7:15AM and the guy from reception in Hostel San Isidro, Pisco is shouting up the stairs. Shit, shit, shit. It’s happened again. Me and alarms and the seduction of sleep.
Five minutes later, I’m sitting in a minibus with a load of other tourists and we make the short journey to Paracas, grab a quick bite and together with a load of other groups, we board our speedboat for a trip around Islas Ballestas, a gathering of islands which are often referred to as the Poor Man’s Galapagos or Little Galapagos. It’s a half hour speed across early morning chop and it’s chilly.
We’ve been warned about wearing hats. I’ve pulled my hoody in close, mainly because I’m cold but I also do have a tendency to get shat on from a great height. A bird craps and it lands on the little girl´s head in front of me. She doesn’t notice. Her dad does and he points and laughs. There’s nothing like caring parenthood.
The first sight on the trip is that of Candlebro, a hillside engraving 50m in length. Cameras click away. The boat continues onwards, Guarnay Cormorants swooping close to the ocean and settling down amongst their flock, a dense, black sea on the cliff tops.
Sunlight streaks through chasms of rock as we approach the islands. As has happened on a fair few occasions in South America, we´re asked to spot an impression of Christ in the rock face. I can’t see it but others with wholehearted imaginations can and I conclude that maybe it’s too early for my own creativity to kick in. I do spot the elephant rock with its trunk and legs and tail. I´ve not totally lost it.
The monogamous Humboldt Penguins – smaller than expected – gather together, pelicans in their midst. A little group line up and take turns jumping off of a natural stone platform into the water in the pursuit of sardines.
The rocks are dyed and covered by bird crap that has slopped down and caked and crusted up. The stench in the air is strong, a most overpowering, fishy smell. Seriously unpleasant, its pungency varies as we travel close the islands, sometimes bearable, other times less so. Little red crab-like creatures cling to the vertical rock face. Despite their appearance, the guide insists that they are not crabs but ´sea spiders´.
Fishermen net for octopus and crabs, and sea lions lounge on the rocks, one male demonstrating his machismo by barking at his colony of women.
Further along is ´single´s beach´, a stretch of sand inhabited by a load of sea lions. ´It´s single´s beach because it´s just lots of males´, explained the guide, ´or maybe they´re gays´ he added. Regardless, they seem quite happy lounging about without the disturbance of other creatures and birds.
On the approach to the dock, a pod of dolphins turn up right on cue, ducking in and out of the now flat surface of the sea. We throw off our life jackets and disembark. Half-day trip over.
So was it worth it? Galapagos comparisons aside, yes. It was a short and sweet outing with plenty of wildlife and birdlife and intriguing rock formations. And religious interest, if you were one of the ones who spotted Christ.
But compared to Galapagos?
‘Galapagos is totally different´ said one guy who had recently returned from a trip to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. ´You actually get to go on to the islands themselves and experience different vegetation and landscapes and lakes and wildlife up close. A few things are similar, such as the sea lions and some birdlife, but there is so much more to see and do on the Galapagos Islands.´ Make up your own mind.