We got into Pisco at supper time on Thursday afternoon and checked into our hotel which was like a REAL HOTEL, with decent beds, a private bathroom, a pool (ok, it was a bit dodgy), and, to top things off, CABLE TV WITH HBO!!! All for $5 each a night! Even though we were tempted to stay in bed and watch movies until it was time to head to Lima, we mustered up the energy to head out and explore. We quickly discovered that the trade-off for a cheap hotel with so many features was that it was not in a great neighbourhood... we were on a dirt road on the outskirts of Pisco, so after our night on the town (i.e. an early dinner), we decided to hop into one of the charming, and, as we found out, extremely bumpy, tricycle-taxis to get back to our room.
Early on Friday morning, we headed out on a tour to the Islas Ballestas and the Parracas National Reserve. The Islas Ballestas, also known by the nickname "the poor man's Galapagos", are a group of rock islands that are home to sea lions and a number of different bird species, including cormorants, boobies, and PENGUINS!!! A small motorboat took us on the hour-long trip out to the islands, where we had a chance to drive around for a bit and check out the wildlife. Unfortunately, this is not a great time of year to see the Humboldt penguins... something about mating season... but it turns out that sea lions are much cuter than I expected, so I wasn't too disappointed. The islands are also well-known for the guano, or bird droppings, that give them their whitish-colour. Every five or six years, when the layer of guano is thick enough, it is harvested and used as fertilizer. There was definitely a "unique" smell as we floated around, and Cheryl and I were both careful to wear hats.
After touring Islas Ballestas, we waited around for a LONG TIME in the little town of Parracas for the bus to the next part of our tour at the Parracas National Reserve. The park is huge, barren, and red, so it felt a little like we were driving on Mars. We checked out a rock formation on the coast called the Cathedral and saw some dolphins in the waves, but other than that, there wasn't much to see. After lunch at a seaside "village" inside the reserve, I was happy to head back to Pisco.
The town of Pisco is named after the brandy produced locally from grapes... or maybe the brandy is named after the town? Not sure... anyways, the pisco sour (made of pisco, lemon juice, egg whites, and bitters) is Peru's national drink, and even though Cheryl and I weren't too crazy about the ones we tried in Cuzco, we decided that maybe we should give them a second chance, and, after all, you can't visit Pisco and not have a pisco sour. Final verdict: we hated them! On the bright side, we also decided to finally try Inca Kola, which is a bright yellow soft drink that tastes a little bit like cream soda... oh, Inca Kola, where have you been all my life? Luckily, I still have two more days in Peru to drink as much Inca Kola as I want!