Day 2 |
Mar 17, 2012

At Sea en route to Salaverry, Peru 

By Claire Allum, Archaeologist

Weather: blue sky and clear
Air Temperature: High 25 C / 77 F

I awoke from my first good sleep since I left Canada to sunlight streaming in through my window. The sky was a deep blue with no clouds. It took me a couple of minutes to realize where I was and that I was scheduled to give a lecture in a couple of hours.

After two cups of coffee and breakfast, I joined guests in The Theatre. Many of them, like me, were still feeling the effects of long air flights and jet lag, but they had made the effort to attend the first lecture of the voyage, mine. I felt rejuvenated.

We are in the land of the Moche – a complex culture that lived along the north Peruvian coast from about AD 1-750. They are best known for their beautiful polychrome pottery and sophisticated metal work. I lectured on what archaeologists have uncovered about their ritual life and, in particular, human sacrifice. My lecture was in preparation for our planned visit to the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) tomorrow. The Huaca de la Luna is a large pyramid structure in an ancient Moche city in the Moche River valley. Our port of call was to be Salaverry.

As I answered questions at the end of the lecture, the Captain announced that the crew would be conducting a practice emergency drill. Since I was already at my Muster Station, The Theatre, and I had brought my lifejacket with me, I put it on and waited for my Expedition Staff colleagues to join me. Our practice drill was a “fire on board” and we marched outside into the beautiful Pacific sunshine as we would have to do if it were a real emergency to prepare for a ship evacuation. I didn’t envy the crewmember pretending to be a burn victim. Completely swaddled in heavy insulating material, he looked very hot.

The drill was followed by a mandatory Zodiac briefing for the guests during which Expedition Leader Conrad announced that the Silver Explorer would be making an exploratory stop at the Islas Guanape after lunch. “It’s what an expedition ship does,” he explained. I could feel the delight and excitement in the air on this first full day of the voyage.

Zodiacs were dropped into the water and I joined Daniil and four guests for a fascinating circumnavigation of the Guanape island chain. It truly was an exploratory visit. No one on board the ship had seen the islands, let alone travelled around them.

As we drew close, my first impression was of steep and rugged cliffs with few areas suitable for boats to land. Crowding the cliffs and every accessible narrow ledge were thousands of birds. Peruvian Pelicans selected the best and most stable spots, probably because of their larger size. Peruvian boobies hunkered right next to them nesting within centimeters.

As we turned into a sheltered bay, I could see rounded slopes of yellow-white guano (bird dung) above the cliffs. Twisting walls of crudely cut stone formed terraces providing footpaths for guano collectors, anchors for small buildings and platforms, and served as catchments for the precious material. The caretaker of the island told us the guano collectors only came every ten years—enough time for a deep supply of guano to collect. The guano is sold as fertilizer.

As we continued our tour, we saw Humboldt Penguins sheltering in the cool shade of a small sea cave, Inca Terns clinging to the steepest of all the cliff edges, and a large colony of Guanay Cormorants covering one entire hilltop.

The highlight was the South American Sea Lions. They had requisitioned the flanks of several of the islands, massing themselves in large, noisy, squirming colonies. The males were twice the size of females with huge thick heads and necks. The young, already several months old, were almost two-thirds the size of the females.

We returned to the Silver Explorer just in time for afternoon tea. This was followed by a destination briefing—the Moche and Chimú sites tomorrow—recap on the day’s visit to the islands, and then the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party and Dinner. I’ll sleep well tonight!