us pull out into oncoming traffic!! He slowed down for us slow Speeds which was very kind and we kept up. A good lesson for us and future riding in Peru.
Ever since we’ve been in South America, we’ve felt we’ve been surrounded by noise whatever the size of the city, town or village: barking dogs, car alarms and music. But it so funny how we can see the world differently. While we parked our bikes at our hotel, the music was blaring out of a car, like a disco. So loud!! When the driver eventually switched it off, both Anthony and I let out a sigh of relief while the security guard shouted to turn it back on again…
After a quick change out of our riding gear, Ian and Stephanie return to pick us up and take us out for the day. I have to admit that when I first heard of cock fighting over dinner the first night, I was obviously, and rudely, unable to hide my feelings about this. But it is part of Peruvian culture!! True, how narrow minded of me. And now we are invited to learn more about it – what an opportunity!!
In cock fights, each contestant brings 6 roosters, one for each round. Each round only lasts a few minutes. As soon as one rooster looses his round, the contest is finished for all remaining roosters in the team. If the rooster wins, the next rooster in the team fights the next round. The longest part of each round is the time the roosters take to engage. A bit like boxers – they size each other up, walk around each other, like a bit of a dance. Then, in a flash, they jump, raise their feathers, flutter and lurch. The actual fight itself only lasts a few seconds before the first rooster collapses. But winning a fight doesn’t necessarily meaning surviving the fight, the winner might still die from its injuries. It is amazing to learn that they have this fighting instinct.
I expected to see maybe a dozen roosters but there are literally hundreds here. Adults in individual cages, then separate large pens with babies, juvenile and teenage ones. And then adult hens. We are taken to see roosters practice in the arena. The roosters are first fitted with ‘boxing gloves’ instead of the double-edged blades.
Next we are taken to see the Peruvian Paso or Peruvian Horse, which has a natural 4 beat, lateral gait called the passo llano. They are used in the traditional Marinera Peruano – a coast dance involving a horse (and rider) and a female dancer. Have a look at a YouTube clip if you are interested on http://youtu.be/gFdUh4hfz7o. I got to ‘ride’ one of those horses around the car park – what a privilege to sit on the most beautiful leather and silver saddle!!
What a day, what a privilege to learn about Peruvian culture and be shown all this. With another delicious Peruvian lunch, which once again we were not able to contribute towards in any way.
We leave good friends behind when we leave Lima but know we will stay in touch and meet again sometime, somewhere.