Day 7 |
Oct 24, 2009

Paracas, Peru

By Claire Allum, Archaeologist, Anthropologist

Co-ordinates: 13°50’17”S, 76°15’19”W

Weather: Temperate with blue sky and puffy white clouds

It was an early start at Paracas and the first Zodiac disembarkation for guests. The sea was calm and we arrived at the seaside resort without getting our feet wet. Small stores selling colourful necklaces, bags, shell sculptures, sharks’ teeth and a variety of other souvenirs lined the beach. A short man played with a giant pelican, singing to it and making it do tricks for fish.

On our bus trip to Tambo Colorado we went through some impoverished Peruvian towns. The lack of water and corresponding lack of vegetation made the dilapidated, crumbling, dusty buildings look more forlorn than they did in the slightly greener areas around Lima. But this dryness accounted for the spectacular preservation of buildings and colourful wall plaster I saw at the Inca tambo. We visited the bathhouse during our walk through the palace area. I photographed the small channel along which water once ran filling a bath so the Inca or other noble people could wash. The room is a long way above the river, so each precious drop of moisture, in this driest of all deserts, would have to have been carried up.

Until recently the large public plaza with its ushnu, for ceremonial sacrifices, had been used as a soccer field by local children, and the highway had run along one of side of it. No doubt, the public use of the site was responsible for the large amount of graffiti incised over almost every remaining piece of painted plaster wall. Nonetheless, not even that could detract from the freshness of wall colours and the clean architectural lines. Today, there is a small onsite museum, signs asking people not to damage the site, and the highway has been redirected from the plaza. The Inca tambo still guards the Pisco Valley and its east west highway, but now it’s a few metres back.

Our next stop was a fruit farm and a textile cooperative. Asparagus, citrus fruits and grapes were its main crops. We watched cotton textiles—some with wool decoration—woven on looms in the workshop. They used large looms introduced to the Americas by the Spanish, although the dueño of the farm, who was visiting from Lima, explained they did use the more traditional back strap loom as well. He was a tall, reserved man with a pale complexion and wide-brimmed Panama hat. He helped a couple of guests buy textiles as they sipped pisco sours made from his farm’s grapes, then took us all on a quick tour of his vineyards and asparagus fields before we headed back to the Prince Albert II.

While I was visiting Tambo Colorado, Robin Aiello visited the Ballestas Islands. This is what she had to say:

About 26 of us opted for the boat ride around the Ballestas Islands. I was particularly excited to be going, as we had to cancel this activity last year due to rough seas. So, finally, I was going to visit these amazing islands. The Ballestas are an isolated group of islands about 10 miles from our anchoring site at Paracas. From a distance they look white in colour because they are nearly completely covered in guano. In fact, the guano on these islands has been mined for many many years by the locals. It is still mined today in a sustainable manner that does not interrupt the birdlife.

The local boat that we took was a large open speedboat with comfortable seats, and was very fast. The 10-mile trip only took about 15 minutes, but on the way out we made several stops to take in the beautiful coastline scenery. One of the most incredible things we saw was the famous mysterious geoglyph called the ‘Candalabra’ – thought to be over 1,000 years old.

We continued on our way and as we approached the islands we experienced the distinctive smell of these islands – the smell of guano. But, this soon became a distant thought as we were overwhelmed by the birdlife and rock formations. I had no idea exactly how spectacular these islands are. The geology was amazing – with large archways, caves, cliffs and towers. But, everywhere you looked there were thousands of birds. Hundreds of the huge Peruvian Pelicans flew in squadron-like formations across the sea with only a few inches between them and the water. They did not seem to care at all that we were there – they passed by our boat so close that we could clearly see the shape of the fish that they were holding in their pouches.

And then there were the thousands of boobies standing on any rock surface that they could find. The concentration were so high that the rocks looked black from a distance, but when you approached it was clear that there were millions of birds closely packed together.

There were also 3 different species of cormorants – one that was all black, one with a white chest, and one with bright red beaks and legs. They too flew in large v-shaped formations over the islands.

But, my favourite of all were the sea lions! This is one of the important breeding and birthing sites in Peru, so there were sea lions everywhere. Every available space on the rocks was taken by sea lions sunning themselves or napping. It was almost like they didn’t even have any bones – they drape themselves over the rocks in what looks like some very uncomfortable positions!

And, in the ocean, they were so curious that they would gather around the boat bobbing up and down looking at us. It was almost like they were egging each other on to see which one would dare to get closer to us – so they would get close and closer, then dash away!

On one of the islands we came to one beach that was a maternity beach. The majority of the sea lions were females, but there were also several massive large males. The males, with their bulk necks and lion-like manes, were ‘strutting their stuff’. They were not only rounding up females for their harems, but also fighting other males over territories. The males’ loud ‘roars’ filled the air and echoed out to sea. It really was a fantastic morning!

In the Afternoon, Juan Carlos gave a lecture on basic oceanographic concepts, entitled “The Restless Sea.” The Expedition Staff evening recap of the day included wonderful animal pictures from the Ballestas. I could almost smell the penguins.
The Prince Albert II was rocking a bit at the Venetian Cocktail Party and Dinner. I found it a bit of a challenge standing with a glass of champagne. Luckily no one fell over and nothing was dropped. The evening ended with a game of Liar’s Club in the Panorama Lounge. Chris hosted, while Jarda, robin A., J.J. and I lied. Despite the long day, or perhaps because of it, the atmosphere was very relaxed. Couples were dancing when we arrived and during the game there were jokes and laughter. It was a long, full, but wonderful day.