At the junction Paul and Emily decided to continue farther on to Ica, so I grabbed the taxi that zoomed up to me the minute I got out of the bus and found the Reserva Hotel. It was nice and clean and they gave me the single rate but a large double bed. Emilio and Mario, two brothers, ran the place that was owned by their uncle. Emilio and I decided to take a walk around the center of the small town and we stopped and had a beer and talked. He was a friendly guy, 25 years old, and came from the next town down the road, Ica. He said he worked out a lot at the gym and said he hadn't had a beer in four months. I instantly felt bad about offering him one and making him break his training for the sake of politeness. He said it was OK and he gave me some good info on the area and what life was like in small town Peru. I booked a tour for the next morning to some islands just off the coast called Islas Ballestas.
At 7:15 am. I was picked up and a minibus full of travellers was driven down the coast to Paracas where we loaded into an open whale boat style craft for the ride out to the islands. The bay had a nasty acidic smell mixed with fish, but when we got out to more open water it was very refreshing, although a bit cold. We passed a promomtory and on its hillside we saw a large cactus shape, 170 meters high, scratched into the soil. It was called the Candelabra because of its resemblance to a three-pronged candlestick. It was perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Harold, the guide, said no one knew for sure. The side of the hill it was on was protected from winds and the ocean current provided a climate that never saw rain. This was why it has lasted for so long without eroding away. As we cruised around at the islands (also know as the poor man's Galapagos) we saw sea lions, penguins, Inca terns, cormorants and Peruvian boobies. The boobies laid down tons of guano (droppings) over the centuries and even now it is harvested for fertilizer because it's rich in nutrients. The top of one island looked black from a distance and we saw when we got a little closer that thousands of birds nesting there was the reason. Hundreds of terns circled around in the sky and we got pretty close to several groups of sea lions lounging on the rocks and staking out claims on the small rocky beaches. The rocks had a beautiful mix of colors: red, black, brown, sulphurous green and guano white. They were volcanic in origin and had that broken tortured look about them with caves and arches cutting through them. On the way back a group of fast flying birds intersected our path and were flying at sea level so we got a pretty close look at them as they passed our speeding longboat.
Back in town I had a lunch, got some money from the ATM and checked the internet. The sun was out in contrast to the foggy conditions we had out at the islands and I walked around and took some photos. I stopped in at a church just across the street from my hotel and paid the 3 soles (about $1) to get in. It was in pretty bad shape, but then it does date from 1729. I asked to get up to cupola where I saw a railing around the dome. I thought it would be good for pix, but the access door was padlocked and the keeper said he didn't have the key or he would have let me go up.
The next day I packed up and took the short walk to the Cruz del Sur bus station-actually just a small room next to an alley where the buses pull through. I had looked for it the day before, but couldn't find it until Emilio walked me over to it. The ride was an easy 1 hour down the Panamerican highway to Ica. The Panamerican runs the length of North, Central and South America and I was using it for all of the coastal leg of my Peru trip. Even before I could get off the bus a guy came on board as I was getting my pack unstuck from the overhead shelf and said, "Huacachina?". Of course he knew where I was headed since this is the classic 'gringo trail' through the south of Peru. I got a ride with him and booked into a backpacker style (which is to say very basic) room just off the lagoon.