Thursday, January 3, 2013


In the morning I am Pisco-bound. Michel calls me a taxi and gives the driver directions for a bus station on the southern edge of Lima. It's not like the station for Huacho, where there were half a dozen competing companies: it's a private terminal for just one luxury bus line.
In fact, they don't stop at Pisco. Errr... I can go to Paracas, the resort town just south of Pisco, and get a collectivo back up the coast. Well, there aren't any other buses here, and I don't even know where another bus station might be. Collectivos are no big deal, so ok for Paracas.
This is one luxury bus! I get a front-row seat upstairs, next to an artist from the Netherlands who spends his time between South America and Europe. He's the one who explains what  the deal is when the steward comes around and snaps polaroids of all the passengers – identification in case of accident. Yes, I will be wearing my seatbelt.
They serve a light lunch, but I didn't know that so I had lunch at the restaurant in the station during my 3-hour wait. My seatmate has been on the bus since Trujillo, in the north, and he's happy to eat both lunches. The upstairs is great during the day, he says, though he cannot get them to shut off the idiotic movies that run continuously with nobody watching. Downstairs are the sleeping compartments, much better for night travel.

Lots of cars are competing to take people between Paracas and Pisco, a 22 km stretch that passes an oil tanking company, a huge fish processing plant, acres of hotels and vacation homes under construction, a military base, and finally something picturesque the fishing village of San Andres. Mostly the collectivos take local people to work in Paracas and back again – usually the tourists are staying there in the big hotels and don't need to be ferried back and forth.
Pisco itself is full of dusty, unpaved streets and tranquil dogs, with a few paved main roads and two flowered squares in the center.
My hotel is on one of the squares, the smaller but more animated of the two. All Pisco seems to gather here in the evening. I appear to be the only hotel guest in this off-season, and they give me a room overlooking the square, right above an appliance shop that demonstrates its audio equipment daily until 9 pm. There not being an appliance shop on the other square, perhaps the constant music is why everybody gathers here. At any rate, to my happy relief the shop shuts at 9 and everyone goes home then.

In the evening I wander around the central area, snacking on empanadas and strawberry jello and popcorn. My borrowed guidebook recommends not wandering too far down the small streets, and indeed there seems little reason to do so.
In the morning I walk down to the beach early, before many people are about. It's about a mile, and just at random I take what turns out to be one of the best routes. For once I don't go off in the wrong direction! The tide is in, and the sandy beach that remains is not as polluted as that at Huacho, but still not a place you'd come lay a towel and spend the day. The people here ignore the beach; it's not the place to go it is where I come from.

To the north there's an abandoned pier that used to serve fishing boats unloading their catch. A large section has been washed away, and the part out in the sea is now a nesting place for thousands of cormorants and pelicans. The rusting and barnables structure is absolutely covered with birds.
A pair of men are fishing from the end of the land-based section, and another is bicycling our toward them. I take a photo of the cyclist in his bright shirt against the blue-grey day – a long shot in which you can't identify him. He looks toward me just as I have the camera to my eye. Caught!

When I down the pier to see the birds better, the old man fishing chews me out for taking a picture of someone without asking. He's outraged. Livid. He goes on for quite some time, and eventually leaves to walk down the beach. The subject of my photo just fishes silently from the end of the pier, ignoring us.
I'll be more careful. I would never take a portrait without asking. From the distance between me and the cyclist, it would have been difficult to ask. It's not as if I'll be making millions off my stolen image, either. I'm not a pro who will be selling anything.

The heavy overcast is just starting to lift when I get back to the main square. It may not be such a grey day after all.
I'd like to go out to the Ballesta Islands tomorrow, to see the flockes of nesting seavirds there. And sea lions, lots of sea lions there. The receptionist at the hotel doesn't speak much English, so when I see a tourism agency in the street connecting the two squares, I stop in. The guidebook recommends booking through the hotel (they have an interest in keeping their clients happy, so don't generally send you to crooks), and the next-best thing is an agency with a fixed office. Never deal with people who approach you on the street – too easy for them to disappear. (Sometimes I find this book just a bit too cynical. But then again, I haven't been burned yet...)
Pisco Tours is in an alcove of a hallway full of mini-shops. There's a kid of maybe 15, a computer, some brochures, and a sign. Low overhead. A tour of the Ballestas is about what I've heard it should cost, and they'll pick me up at the hotel at 7. Half now, half tomorrow, and it's a deal.

Having seen Pisco, at the end of the morning I catch a collectivo to Paracas to check out the seashore there.
Paracas is not like other towns I've seen in Peru. This is a resort town built for visitors and not much else these days. Every building is a hotel or a backpackers hostel ot a restaurant or a gift shop or something related. The people who work here mostly live in Pisco, taking the continuous stream of taxis back and forth. In contrast to the past-glory feel of the abandoned and ruined hotels along the Pisco beach, here a dozen huge complexes of holiday condos are going up. They've decided where the future is, and it's not in salt-mining any more. The beach is clean and nice (except for the morning's tide of jellyfish which have not been cleared away yet), and the pelicans are expecting to be fed.

There's a small port at the north end of the bay, with dozens of anchored rowboats, as many more small fishing boats, and a special dock for the boat tours to the islands. Facing this is a short promenade along a sandy beach, lined with restaurants.
I walk up the main (nearly only) street, past the center of the town, out past a handful of luxury hotels and then past some private homes such as you might see in La Jolla or Malibu. The road ends at an especially grand house, though construction continues further along. Here there's a small park with a statue, and access to the waterline.
I'd like to continue my walk away from town, and with the road blocked by construction I try the waterfront, but the big house blocks the way with a private dock and a fence. To my right, back to town, there's a sidewalk between the houses and the water.
It's interesting that these houses have high walls and gates and hedges guarding their privacy on the side facing the road, but on the seaside everything is open. There are no fences, the manicured yards come right down to the concrete walk. They don't much believe in curtains, either; you can look right in, go right up and sit down on the comfy deck chairs, play with the toys left out on the lawn.
Nobody seems to be in, aside from the gardeners.

On the water-side of the path the shore is rocky, and a great deal of algae has washed in along with the myriad jellyfish. Too fresh to be very stinky yet, but it'll get there! The crabs are already at work, but it would take a serious army of them to clean this up. And they won't touch the algae at all.
I come to the very exclusive Somethingorother Resort (I'm not saying that to not say their name, I just really forget what it's called), and just walk right into the grounds and onto their boat dock. Perhaps in Peru, as in other parts of the world, shoreline is considered public property and cannot be fenced off for private use. I don't know. I do know this hotel is a fortress on the road-side. Trying to continue back to the sandy beach and the town, however, I come to a serious fence.
No access here.
Free access from the ritzy-house side, come on over for a drink at the pool. No access from the public beach side.
Guess nobody thinks to just walk the long way around.

I find my way through the maze of paths and buildings to the reception area and out to the car park where the gate happens to be open to allow a mercedes to enter. I escape.
Lunching spots abound in Paracas. Lined up along one street are identical terrasses set with their menus all advertising the same fresh seafood dishes. Which one to pick? It's a random choice.
The ceviche at the second-to-last one is excellent. As I've noted before, how can you go wrong, right next to where they're bringing in the fish? And I miss fresh seafood. They really know how to fry things here, too. The fried filet is light and crisp and not at all greasy. Perfect.
At the far end of the beach, past the tourist docks and before the fishing docks, is a row of souvenir shops. I need a hat, and I'd like to find a present for a friend's birthday next week, plus this xhoulder bag is on its last outing. So I look it all over, and discover that ther's really just one shop. They all have the same stock of t-shirts, hats, bags, and trinkets. Ok, there is some variety in the jewelry down at the end. But I see those Made in China stickers!
Seriously, exactly the same stock.

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