In the morning I'm awake long before 7. Since I don't have an alarm, I'm always afraid if I sleep deeply I'll wake up and it'll be long past 7. So I just dont really sleep. Carlos, the Aloha Ballestas kid, comes around promptly at 7, and we are the first on the bus that makes a tour around central Pisco, picking up an immensely fat man who seems to be the boss of the operation, and passengers from other hotels.
In Paracas we join the long line of people waiting for the speedboats out to the islands. Most of us are Spanish-speaking, from other parts of South and Central America. A few are from Europe or the US, but not many.
The line advances as they collect more and more money from us and lead us onto the boats that seat 40-50 each. It was so much for the tour, plus now a little bit for entrance to the national park, and an extra coin for access to the floating dock. It's all to be paid separately. It isn't much, but it would feel much better to pay it all at once, even for the same final price. This way we feel nickel & dimed, always another hidden cost.
This slight irritation is fresh when Carlos asks me if I would like to take a tour of the Paracas Natural Reserve after the boat trip. Just 25 soles for 4 hours. Yeah, just a bit more, always more. I say no.
But as we head out to sea I think about it. We'll be back to shore in just 2 hours, well before noon, and what is there to do with the rest of my day? I've seen I won't get far on foot in this vast desert. Paracas can't be visited on foot, just wandering around for an afternoon. This austere country is beautiful, and they don't want much to show more of it to me. Sure, I'll go.
The boat stops first for a view of the Candelabra, a gigantic carving on the mainland only visible from the sea. Cool. Nobody really knows why it was made, or when. An enigma.
The Ballestas are a cluster of very complicated rocks, full of arches and tiny beaches and coves. Not so long ago guano was extracted from the hieghts, and the large iron structures for loading ships with the valuable fertilizer are still present, rusting and covered themselves now with birds and droppings. Guano today is collected only every 6 years, using nothing more sophisticated than shovels and rakes, and during the 4-month season farmers come from the Andes to return home with what they can gather.
The 300,000 birds on this cluster of rocks produce not only a valuable commodity in their excrement, but significant tourist income. We come in droves in the speedboats and we are all awed by the thickly covered slopes and crags, and the way the birds, and the sea lions resting on the beaches and lower crags, are so accustomed to the approaching boats that they let us come right up.
We spend an hour in and around the rocks, dancing with the other boats, turning left then right so that everybody gets a front-row view. The time flies, and then we head back to shore.