A shorter version of this story appeared a few weeks ago. But now that I have recovered the file, here is the full chapter.

Chapter 5 – Paracas Peninsula

Into the bus, although, this time it had shrunk to a van. We were off to visit the peninsula itself, the museum, a formation called “La Catedral” and lunch at Lagunilla beach.

First the check point. The whole peninsula is a nature reserve. Here our pockets were made two soles lighter. The money, we were assured, was to go towards maintaining and developing the park. I wondered about this as we left the asphalt for a dusty and very unmaintained road.

The underground villages of the “cabeca largas” (Big Heads) were pointed out as we turned off the road into the museum. Another entrance fee, pockets again lighter, but this time I could immediately see this was spent where it was supposed to be. The museum, although small, was new and well presented. Detailing the rises, lives and subsequent declines of the various cultures that came and went along the Paracas coast, from the south of Lima down to Nazca and beyond.

Cabeca Larga skull in the museum

Cabeca Larga skull in the museum

One of the most interesting exhibits was the display of skulls with remarkably deformed crowns in various shapes. Cranial deformation started in the cradle and was designed to demonstrate ones postion in society’s pecking order. Right next to these (and quite appropriately so)  were three fine examples of trepanned skulls (the forerunner of modern brain surgery). Trepanning involved removal of sections of bone in the crown, purportedly to release “bad spirits,” undoubtedly the mental abberations caused by the aforementioned practice of cranial deformation.

Looking down from the cliff to the front of the Cathedral

Looking down from the cliff to the front of the Cathedral

After a short van ride on a road that deteriorated as we went, we found ourselves at the top of a high cliff overlooking a sandy beach far below. The sun was now hot and the air dry. As a group we wound our way down the crude tortuous path and found ourselves on the beach. Dead birds, rotting sealion carcases, all the fetid evidence of nature’s cruelty. The rolling breakers crashing on to the sand as we trudged along the water line before clambering over a promentory and on to another beach, surrounded by higher cliffs. The isolation adding, not fear, so much as wonder to our place in the greater order of nature.

The cave that is the back entrance to the Cathedral - image: AV

The cave that is the back entrance to the Cathedral – image: AV

We reached the far end of the second beach and the cliff opened, waves could be seen on yet a third beach.

Shoes and socks removed, trousers rolled up and we timed our entrance to match the tidal fluctuations, before stepping into the dark. Wrong… most of us still got wet, nature can be so unpredictable, we were wet to the crotch, women squealed and the men cursed as we stepped into the cave, it opened out to a huge natural cavern. Inside a small shingle beach covered in flotsam, waves crashing, their thunder magnified by the cavernous maw to echo in our ears.

Inside the Cathedral - Image: AV

Inside the Cathedral – Image: AV

This was “The Cathedral,” quite spectacular.

From the high entrance we were treated to the sunny view of the third beach and towering cliffs. The breakers pounding over a rocky shelf at the entrance to send up temendous fountains a of spray and massive clouds of mist hung in the air.

The swell of the tide gave us an insight into the immense power, that she is able to move such great quantities of water. The bloated carcase of a sealion rose and fell with her undulations like a great lifeless ballon. Bouncing off the rocks, being dragged away by the ebb only to be thrust again at nature’s whim cruelly against the rocks.

I was left wandering what would become of this hapless creature, this vision of nature’s uglier side as I picture, somewhat morbidly, the putrefying remains of the animal and the stench that would be offered to future tourists inside our cavern.

I shuddered at the thought and found myself at the entrance and followed the rest of the group into the bright, almost blinding sunlight after the dimness of the cavern. I left the morbid thoughts in the catherdral, trudged back along the beach, over the promentory, up the steep track to the cliff top, into the van and along the bumpy road.

Presently, we were perched atop the the cliff above the third beach where we were treated to another view of the cathedral. On the other side of the inlet was the great maw where we had been an hour ealier. The view of this wonder with its natural formations, cliffs and pounding surf gave the scene an air of majesty, breathtakingly beautiful as our cameras whirred and clicked.

Once again on the bumpy road, the long drive to Langunilla. All we had been told was that it was another beach, four restaurants and no toilets. We were left wondering, why Lagunilla?


Lagunilla Beach – image: AV

Eventually we arrived at a small fishing community, there were the four promised restaurants and a small beach of golden sand. Several other vans arrived at the same time from other tours, so our guide was urging us along, look at the view later, so that we got the better seats in the best restaurant before the other groups. We didn’t need convincing, the long dusty drive had given us a serious appetite that needed tending in the best possible surroundings.

Cerviches and chincharrones soon adorned our tables along with Coca Cola, several bottles of beer and some of our number opting to try the diabolical bottled bubblegum called Inka Kola for the first time. We tucked in. Tongues seared by the “aji” hotness of the cerviches, to be soothed by our fizzy mouthwashes. Mouthful by hot tingling mouthful our fare eaten. Sinuses cleared (aji does that), thirsts quenched and tongues still tingling a little, we had an hour free to explore.

Explorer’s instincts took over. I headed for the beach, others with lesser bladders search in vain for toilets, only to find our guide wasn’t kidding… there were none, and the awful truth and reality of Peruvian rural hygiene dawned on them as they searched for discrete spots in which to perform.

Children in the crystal clear waters squealing, mums and dads lying on the golden sand, some rather attractive, others resembled beached whales reddening in the now blazing early afternoon sun. A group of boys leaping from a rock with bloodcurdling screams into the refreshing water.

I sat in silence on a convenient rock near the divers, reflecting on our day, knowing that I should be out of the sun, that I had had enough for one day, taking all this in.

My reverie was broken by the insistant call of our van horn.

Before long we were off again, the initial topic was how we managed to cope with our needs of relief while at the beach. Then all too soon we were staring at sign Hotel Hispana, our day was nearly over. Cold showers to relieve the sunburn, sweaty clothes changed for clean and dinner…

Tomorrow, I would be off on my next adventure.