I’ve booked to do the 10am Ballestas Island tour today, which means I get to enjoy a lie in and a leisurely breakfast before heading out. Kokopelli do an okay spread – essentially one portion of scrambled eggs (you need to tick your name off) and then unlimited bread rolls, tomato slices, butter, passion fruit juice, tea and coffee. Not a big fan of scrambled eggs, but it’s cooked well enough that I can’t complain.
You know, of all the things I thought I’d like in Peru food wise, bread was pretty low on the list, but they really know how to cook a decent roll. Yet to have one that wasn’t one of the nicest parts of the meal. I end up having 2 of their french rolls at breakfast alone.
The meeting point for the trip is in front of the La Frayes hotel, and you’re meant to be there 15 minutes early, so I head up just before then – the next Peru Hop has also arrived and the place is pretty busy with people hollering off names to get the lists – I make it just as a gentleman calls my name and get pulled to the side, and we head off five minutes later for the dock.
It’s extremely crowded with people waiting for boats, but we get to the front of the line and hop into a small boat with seats on each side, and head out of the harbour. Our guide is giving the tour in both Spanish and English, but he doesn’t start talking until we get to our very first stop on the Paracas Peninsula – the giant San Pedro Cactus.
This odd shape carved into the sand is a tad mysterious, as no one knows exactly who drew it or how long ago. It’s essentially just drawn into the sand, but thanks to the nature of where it was drawn, it requires no upkeep. There’s no rain, and the salt from the water just hardens the salt, while the wind gets buffered by other parts of the landscape and doesn’t hit – however, this all means it’s next to impossible to date. There are two popular theories, either that it was drawn by the Paracan people – who predate the incas – as they highly cherished the cactus for ceremonial use (apparently it’s a halluginogenic), or it was made sometime in the fifteenth/sixteenth century by pirates needing a landmark to help them with their boats. This holds some water as the drawing does fit onto South/North lines.
It’s another ten minutes till we make it to Ballestas – and we stop midway when we get an awesome surprise in the form of a pod of dolphins diving around our boats. They were mostly on the right side – and as I was seated on the left didn’t see as much as I’d like – but I did catch a few on my side hopping through the water before they headed away.
Ballestas Island is often referred to as a ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’ due to it’s unique ecostructure. It’s home to sealions and multiple bird species, including the humbolt penguin, which is making a strong comeback after being on the endangered list. There was a small group of them on the side when we arrived.
The island gets the name ‘Ballestas’ form the giant hold in the side of it. To fisherman, the hole looks a little like an archer pulling back. It was made a nature preserve in the 1970’s, and only sees a small amount of human interaction unlike the desert on land. Although there are manmade structures here, and a small crew stationed here to watch what happens, nobody is allowed to swim or walk on the island recreationally. Fisheman can come close, but otherwise the only exception is the bird guano collection, which is done every 7 years.
The most prominent bird on the island is probably the paracan boobie, a bird with a similar shape and size to a gull. They teem on the first part of the island, and we were even lucky enough to see a small nest with babies as we coasted by. Another part of the island is coated with so many cormorants it’s turned the island black, and one solitary vulture stands to attention on one of the bridges, ready to clean up any dead birds and maintain health.
There are also dozens of sealions dozing on the smaller rocks popping up around the inner radius. During pup season these seals normally find themselves on one of the red coloured beaches for birth, but the rest of the time they’re happy to hang around any rock they can find. Ballestas is great for them, because there are no natural predators in these waters – although they also have to tolerate water that is a tad too warm for them in the summer because of it.
It’s not somewhere I’d ever call beautiful – there’s not a single plant on the island, just rocks, sand and birds – but it’s clearly a lifeline for all these creatures, and works very well for them. It’s definitely worth the trip if you’re coming to Paracas.