Boots, Birds, and Binocs... Peru 2011
June 2nd

Today was another early morning wake-up call followed by a less than stellar breakfast (I think I am going to have to get used to both of those realities).  The first thing on the agenda was a boat tour off of the coast of Paracas.  We toured the waters out to La Isla de San Gallán and two islands that are collectively called Las Islas Ballestas (The Crossbow Islands).  The boat ride out to the first island was gorgeous as we rode along the coast of the peninsula that contains massive sand dunes.  One of the dunes had an enormous trident/cactus-like structure carved into it.  Presumably, it is thought to have been a signal to sailors to notify them of the location of the port (although alien theories have been proposed).  The cliffs that line the coast were covered with various seagulls, terns, pelicans, and cormorants.

            As we approached La Isla de San Gallán, we passed many sea lions in the water and when we finally got to the island, the waters and shore line were literally covered with sea lions.  The shores contain what is the largest sea lion community in the world and it was hard to even estimate the number of sea lions that were present.  As they were attracted to the vibrant, neon orange coloration of our life vests, they all began to jump in the water and approach the boat with curiosity providing a wonderful photo-shoot.  After having our fill of sea lion entertainment, we headed over, with a pod of dolphins as chauffeurs, to Las Islas Ballestas.

            When we got to the islands, penguins were there to greet us.  It was undoubtedly the weirdest thing I have seen on the trip thus far.  When we left shore, we pushed the boat off from one of the driest desserts in the world and shortly after, we are right next to penguins jumping into the water.  The contrast between the aridity of the coastline and the unbelievable productivity of the coastal waters was truly amazing.  We were also informed that these islands are some of which they use to remove guano (bird droppings), which is one of Peru’s main exports.  You would think that it is rather inefficient to pick up bird excrement and sell it worldwide, but if you could see the number of birds that completely covered the tops of the islands, I think you would change your question to how humans can keep up with all of the bird droppings. (Bird-watching with your mouth closed is a key to enjoying this boat ride!)

            When we got back to shore, we got back on the bus and headed into La Reserva National de Paracas (Paracas National Reserve).  We disembarked near the entrance to the reserve and took the scopes and our binos down to the water side for a little bird-watching competition (my team won, just sayin’).  We then got back on the bus and drove a little further onto the peninsula.  We then walked for a little bit down to La Mina Playa, which is a really neat beach in the middle of the dessert.  It was an incredibly beautiful view of the red cliffs of the desserts and sand dunes that drop off into the Pacific Ocean.  On the beach, we smashed open some rocks searching for fossils.  We found some really good ones of leaves and tree bark.  Obviously, we then did a little more bird-watching before shuffling over to another beach that had all red sand and another amazing view (I am still trying to get over the stark contrast between the dessert and the Pacific Ocean).  We then ate at a cute little restaurant with outdoor seating right on the ocean.  I had a rice and seafood dish that turned out to be really good, after I got over my initial suspicions of the composition of the seafood (I never did find out the identity of some of the pieces, but I have at the least survived until nightfall to write this entry). 

            After all of that, we had a four hour bus ride back to Lima for the night.  We grabbed some quick food to eat and crashed because we have to get up at 5:00am tomorrow to catch a flight to Cuzco.  It is a huge change in altitude and scenery.  It should be awesome. –Chris Bobbitt

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