This week is a continuation of last week, which left me standing in the Ormeño bus terminal in Pisco.

Read on…

Chapter 3 – Pisco and Happy Hour

Again I was standing in a bus terminal with that forlorn but hopeful feeling. I searched among the faces of the waiting crowd, hoping for recognition. My hope was rewarded. A smile and a shout inquiring if I was AV. Relax, there is a God after all. Juan was there as promised to meet me as arranged, he came forward took my bags and lead me out of the throng into the street through the plaza until I spotted the sign, “Posada Hispana – English, French and Catalan spoken here.”

After a hearty welcome, another Pisco Sour, I was able to relax and shower before being summoned to reception where I was introduced to a friendly mountain with a beaming smile. This was Luis “but call me Lucho.” This was the man responsible for my safe conduct to the Ballestas Islands next morning. A slap on the back that would have dislocated the shoulder of a lesser mortal, a bear hug and my hand was wrung until dry. The necessary negotiation, my pocket ten dollars lighter and assurances that I would be met in the morning by Gary and taken to the point of departure which was still a mystery.

Lucho sidled through the door, his frame too wide to breast the opening normally and Juan suggested I join a group heading off to the Hotel Paracas for Happy Hour at sunset. Sounded like fun, so we were soon on our way down a heavily pot-holed road along the coast. Past a World War II B-25 Mitchell bomber on a plinth announcing the presence of an air force base.

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Boys and fishing boats at San Andres – image AV

On past San Andreas fisherman’s wharf complete with pelicans hovering overhead on the unpredictable droughts, boys diving from moored fishing boats and the Pacific Ocean lapping these Peruvian shores. The crowds of the late afternoon fish market were dispersing, I made a mental note to return and explore this turmoil.

Onward until a familiar smell assaulted my nostrils. Fish meal, an odour unique on this planet. An odour that one doesn’t easily forget. Recalled instantly from my early childhood when my father, who owned a market garden, took me to buy fertiliser.

One by one my fellow passengers were gagging on the malevolent smell and silently I thanked my deceased father for preparing his off-spring for this less than pleasant experience.

I was glad once the last of the fish-meal factories had slid to our stern and the road divided and the potholes deepened amid assurances from our guide that our destination was near.

Playa El Chaco was pointed out as our departure for tomorrow’s adventure. We vaulted on, the small bus protesting at the game of hopscotch over the potholes until we halted in front of the huge iron grilled gates of the Hotel Paracas.

We tumbled from the bus, much like clothing from a tumble drier, after our tortuous journey. Our backsides were thankful for the rest, through an arch and we were in the inner sanctum of the hotel courtyard whose primary feature was a large rusting sculpture of a condor. We stumbled through the heavy revolving door. I have never had much faith in these archaic monstrosities, but nevertheless managed this one with limbs intact.

Trooping across the vast expanse of the dining room to the poolside like invaders, we plopped ourselves wearily into bamboo chairs and marveled at the scene. Definitely an upmarket establishment, quite beyond our normal means. Beyond the crystalline pool, chalets for the bathers and bars for drinkers a pier stretched out into the Paracas Bay. Tall palms trees, mowed lawns and deserted play areas were framed by the picturesque backdrop of the Paracas Peninsula.

Ahhh! The waiter. To a man (well, to a woman as well) each of echoed “Pisco Sour” as though playing an audible game of Chinese Whispers. We all grinned knowing that we had come to participate in Happy Hour where this legendary concoction (never heard of before I was in Peru) was served in bulbous stemmed glasses the size of a small bucket for the princely sum of six soles, half the normal price.

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Sunset from Paracas Hotel – image AV

Awaiting this palette-tingling indulgence we watched the sun set toward the cloud strewn horizon, many grabbed cameras before drinks arrived scattering around the grounds for our personal best spot.

The sky blushed, as though caught with its knickers down, glowing gold, shades of pink then bright orange before the fiery red of sunset. I managed an arty photo through heavy palm fronds silhouetted against the gold sky.

Satisfied with my effort I rejoined the Pisco Sour platoon just as drinks arrived. We supped our liquid fare with varying oooh’s and aaah’s expressing approval while discussing our hoped for photographic success and tomorrow’s adventure as the barometers of our second Pisco Sours told us it was time to return to Pisco and dine at a more affordable location now that Peru’s national drink had returned to its twelve-sole-status.

Huddled in our micro bus we found each pothole again, the malodorous fragrances enhanced by our now sensitised nostrils, past the air force base and finally the uneven, unpaved streets of Pisco, our micro bumped along before disgorging us noisily at a local restaurant.

No sooner than we were shown to a table big enough to accommodate us all menus were strewn amongst us. We pondered over the Spanish that was eventually to lead to our evening fare. The waiters busily distributed more complimentary Pisco Sours, thankfully much more modest than the hotel version. Some eyes brightened, others wilted at the sight. Stalwarts raised their glasses with a Spanish sounding “salud,” others left theirs discreetly alone.

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Pisco Sour

Our bravado bolstered by the traditional fortification of Ica’s clear grape brandy and fluffy egg white cocktail, we ordered, stumbling over foreign words. The waiter’s patience was amazing and our guide very busy fielding questions like a Mastermind contestant.

Eventually the menus gone, conversations resumed, Pisco Sours consumed, our appetites whetted by one of Peru’s cultural aspects, we steeled ourselves for another; Cerviche, that fish dish served cold. Peru’s version of sushi; seafood marinated in lemon juice and lots and lots of “aji” (chili). Halibut, bass, squid, octopus, scallops; it was all there.

Cerviche

Forks stabbed at the fleshy white cubes, tentatively raised, found immediate approval. We soon learned the art of passing the morsels directly into the mouth avoiding all contact with lips that were well alight by the chili. Extra beer to quench the flames, and our piles of fish and sweet potatoes diminished amid murmurs of appreciation.

The meal progressed, appetites sated. We wandered as a group from the restaurant to our refuge, dreams already simmering.

Crossing a side street we were confronted by a delinquent soccer ball as an errant goalie let one slip through to the jeering of his ragged friends. One of our group applied a boot and sent the ball back to the players. The scruffy barefoot boys chanting an invitation to join their midnight game. Several did, I watched from the safety of the footpath as the belly-heavy warriors pitted their skills against the fleet-footed urchins; only to succumb to the skills of youth. The men staggered around the street as best they could, the boys shouting encouragement. They were clearly the masters.

Our brave warriors limped away, trounced on that dirty Pisco street corner.