Penguins and Trident in the sun near Pisco

After a week in Lima, Peru, we shifted down a gear on the 25 November, and travelled south some 300km on the Panamerica Sur highway to the old port town on Pisco. On the Saturday we took a tour of the Ballestas Islands offshore, passing the tip of the Paracas nature reserve peninsular on the way. At around 30degrees celsius, we didnt expect to see penguins! (see pics below & click to enlarge)

For less than £10 we took a 2hr boat tour at 8.15am, some 15km out to sea from the seaside town & neuvo tourist resort of Paracas, on a clear hot sunny day. Towards the northern most tip of the Paracas nature reserve, we were able to see the famous Paracas Trident (or ‘el candelabro’). This symbol, carved into the hillside overlooking the sea & facing north, is around 128m x 70m, and is carved upto 1m deep into the hillside. The strong winds here ensure it never completely fills with sand. There are numerous theories as to its origins – some link it to the Nazca Lines further inland; some say it was carved by fishermen as a sign; others that the invading ‘liberator’ of Peru, General San Martin (an Argentinian who also helped ‘liberate’ Argentina & Chile from colonial Spain), who landed nearby from Chile in 1820, had it made; whilst others naturally believe it was aliens or some sort of sign for aliens from our ancestors who possessed a higher consciousness than us! Either way, its a stunning sight, and the mystery keeps people coming!

Onwards to the Ballestas Islands, these first made their name when Peru was a big 19th century trader in guano shit, a top fertiliser. It is still harvested, but these days the islands’ priority is a nature reserve. Many birds use the islands on their migration paths – boobies, terns, cormorants, pelicans & more mass on the islands to rest, feed, and of course flyover or past visiting boats – and yes they shat on us too! In the water you may see sea otters, whales & turtles along with many fish. We however mainly saw sealions on the rocks & in the water (sealions can climb rocks, seals cannot), and also on some small beaches where the females come to give birth. Above turkey vultures await, apparently they have a real taste for the placenta. Female sealions can weigh upto 150kg, while the men, far fewer in number, can weigh in at upto 300kg. Thats 2 big reasons for not going for a dip.

Perhaps the unexpected highlight was the penguins. We’d not anticipated them, given it was some 30degrees C by 9am, but they are cooled by the cooling winds, and by the Humbolt current that chills the water. Obligingly, a group of six waddled down some rocks and dived inelegantly into the sea near our boat, disappearing into the deep. After which is was back to Paracas port for us, and some shade.

Paracas, by the way, in the local Quechua indigenous language, means ‘raining sand’, and it does in the high winds. Thanks to our friendly bi-lingual Peruvian boat guide for the info! Her name was Olenka – and our spelling is almost certainly incorrect.

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