Literally Blown Away
Paracas, Nazca & Lima, Peru
“You guys are up for an adventure, right?” said Diego, our Airbnb host, looking back as we drove into the desert. At least we assumed it was the desert—in truth, we couldn’t see four feet in front of the car. We were in the middle of a sand storm, which are a frequent occurrence this time of year in Paracas. The name Paracas literally means “sand rain” in Quechua… as in sand storms. They can strike anytime, anywhere, without warning, at speeds of 45 to 75 km/hr.
Needless to say, we indeed were up for an adventure. Diego and his friend Odón drove us around La Reserva, an impressive landscape with a stunning blend of blues, reds, yellows and greens of sand and ocean, not to mention a number stunning viewpoints along rocky mountains. At each stop, we’d be figuratively blown away by the beauty, and literally blown away by the sand storm… it was very much worth it, but we are still cleaning sand out of our ears.
The Wanderlist: Paracas, Nazca & Lima
1. Sea Lions, Penguins and Flamingos… Oh My!
The tour books say Paracas is “the poor man’s Galapagos.” Since we didn't have a couple grand in our shoestring travel budget to visit the real thing, we thought this would quench our desire to see some unique landscapes and animals. It truly is an interesting place. Situated along the Pacific coast, Paracas is a small, relaxed beach town with some fresh, killer ceviche (more on this below). The two main attractions in Paracas are the Ballesta Islands and the aforementioned Paracas National Reserve.
We took a morning boat to the Ballesta Islands. The first stop: El Candelabro (The Candelabra), a 595 ft geoglyph carved into the face of the cliff around 200 BCE by the Paracas people. No one knows with certainty why it was made, though the theories range from it being a welcoming "lighthouse" for sailors to (of course) aliens. Our favorite theory, however, is one that notes the similarity of the drawing to a local cactus known for its hallucinogenic effects. The theory posits that the plant might have been seen as a “gateway to heaven” because of the effects experienced when consumed.
Honestly, we were just really tickled by the idea of someone getting really high, making some art, and thousands of people admiring it centuries later.
But back to the boat. About a half hour into the sea are the Ballesta Islands, a natural habitat for tens of thousands of unique birds, sea lions and super cute penguins (we saw a mom and dad penguin teaching their little baby to swim). In fact, there are so many birds that every 10 or so years the government sends a crew to poop-scoop the meters-deep layer of guano in these islands. An effective fertilizer, it has become a major Peruvian export.
After the boat ride (and a generous helping of ceviche), our Airbnb hosts took us out for a drive in the Paracas National Reservation. The reservation is a gigantic area of desert and coastline created to protect the marine habitat and cultural heritage of the area. This is where we experienced the aforementioned sandstorm, saw some amazing coastal views and desert landscapes, touched fossils of ancient marine invertebrates, and photographed a flock of wild flamingos digging for their next meal.
2. Flying Over The Nazca Lines
We made a short stop in Nazca, a location famous for the giant geoglyphs carved into the desert by the ancient people of the area. Because of the size of these lines, they’re best viewed from the air. We hopped on a small plane and flew over about 15 shapes laid out by the Nasca people back between 500 BC and 500 AD. Using stakes and basic surveying tools, they designed the images and then simply cleared the top layers of dark stones away to reveal the lighter sand below. The dry, stable climate has helped to preserve the designs for millennia, ones that include a hummingbird, a lizard and a monkey.
No one really knows with certainty why these were created. Some guess that they were created to honor and be viewed by the gods in the sky. Further inspection showed that they aligned with stars and planets so they could be used as a sort of agricultural calendar. Once again, “aliens" is a theory, one not easily dispelled when you look at the “astronaut” shape (pictured above).
3. Seriously, The Best Food In The World
One of the things we were most excited about for the South American leg of our trip was the food in Peru. Rolando grew up eating ceviche and we heard reports that the food here is the best in the world. They weren't kidding... the food has not been a disappointment. Peruvian cuisine is a fusion of Inca, Spanish, German, Chinese and Japanese foods and uses Peru's stock of fresh seafood, meats, and 4000 different varieties of potatoes.
We’ve tried every dish we can (except llama or guinea pig… too cute!), including grilled steak and veggies, raw clams topped with red onion and lime, a mashed potato log filled with pulled chicken, mashed potatoes layered with octopus, and “choclo” (corn) with a slab of cheese. As you’ve likely noticed, potatoes were the staple of the Inca meal, so we’re eating LOTS of potatoes (fries or some other form/type of potato with every meal).
Of course our favorite meal is ceviche (ingredients: fresh raw fish, lime juice, red onion, spicy pepper, salt, corn). All ingredients are soaked in the lime juice to form an absolutely delicious, salty and sour, refreshing meal. Ceviche also pairs well with the national drink of Peru, the Pisco Sour. The drink combines Pisco (a liqueur distilled from grapes), lime, raw egg whites, and sugar.
We highly recommend googling for a Peruvian restaurant near you—you need to try this food.
4. Lima’s Beautiful Parks
Lima, the capital of Peru, is a bustling coastal city. Lots of people moving to and from work. It’s currently winter here, so in our three days there we didn’t see a hint of sun through the gray clouds. They say that goes on for months until the Summer returns (Cleveland friends, sound familiar? ;)). Despite the gray, we enjoyed touring the city, which was very similar to other cities we’d visited in Latin America. The things that set Lima apart were its parks.
The first park, Parque del Amor (Love Park) overlooks the ocean. In the center of the park is a giant statue of a passionate kissing couple. Surrounding it are dozens of verses from love poems plastered into benches, where passersby sit and enjoy the scenery or watch the paragliders fly. A wonderful spot to stop and think, write, have a cup of coffee. A short walk from Parque del Amor is Parque Kennedy, a cat lover’s paradise. Hundreds of stray cats roam free in the middle of the city, and at any given time there will be dozens of people feeding and/or cuddling the cats while they take advantage of the park’s free wifi (the people, not the cats). We even made a new furry friend as we sat down to enjoy some French fries.
Later that night we visited the last of the parks, Parque de la Reserva, a newly renovated park possessing 13 unique fountains that are colorfully lit each night. Walking around the park was a wonderful way to spend the evening, which climaxed with an astonishing late-night show of lasers, lights and music on the largest fountain. Images of Peru’s sights, customs, people and animals were projected onto the water unlike anything we’d seen before.
We are now on a train back to Cusco, back from Machu Picchu and on our way to Lake Titicaca. Stay tuned for the next post on these magical places!
Until next time,
Jenn & Rolando