Monday, 12 December 2011

Islas Ballestas, Paracas Reserve and the Nazca lines

Hi everyone.  As usual the last couple of days have been quite busy in terms of travelling, and after leaving Lima we took a bus to Paracas where we visited the Paracas Reserve and the Islas Ballestas and then we took another bus down to Nazca where we did an overflight of the Nazca lines in a little Cessna.

The bus company we travelled with is Cruz del Sur (one of the best in Peru) and on the bottom floor is the first class compartment (which we decided was worth paying the extra for) where the padded seats recline by 160 degrees.  I was impressed just how comfortable their buses are, and I was able to sleep easily along the way.  That is very good news as tonight we are catching an overnight bus from Nazca to Arequipa and I would like to get a good nights rest.

The first class compartment on the bus - very comfortable

On arriving at Paracas we were transferred to the port, where we got on a boat to go and visit the Islas Ballestas.  The Islas Ballestas are a group of small islands not far from Paracas that provide an important sanctuary for many species of birds and animals including the blue-footed booby, Humboldt penguin, pelicans and sea lions amongst others.  Every 8 years there is a guano (bird droppings) collection campaign on the islands, and the guano is sold as fertiliser, providing an important source of income for many people.  The guide told us that the first time guano was collected from one of the islands it was said to have measured 12 metres in depth.  One year however the guano collectors started too late, and some of the birds had already began nesting.  Since the islands are part of a nature reserve the collectors were not allowed to disturb the birds and so had to cease their collection campaign.  It was very impressive just how many birds there are on the island, and also a little scary with them flying overhead due to the constant ongoing threat of poop attacks.

Birds, birds everywhere

Sunbathing sea lions

After the short visit to the islands we then went to visit the Paracas reserve.  The reserve is part desert and part sea, but the largest part is the marine part.  Throughout the reserve are pristine beaches and sand dunes, but the most striking beach is the playa roja or red beach, which has this reddish colour due to volcanic rock present in the area that is broken down into sand.  At the end of our visit we went to the museum, which has various displays and a short video about the diversity of life that exists in the reserve, and followed the path from the museum down to the colony of pink flamingoes that feed at the edge of the sea.  It was great to see that the visitors had to maintain a good distance from the flamingoes so as not to disturb them.  Animals welfare should always come before tourists desires to see them in my opinion.

The playa roja or red beach

By the time we arrived in Nazca it was late evening and we went directly to the hotel to rest.  Our overflight of the Nazca lines was booked for this morning at 8.45am, and we were advised not to eat breakfast beforehand, as a lot of people get nauseous during the flight.  We followed the advice and and skipped breakfast, heading dirctly to the airport ready for the flight.  The wait at the airport was around 20 minutes, and during this time Anny took the opportunity to visit the medical clinic and get some anti nausea medicine.  The cost of the medicine is included in the aiport tax of 25 soles.  I however chose not to take any anti nausea medicine, as I don't like taking medication when it is not absolutely necessary.

After the short wait we were shown to the aircraft.  It was a little Cessna that can carry up to 4 passengers, and 2 crew.  The plane was full as there were 6 of us in total, 2 crew and 4 passengers.  I have only flown once before in a small plane (on the way to Angel falls) and that time it was a very bumpy ride so I was a little apprehensive, but the thing I like about small planes is that they stay closer to the ground.  The plane took off, and within minutes we were seeing the first of the Nazca symbols, the whale.  The pilot would bank left and right so that everybody got to see it regardless of where they were sitting.  Over the next 30 minutes we saw all of the other symbols including the monkey, the condor, the hummingbird, the dog and the "astronaut".  The most puzzling name for me was the "astronaut" because the Nazca culture would not have known about space flights at that time.  Maybe they intended it to be a man or an alien.  The amazing thing about the figures construction however, is how the Nazca people would know what they would look like without aerial assistance.  Apparently from the ground you cannot see them at all, so how did they check up on their work and see how it was coming along?  There are various hypotheses about how the figures were constructed and one is that they used some kind of hot air balloon, but other people have dismissed this theory and said that can be constructed with simple tools and surveying techniques that were available to the Nazca people at the time, and researcher Joe Nickell of the University of Kentucky managed to reproduce the figures using tools and technology that would have been available to the Nazca people.

Preparing to board

The "astronaut" (middle left of photo)

Towards the end of the flight Anny and I started to feel nauseous.  The girl in front of us had already vomited a few times.  There was only 7 minutes flight time left to get back to the airport, so I tried to distract myself and to avoid having to vomit into the little white bags.  The problem for me was not the banking left and right, but the small up and down bumps that would happen when we hit thermals.  It wasn't scary at all, as the weather was fantastic, but all the same my stomach did not like the little bumps.  Anyway in the end it all turned out well as neither Anny nor myself vomited.  When we got back to the hotel we took our breakfast and we now feel back to normal again.  We were considering to do another tour in the Nazca area this afternoon, as our overnight bus to Arequipa is not until late tonight, but we have opted instead to have a nice relaxing day, as till now our program has been quite intense.  Sometimes it is just good to have a day of r and r and then to continue with the program the following day.  With that note I will leave you and take my siesta now.  Goodbye my friends.

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