Driving a rented 12 seater out of Lima was a challenge. I managed to get into the swing of things and beep my horn a couple of times. First stop Paracas, slightly tumbledown seaside resort. We are off season, but there’s still just enough open. Our hostel had the usual pleasant courtyard, but showers a bit tepid. A wonderful drive and picnic in the nearby nature reserve, stunning desert, fossils, cliffs, red sand, flamingoes.
A splendid boat trip to the ‘Islas Ballestas’ the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’ where we are rewarded by driving/sailing through thousands of birds, all flocking to the glut of anchovies. Great streams of them fly in formation cross crossing the bay and our boat, often moving like a Mexican wave, to use the air currents efficiently. We saw thousands of Peruvians boobies, and some little ones) gulls, some sea lions leaping out of the water trying to catch juvenile birds for lunch, a penguin hopping jauntily up the cliff. What a show.
After an overdose of very tasty cerviche, we head off back up north, to spend a couple of nights half way there at an eco lodge. Some 50km inland, this extraordinary valley only gets it’s water from managing the flow of the river – it never rains here. The tall, green bamboo, vines, mandarin plantations and more, hug the valley bottom and stretch only as far as the top aquifer. At our lodge, the owner shows us his many fruit trees (breadfruit, star fruit, tamarind, mango, various deadly poisons, clove, coffee, cocoa), and his aquifer that he tells us just flows on Saturday’s.
Unlike most of the lovely Peruvians we’ve met, he’s a rather pretentious oddball, a bit full of himself. Another apologetic dribble of a shower. The climate here seems dreary: no rain but mainly cloudy and not that warm. We walk the next day along a path on the valley side, with great vies, and sneak a few super juicy mandarins from the extensive plantations.
The Pisco distilling arrangement is a wonder, set in a small farm building on the side of the road. The chap has been producing it all his life, and has a magnificent glass fronted trophy room – clearly he is THE Pisco master, but so very humble and friendly. The three large stills are….large. Production is all done now for this year – the harvest and pressing is Feb/March/April. We sample (of course) and purchase. Duck appears to be one of the specialities in this area, and it is tasty indeed.
On we drive back up towards Lima, through squalid areas, rural areas, desert, coastal areas. The police stop us afew times, mostly friendly checks of liscences, car details and other paperwork, but on one occasion the traffic official was clearly after some money, tried to fine us for seat belt infraction – but we were wearing them, wanted to see our fire extinguisher (we produced this full sized item..you couldn’t miss it) and our first aid kit (another large box) and then asked for a full route plan ands passenger manifest as he claimed we were a ‘tour group’. eventually, maybe put off by our request that he phone up Europcar, he just gave up!
We had booked a seemingly delightful hostal with marvellous views of the bay of Pacarus. Well, other that another dribble of a shower, the hostel was pretty good, and had the best view in town, perched high on the cliff, but the setting was shabby and dirty indeed. It’s a bustling fishing port, with a fish market and processing and a few restaurants for tourists (we were still in the off season of course). Fishermen were wandering around in their white wellies, but most of the buildings were only half constructed, separated by dirt alleys with a lot of stray dogs, many houses without running water. We walked up the strange barren, rather litter infested hills by the sea, to look down on the spectacular, but for us, ever cloudy and misty, cliffs and coastline. Strangely, we still felt welcome and safe in this town, the people seemed the usual busy, hardworking and friendly types we have met all over Peru. I felt guilty that I disliked the place so much, but it really did not look or smell pretty!! We took refuge in the safety of a very ordinary Pizza for dinner.
I was only too ready to get home, I loved Peru, and I will go back, I enjoyed every minute of the trekking, even the blizzard conditions, I thought the people were fantastic: colourful, hardworking, friendly and welcoming. I loved travelling with this amazing group of adventurous and inspiring friends from New Zealand. However, I am ashamed to say I was worn down by the sorry sights of poverty, and realise that I can take any amount of discomfort when in the wild, but once in the towns, I would be far happier in more comfort. Even so, I am enormously pleased we took the road less travelled….and massive thanks to Judy for organising (and re-organising) this amazing trip.