Day 11 |
Oct 23, 2010

Paracas, Peru

By Hans-Peter Reinthaler, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 13°49’ S, 76°16’ W
Weather: cloudy, partly sunny
Air Temperature: 21 C

It was early in the morning when the Prince Albert II anchored in the bay of Paracas. The excursion to the Ballestas Island started at 6.30 from the jetty where local speedboats were already waiting for our guests to bring them out to the islands, which are around 3 nautical miles away from the desertic coast of Peru. The reason why the excursion started so early was, that this way our guests didn’t have to choose between going to Ballestas Islands or Tambo Colorado, they could do both because at 8.30 the speedboats were back at the jetty and our guests could very comfortably change into the busses already waiting at the pier.

The speed boats equipped with two engines, each with 200 horse powers, brought us in a short 35-minutes ride to the islands. On the way, the boats made a short stop at the candelabra geoglyph. Local guides explained different theories regarding the origin and purpose of that mystic engraving in the soil. The stories of the authors range from aliens to the different peoples occupying the country of Peru at this time. Latest investigations suggest that the builders of this enigmatic figure etched into the hillside, are unknown.

Once arrived at the islands, the picture was amazing. Thousands of Peruvian Boobies, Neotropical Cormorants, Guanay Cormorants, Red-legged Cormorants, Peruvian Pelicans, Inka Terns and Bandtailed Gulls inhabit the cliffs and the plateau of the islands.

In former days these islands were the “gold mines” for Peru. Guano, the excrements of these birds, was harvested as fertilizer and exported. Guano harvesting still goes on today, but under very controlled conditions. Only once every 4 to 5 years is this white smelly “gold” permitted to be harvested. In between these thousands of birds, South American sea lions were enjoying the emerging sun, lying lazily along the foot of the cliffs or on rock outcrops a few meters away from the shore. Some of the females even had pups that were only around 6 to 8 months old.

Luckily, while cruising along the coast of these barren islands, we also saw a group of the rare Humboldt Penguin some meters up the shoreline. They are one of the smallest penguin species of the world, and also one of the most northern species, except for the Galapagos Penguin, which is found even further north.

It was amazing for me to see the different flight formations of the birds, like, for example, the V-shape formation of the pelicans that accompanied the boat as we were leaving the islands. The tour to Ballestas Islands left a memorable impression in the mind of our guests.

Information about the bus trip to Tambo Colorado was given to me by my colleague Claire Allum, our onboard archaeologist, as I had shuttle duty and was not on the tour.

The tour we went through some impoverished Peruvian towns, before arriving at the archaeological site of Tambo Colorado. Parts of the site were, until two years ago, used as a soccer field by local children. Additionally, large amounts of graffiti had been incised over almost every remaining piece of painted plaster wall. In an extended walk through the different parts of the ruins, our guests got an impression of the freshness of wall colours and the clean architectural lines implemented by the Inka people.

Another stop was made at fruit farm and a textile cooperative. Asparagus, citrus fruits and grapes were its main crops as well as cotton textiles woven on looms in the workshop. In a leisurely afternoon, the guests bought some textiles and were sipping pisco sours made from this farm’s grapes, before we headed back to Prince Albert II.

In the evening, Expedition Leader Robin West gave a short briefing to our guests about our at sea day tomorrow and my colleagues Juan, Astrid, Aiello, Brigitte and myself held a short recap regarding the earthquake in that region 3 years ago, the Anchovy industry, the colossal Megalodon shark, birds of today and kelp – respectively.

After Recap & Briefing, our guests enjoyed another great dinner while sailing alongside the deserted coast of a country full of history, and above ocean depths full of life.