Category: Travel

Sunday Travel Tales

The main plaza, Santa Cruz de la Sierra – image credit on the photo

Going to have a break this week. I’ll leave the continuation of the Peru story for next week.

A few weeks ago I saw a great story on Lottie Nevin, This Little Piggy Went to Market about an Indonesian market. It got me to thinking of some of the South American markets that I have been to, and used to frequent.

Most notably was Los Pozos in Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia, but also Abastos in the same city and San Juan in Lima, Peru.

Sloths live in the trees in the plaza – image via: Ron Miller

Some of Lottie’s photos (she a great photographer) could have been taken in any of these markets, they are so similar. The thing they have in common would give a sanitary inspector nightmares. Let’s just say you will not find anything like it in the First World. If you haven’t already, hop across to Lottie’s blog and have a look.


Los Pozos at the lower middle, close to Arenal Park on the left. This is just a few blocks from the central plaza – image: Google

Los Pozos today is not at all like it used to be when I lived there.

The old market was demolished and a new one built, but that didn’t mean that the level of hygiene was up graded, it just meant that the market was in a new building.

The building looks new, as you can see by the frontage.


The new Los Pozos

But the surrounding streets are still an impromptu jumble of stalls and colour.

One of the things about these markets is that despite the lack of hygiene, there aren’t hoards of people getting sick. I certainly never suffered any illness by buying my food there.

This also got me to thinking that we in the First World are babied, mollycoddled… “I guess the big attraction for me, apart from the hustle and bustle, is that they show what wimps the western world have become, a point that I was blind to before travelling all over South America. I found that in the 3rd World I could live with half the baggage and double the fun.” – quote from a comment I made on Lottie’s blog.

The colour and hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets

The colour and hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets


The meat market

These aren’t my photos, they are ones that I found on Google, I can’t remember who to credit, but if they are yours, let me know and I will. Can’t figure out why the market photo is out of alignment.

The western world is over-regulated. There are too many rules and laws, that we don’t need half of them. But we have become so used to everything being ‘squeaky clean’ we have forgotten how to live.

Next week, back to Peru

Sunday Travel Tales

Chapter 7 – Arequipa

El Misti - image: AV

El Misti – image: AV

Dawn saw us leave the coast and turn inland. Well, those of us were awake saw dawn, the rest blythely slept on. The scenery changed, still desert, but now we were among canyons and in the distance mountains, one of which was El Misti the volcano that is symbolic of Arequipa.

Our arrival was uneventful, we were met at the bus station by our guide, loaded into a van and taken to “Casa de mi abuela” (My Grandmother’s House), shown to our rooms through quaint passages for Our Grandmother’s House was truly a warren. After a freshen up we met in the garden for breakfast. Pleasant surroundings, cut grass, fruit trees and white wooden tables dotted about. Breakfast was served, yes, once again, we were faced with our bread rolls, strawberry jam and coffee, but this time we also had white cheese and fruit juice. We ate, and listened to the frogs croaking in the garden. Strange, we couldn’t see any frogs, only a specie of dove, it turned out that it was this dove that sounded like the mysterious frogs.

The yard at Casa de mi abuela - image: AV

The yard at Casa de mi abuela – image: AV

We discussed the absurdity of a bird that croaked. We talked about our plans for the day. For today was free, we had a tour to the Colca Canyon the following day, but today was for Arequipa. I had plans to visit the two famous sites in the city: Juanita and the Santa Catalina Convent.

Juanita is also known as the ice-maiden. She was discovered in 1996 when Mt Sabancayo erupted and melted the ice on a nearby mountain. Juanita was an Inca maiden who, 800 years earlier, had been sacrificed at the age of 14. She had been drugged on coca, then ceremoniously clubbed to death. Her discovery turned the history of the Inca, because until Juanita, there was no evidence that the Inca made human sacrifices like the Maya and Aztec.

The Ice Maiden - image: karikuy

The Ice Maiden – image: karikuy

There she was, in her frozen glass case, sitting hunched up, just as she had done for the past centuries, mummified by man and the cold. Juanita was not alone, she was accompanied through the centuries by five boys about 12 years old, but it was Juanita who was the attraction, she was the principle character. We listened to her story in our language and saw a video reenactment of her fateful life.

After we had met the ice-maiden, we had pizza for lunch in the main square and marvelled at the white buildings. Much of Arequipa is made of a white stone from the area, and had given it the name of the White City.

Inside the convent - image: AV

Inside the convent – image: AV

Our group found the Santa Catalina Convent after lunch. Once inside we marvelled at the story of our guide who told us of the totally cloistered lives of the nuns, once inside they never left again and never spoke, only a yearly visit from relatives through a small mesh grille did they communicate with the outside world. The convent was truly a city within a city, fully self-sustained; gardens, bakeries and farm, all within its walls. There was even a cafe for the tourists, where we could buy and sample the fare still made by the nuns as they had done for centuries in the part of the convent still used.

The main plaza in Arequipa

The main plaza in Arequipa

Shocked at the austerity of the convent, the barren lives that had passed barbarically within the sacred walls, one left the tour in a sombre mood, reflective on life as we know it.

Dinner was at a restaurant near the hotel, and an early night for tomorrow we faced our next adventure.


Sunday Travel Tales

I must right a wrong. I haven’t checked, but I have a vague idea that I neglected to tell you the name of this story. “Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours”. If you have been following this story from the beginning, you’ll have noticed that breakfast is always strawberry jam and bread rolls, and everywhere we went we got complimentary pisco sours.

Wrong, righted…

Chapter 6 – Ica and Nazca

Amid bread rolls and coffee, I made my farewells to my new travelling companions at the cafe in the square. After, I was put into a motor taxi, stuffed in next to my bags and taken to the streetside bus station for my trip to Ica. I was surprised that some of my travelling companions were also on the same bus. We talked about our travels, watched the scenery, which was much the same as we had seen before. So the trip was uneventful.

Reastaurant at Huacachina Lagoon - image: AV

Restaurant at Huacachina Lagoon – image: AV

On arrival at Ica, we were met by a local guide and taken to the lagoon at Huacachina where the braver of us (not me) were to experience sandboarding down the highest sand dunes in the world.

Sandboarding, I discovered was rather like surfing without the benefit of waves, but rather like surfing on a steep beach.

See the foolhardy way up there? Image: AV

See the foolhardy way up there? Image: AV

I chose to walk around the lagoon, which was a true oasis in the desert, picturesque, palm trees and cool green water, then sat on the terrace of the one and only restaurant to watch the braver, or more foolhardy, slide, fall and tumble their way down the towering sand dunes that surrounded us.

Carlos, the smile that won the hearts of the ladies - Image: AV

Carlos, the smile that won the hearts of the ladies – Image: AV

While waiting on the others to rejoin me for lunch I had my shoes unnecessarily cleaned by an irascible tyke with a cheeky grin. He did a good job and in return got an invitation to lunch as well as payment for his labours. Lunch was soon underway, Carlos, my irascible tyke, made an unprecedented hit with the girls, and he was only nine.

I chose cerviche, I had developed a taste for this tongue tingling dish, others had more recognisable fare, hamburgers and plates of baked and fried fish. Beer was the order of the day and Carlos chose the national drink which to this day, reminds me of horse pee.

Lunch over, bruises nursed and abrasions bandaged, we were returned to Ica for our trip to Nazca.

Now, somewhat naïvely, we chose to travel by “collectivo” because it was well more than an hour quicker than the bus. What we didn’t know was what a “collectivo” entailed. We found out, there were fourteen of us, enough to fill two and were off.

A “collectivo” is a miracle to behold. They are late 1950’s early 1960’s American cars. A mixture of Dodges, Chryslers, Buicks and Fords. To actually call them cars was a euphemism, they were relics, actually relics is also a euphemism for wrecks. The one that I was in, the driver had to hold up the boot while we deposited our bags, he had to hold it because one hinge had rusted off. He changed gear with a large engineer’s screwdriver stuck in a hole in the floor and after smoking two cigarettes in the front seat, I discovered that the fuel tank was the large plastic bottle at my feet. The trip was as mercifully quick as it was breezy, for none of the windows wound up and wayward springs in the seats didn’t afford too much comfort either.

Much of the road to Nazca is straight, so we flew at a comfortable 150-160kms/hour for a lot of the time until we reached the zig-zags and zig zagged down into the first of the green fertile valleys.

Maria Reich Observation Tower at the beginning of the Nazca Plain. Some of the desert designs can be seen from here. Image: VirtualTourist

Maria Reich Observation Tower at the beginning of the Nazca Plain. Some of the desert designs can be seen from here. Image: VirtualTourist

We stopped at the observation tower at the beginning of the Nazca plain, scrambled up for a look and photos, then finished the trip to Nazca.

The driver took us all to our hotel called “Majoro.” Majoro was a lovely sprawling homestead, swimming pool and delightful surroundings and a poolside bar. Settled, changed and into the pool for a refreshing swim.

Dripping we sat at the bar and were given the traditional complimentary Pisco Sour. And that is where we stayed until dinner.

kidspoolin barNazca

Kids playing pool in the bar – Image: AV

Some of the local farm kids wandered in and played pool and a game with heavy brass discs that you have to throw into holes on a special box. The ultimate throw is to get the disc into the mouth of a large brass frog in the centre. The kids were quite good at it, and made the frog swallow several of the brass discs.

Dinner in the hotel restaurant was a simple affair, trout, chicken and beef were the offerings with rice and salad and then it was back to the bar. None of us wanted to explore Nazca which was some 15 minutes away by car. We wanted to rest, for in the morning we were to fly over the mysterious Nazca lines.

Breakfast, yes, you guessed, bread rolls, strawberry jam and coffee. We breakfasted lightly in anticipation of the morning’s flight. It was to be only a half hour flight, but we had been warned, the aerobatics involved so that we could all see and take pictures often led to subsequent manifestations of air-sickness.

Cessna, ready to take us over the Nazca Lines - Image: AV

Cessna, ready to take us over the Nazca Lines – Image: AV

Collected at the hotel for the drive to the main road, for the airport was almost across the highway from the entrance road to the hotel. We were divided into groups of three and ushered to some small planes, Cessna’s, all pre-flighted and ready to go. Some were apprehensive about the flight, 747’s were okay, 737’s were okay, but this was a small one.

The astronaut, one of the petroglyphs at Nazca - Image: AV

The astronaut, one of the geoglyphs at Nazca – Image: AV

We were soon weaving our way acrobatically amongst the geoglyphs on the desert floor. We had a good look and our guide explained all there was to see. We also saw the wreck of two Cessna’s that had collided in mid air a year earlier and left a stain on the desert below. Unsettling for some, especially when we discovered that there is no form of air traffic control in the Nazca region. Hmmmm….

Safely back on the ground, two of our number had to clean up the floor of the plane, the rest of us escaped, a little green around the gills, but managed to forgo the embarrassment of actually being sick.

Back to the hotel and lunch.

In the process of being restored, one of the open graves at Chauchilla - Image: Peru Tours

In the process of being restored, one of the open graves at Chauchilla – Image: Peru Tours

After lunch were were collected once again for an afternoon tour to the Chauchilla cemetery where we were treated to the spectacle of open graves and mummies exposed to the dry desert air. In past years the graves had been ramsacked by treasure hunters and were in the process of being restored. Haunting grins on grisly skulls from past civilisations. Somehow it seemed different to the sanitised exhibits behind glass in a museum. It was real.

On the return we were treated to another of nature’s phenomena, whirlwinds travelling across the desert floor. One even chased us and rocked the van quite severely making the girls scream as it chose to cross the same piece of road where we happened to be.

Back to the hotel, shaken but not stirred, bar and pool, not in the same order for everyone. The girls wanted to go shopping, so a taxi took them to Nazca. Why is it that wherever girls go, they have to shop?

Sapo, the brass frog table - Image:

Sapo, the brass frog table – Image:

Dinner, then rest, bar or pool again and more of the brass frog game. Some of us had a go and discovered it’s not easy; the kids ran rings around us.

We had a bus to catch at 11pm that would take us overnight to Arequipa.

There is no bus from Nazca to Arequipa, so 10pm found us on the main road through Nazca. There is no bus station in Nazca either, you just wait outside the place that sold you the ticket and the bus stops to pick you up when it arrives from Lima.


First view of El Misti, one of the three volcano surrounding Arequipa – Image: trekearth

Our bus did eventually arrive, about 11:20pm. Finding our numbered seats was another problem, they were already occupied by heavily bundled sleeping ladies or disinterested men. The biggest obstacle was stepping over sleeping children, sprawled haphazardly in the aisle, in the near dark. Eventually we found unoccupied seats and settled down as the bus left Nazca and headed for the coastal road, the continuation of the Panamerica Sur that would take us to Arequipa.


Recipe for Pisco Sours…

For the brave


Recipe image: Illustrated Cocktails

For God’s sake don’t use LIMES; use lemons.

This is an age old mistake perpetrated by Americans. In South America, lemons are green, as soon as Americans see green, they say lime! They are NOT limes, they are green lemons.

Enjoy your pisco sour.

Sunday Travel Tales

Chapter 4 – The Ballestas Islands

A knock at the door. I mumbled something, vaguely aware that something was supposed to happen. Seconds later it dawned on me that on hearing that knock I was supposed to wake up.


Plaza San Martin, Pisco

My eyes still asleep, I fumbled in the subdued light of daybreak and found the bathroom, it was exactly where I had left it. A short time later I emerged refreshed and in search of breakfast. The “posada” wasn’t yet equipped with dining facilities, although Juan had assured us they were under construction. So it was that I found myself at a wobbly wrought iron table in front of a cafe in the plaza. I gazed at the surroundings. Old men sat on park benches chatting, street sweepers swept, kids scrambled around a statue of  of San Martin, one of Peru’s national heroes, their school bags bobbing on their backs and boys with their shoeshine paraphernalia lay in wait to ambush anybody with the slightest scuff on their shoes. The scene was much like any town or city in Peru, as I was to discover.

My continental breakfast was placed haphazardly in front of me, sure enough, it was strawberry jam, bread rolls and “cafe con leche.” With the resignation that no other breakfast existed in Peru, I split my rolls, filled them with jam and studied the comings and goings in the plaza as I ate unenthusiastically.

It was during breakfast that I met the young lad who was with Lucho the previous evening. Surprisingly, he spoke good English, it was refreshing. The micro was due to leave in ten minutes. I finished my crumbling rolls and licked the excess jam off my fingers, paid the bill and followed him.

I climbed aboard the micro. Greeted those I recognised and remembered from the night before and being greeted by those I didn’t.

Heads were counted, the door creaked shut and we began our game of hopscotch anew as we battled with Pisco’s potholes. Out of town, past the sentinel B-25 Mitchell, past San Andreas wharf. Fishing boats already returning with the day’s catch waiting to dock and unload. The graceful, ever hopeful pelican, wheeled overhead awaiting their breakfast. The stallholders assembling their shelters and tents ready for the day’s commerce. On we pushed, that horribly  unique smell of the fortress-like fish-meal factories, their towers providing real or imagined protection. We arrived at Playa El Chaco.

The floating dock at Playa El Chaco serves both tourists and fishermen - Image: AV

The floating dock at Playa El Chaco serves both tourists and fishermen – Image: AV

Our micro waddled off the tar-seal like a drunken duck and stopped by the wharf, dwarfed by the big trucks waiting to load with crates of fish. There he was, large as life, grinning as he opened the door of the bus. Lucho shook all our hands strongly as we alighted and led us safely through a throng of children proffering various souvenirs made of sea shells and their plaintiff “compra mi’s.”

Along the jetty, wending our way and dodging fast-track barrow loads of fish to a small floating dock and more pelicans. The ebb and flow of the sea made the floating dock seem a precarious place to be. Big heavy-duty plastic boxes of various species of fish were being hefted by gum booted on one side from a brightly coloured barnacle encrusted boat; on the other side our sleek motorboat in stark contrast.

We stepped down and stumbled our way aboard, some with more grace than others. Ladies were given a helping hand by the gallant Lucho, men were left to fend for themselves. Instructions from our guide and we donned the day-glo orange life-jackets and jockeyed in the boat for what we considered the best vantage point clumsily in our newly encumbered states.

The 'Candalabra' perched on the peninsula - Image: AV

The ‘Candalabra’ perched on the peninsula – Image: AV

Judy, our guide, introduced herself in good English, then in Spanish; there were speakers of both languages aboard. The motor roared, momentarily drowning her words and we carved a great wake away from the wharf.

Bucketing our way over the wave tops, it appeared that even the sea here had potholes, Judy delivered her preliminary speech, quite an informative routine.

We listened as she pointed out the port of San Martin on the opposite side of the bay and then with a dramatic sweep of her arm, our gaze turned to the high dune rising from the bay as the engine was cut and the boat slowed so we wallowed in the troughs and peaks.the huge “candalabra” carved into the peninsula hillside.


Etched into the hillside was a magnificent triple “candalabra.” By whom it was built and when, nobody really knows; apart from the fact that a line through the middle points directly to the famed Nazca Lines 260kms distant. All this information added to the mystery and camera shutters clicked noisily.

On we surged, now out of the protection of the inner bay the boat seemed smaller now as we bucked and sped along at the mercy of the sea.

Our destination, the Ballestas Is - Image: AV

Our destination, the Ballestas Is – Image: AV

Suddenly, the boat reared up on its haunches like a stallion and we were under way again in an arc that took us further from land. The boat began to heave with the swell of the sea as we passed the end of the protective Paracas Peninsula and Judy stood in front, perfectly poised despite the undulating boat, fielding question after question.

Our boat sped on and a great shape made its presence felt on the starboard side. Gliding across wave tops and disappearing below the crests into troughs majestically rising again to soar on, a Royal Albatross graced us with his company; not a wing flap, as he showed us just who was the master of its environment on huge motionless outstretched wings. Again cameras went crazy as the great bird wheeled away and we all stood in silently awe at its magnificence.

The Ballestas Islands were pointed out in the distance, still just grey lumps low on the horizon as we followed the peninsula to open water.

Then panic! In the middle of nowhere, the motor idled, the boat slowed and wallowed dramatically to a halt for no apparent reason. We looked around momentarily bewildered. The islands, our destination, still a long way off, the safety of land was a long way behind us.

Judy drew our attention with the now familiar sweep of her arm to the starboard side once again. The surface of the sea broke and the sleek grey forms of a school of dolphins arched their backs, dorsal fins slicing the water, swam effortlessly along side the boat. Again, we were stunned into silence as Mother Nature showed us once more the beauty of her world. The boat rose and fell with the rhythm of the sea, audibly slapping the swells. It was several moments before cameras started their mechanical clicking hopeful of capturing and recording the seemingly choreographed serenity of the silent grey shapes as the rose again and again to the surface, for our benfit, I think not. Our shutters often fell on empty sea, as we sighed and focused our cameras. From six photos, I managed only one decent shot.

We could have stayed mesmerised for much longer, but the islands beckoned.

Again we surged forward, bow aimed at the dark rocks that now stood awesomely from the water with their creamy coffee-coloured topping.

Their true majesty becoming further apparent as we got nearer and nearer. What were just dark smudges on the horizon now stood breathtakingly far above our heads. Great jagged cliffs rose out of the sea. Caverns carved by millions of years by the raw force of the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean; shingle beaches still being pounded by those same waves.

A little brown face - Image - AV

A little brown face – Image: AV

Suddenly we were confronted with a small brown face peering down at us from a small rocky outcrop. The nose wrinkled, its whiskers twitched, our scent and the petrol fumes of the boat, had to have been a strange mixture. The big dark eyes blinked lazily.

Our first encounter with a sea-lion, a season-old female pup.

Looking down at us with bored interest, she followed our course as we circled her roost. Cameras clicked, the women clucked about how cute she was.

The sea raged against the pup’s rocky haven, dashing its fury almost up to where the brown-coated pup was perched. The orphan-like baby seemed to be cowering in safety as though the waves would dash its fragile body. Disturbed now, it humped along the promontory, one last disdainful look back  and she plopped into the churning waters, timed perfectly with the ebb and flow; nature takes care of its own.

Our attention became focused again on the main island. Thousands of sea birds roosting on the ledges. Blue-footed Boobies we were assured by our guide, then closer to the rocks and a large orange crab clung to the barnacle covered surface of the tidal fringe, wearing the same day-glo orange suit that we had on.

Yes, he took the boat through it - Image: AV

Yes, he took the boat through it – Image: AV

A cave loomed ahead, opening its great maw as if to swallow us like some beast about to enjoy a sweet morsel. We passed another shingle beach as we entered the cave, necks arched as the roof closed ominously over our heads, the swell making us rise and fall. The roar of the sea increased so that it echoed and thundered, amplified by the confines of this void. We sat in this deafening world, cameras clicking silently.

I was pleased that our skipper seemed to know what he was about, he maneuvered the boat skillfully as each new swell threatened us with rocks. The light at the end of the tunnel, what a pleasant sight, nearer, then out again into daylight, a collective sigh.

More birds, perched on the rocks around us. All were named, their names quickly forgotten, lost in the magic.

A great roar shook us from our reverie. The huge maned head of a bull sea-lion glared at us. He reared up defiantly as he roared again, then he sneezed, the passengers on the port side got covered in great gobs of sea-lion snot. I was assured, amid squeals, a less than pleasant experience. He settled, our level of threat had diminished, we lacked the ability to return his challenging roar. He shook his great head, his multiple chins waggling as he did so. He propped is head on the rock to observe our slow progress away from his territory.

The colourful Zarcillo - Image: viru2012

The colourful Zarcillo – Image: viru2012

More Boobies and other assorted seabirds whose less than comic names forgotten. Inching our way along, a small colony of penguins, the colourful Zarcillo with its yellow moustache. They all blinked nonchalantly as we stared through our viewfinders. They continued to blink as we passed.

Image - AV

The gantries for loading guano – Image: AV

Around to the back of the island, and we were surprised to see old derelict buildings nested high on the rocks, suspended gantries and loading docks jutted from the cliffs. Guano, bird poop, was a major income source for Peru. The nitrogen rich fertiliser being highly sought around the world. These islands are now a wildlife reserve, and the haven of two old brothers who act as caretakers. The knee-deep guano is harvested every five years.

Circling the island we see more birds, sea-lions and penguins then into a small bay.

Sea-lion colony - Image: AV

Sea-lion colony – Image: AV

Here to our surprise, a whole colony of sea-lions along a stony beach. Few of the big males were to be seen, holding their heads regally aloft surveying their harems, mostly groups of females with their pups. The sea was full of sleek brown bodies of assorted sizes heading for the beach or leaving for the open sea to do whatever sea-lions do at sea. Swarms of pups played in the tumbling surf close to the beach. More film was exposed as we marveled at nature in the raw.

The dreaded announcement form our guide, it was time to return to the mainland. The boat wheeled away and we glanced back sadly as the islands shrank in the distance to meld with the horizon again. We motored on in silence, each of us shrouded in thought, some of us even eager to return to the safety of land as the mixture of petrol fumes and rolling sea threatened to embarrass us.

The shore came closer, the driver jockeyed for position amongst the other tour boats at the floating dock. The ever-present Lucho was on hand to welcome us and help the ladies to disembark on to the undulating jetty. Our Ballestas Islands tour was over.

We had our memories in our hearts and cameras as we sat at a cafe by the beach. We watched the local kids feed and tease the pelicans flapping at the water’s edge with fish that they had scrounged from the morning’s catches.

My stomach was still queasy from the motion of the boat, I am not a sailor, so I struggled with my orange juice as I evaded the “compra mi’s” of the local kids selling beautiful souvenir sea-lions and other assorted items. No time nor the inclination now for Pisco Sours, besides it was only a little after 10am.


The kids feeding the pelicans – Image: AV

It was fun sitting there watching the kids as they would throw a fish into the water and race the pelicans to retrieve it. The ever-hopeful pelicans flapping and jostling for the pole position as another fish was cast into the water. The children squealed with delight at the confusion they had caused.

Then Lucho’s huge frame towered over the table threatening to block out the light of day, he was summoning us to our next destination.

Sunday Travel Tales

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Sunday Travel Tales

Yes, I know it’s Monday. I had a bad connection weekend and it dampened my enthusiasm somewhat. But here I am…

I had a break in December, but back with Travel Tales with renewed vigour.

Peru again, this time another extract from my grammar book. We are taking the bus from Lima to Pisco, doesn’t sound very exciting, but read on.

Chapter 2 – The Bus

The bus was due to leave at 10:30am, in ten minutes, which, in due course, left me wondering why I was still waiting an hour later. I had discovered another aspect of Peruvian life, that phenomenon known simply as “hora del Peru,” that element of flexibility that goes someway into explaining the Peruvians inability to even remotely adhere to traditional time scales.


ormeñoartvusFinally, ushered through the door (I had deposited my bags earlier) I was confronted by a behemoth whose mid-section resembled a piano accordian. This monster swallowed us all and backed away from the terminal. Underway at last. Out on to the busy Lima street and, to my surprise, immediately turned back into the next gateway darkening any hope of an imminent departure.


Expertly the beast wove its way through the nether regions of the bus depot, various makes and models of bus at diverse stages of being disembowelled or reassamebled, either way, it was hard to tell the difference.


Then, miraculously, we were back on the street, but stationary. The nose of the bus protruding over the footpath and a couple of non-descript characters descended and began yelling, “Chincha, Pisco!” repeatedly. Locals appeared from nowhere and clambered aboard. Some even appeared to be just strolling along the street, and, succumbing to the frantic urgings of the yellers, climbed aboard on a mere whim to either Chicha or Pisco. Strange…


The driver climbed aboard, and once in his rightful place our flexible chariot jolted forward unsteadily to negotiate the Lima traffic until we were safely on the Panamerica Sur.


Once on this multi-lane highway and free of the city congestion we settled down to what appeared to be a comfortable speed. A glance over the driver’s shoulder revealed the speedo needle flickering precariously between 120 and 130kms/hour.


4261-21861I glanced at both sides of the highway taking in the view as we careened sweetly along. “Pueblos Jovenes,” the young towns, a euphemism for the slums that were perched and scattered on the high sand dunes on the left. On the right, the same sight with less sand dunes. Poverty made its sad impact as I wondered how people forced to live in such squallid conditions coped. Trying hard to equate my comfortable first world upbringing with the tortuous daily struggle faced by these artless squatters with none of the familar amenities.


Now that I was at ease with our driver’s ability to control our speeding behemoth, especially after the tactics he used to dodge, swerve and keep us safely from harm as a truckload of foam mattresses exploded all over the higway as a restraining rope gave way.


The scenery changed, the backdrop still essentially the same dull sky and never-ending dunes, we passed frequent beach resorts and the occasional abandoned agricultural project, desserted chicken farms, fields of drying or dying vegetaion, neglected for a myriad of reasons.


Horrible grey sand dunes slipped past under the still horrible grey shroud, all permanetly depressing.


cottonflowersFinally, relief, vegetation, sun. Paddocks of green, fields of cotton punctuated with yellow blooms, acres of asparagus fern, corn fields, casava crops and citrus groves were among the many identifiable crops. The muddy irrigation ditches outlining and dividing the parched soils.


Great canals lined the road, naked children leapt from the banks with delight into the dirty cool waters, their gleeful screams lost as we hurtled past. Mothers labouriously washed clothes in the same water and piled them high, the nearby bushes bloomed with the strange fruit of sun-drying clothes. Daughters dandled nappied babies on their laps on the grass beside their toiling mums. These scenes continued as we sped on toward Pisco.


Soon we were rewarded by our arrival at the mysterious Chincha. A largish town, roads choked with traffic mainly in the form of motor-rickshaw type taxis, that buzzed everywhere like bees. Circling the square with its stalls selling the local produce, wines, spirits and port, and of course that famous local product; Pisco.


inka kolaStationary in front of the depot, the doors opened and the bus was flooded with boys and girls, men and women. Everybody was selling something. Newspapers, chocolate and tepid fizzy drinks, including that diabolical Peruvian invention “Inka Kola,” a bright yellow concoction that looked like horse pee and tasted like bottled bubblegum, even now I shudder at the thought.


With a change of passengers, the chaotic exit of the sellers, the bus was ready to go only being prevented from moving by a relic of the US auto-industry’s heyday. A battered, almost beyond recognition, early ‘60’s Dodge (definitely well past its validity date) was parked driverless in the middle of the road while its driver was away on some unguessed business. A couple of locals recognising our plight, reached in relaesed the handbrake and pushed it out of the way.


A lurch and we turned tightly out of the square. The driver had to be commended for his ability to manouever this outsized piano accordian in seemingly impossible situations. Weaving through the chaos back to the safety of the highway, even though it had for some time been reduced to a single lane.


After a journey of four hours it was with some relief that we turned off the main road toward the coast and the final few kilometres to Pisco. Negotiating the narrow streets the driver again displayed his skills with horn blaring to hurry along the slow buzzing motor-taxis, we arrived. Safely inside the bus depot, gate closed, a final lurch and were at a standstill. Once off the bus we were able to claim our baggage.

Sunday Travel Tales

It’s the tail end of a hot busy day, so just a quick tale tonight


A small beach on the south side of the Paracas Peninsula.

Lagunilla Brach - image AV

Lagunilla Brach – image AV

Most tourist visit the area for the boat trip out to the Ballestas Islands, many then take the Paracas Tour visitng the musuem with the displays of the pre-Inca civilisations of the Cabeca Larga (big heads), off to scramble down the cliff and admire the large cave formation known as The Cathedral.

Then it’s off to Lagunilla for lunch. Beautiful blue water, beach know to have many sea urchins, so you must wear sandals even when swimming. For lunch you have a choice of four restaurants, each guide has his own preference.

The amazing thing is… there are no toilets, not one. You have to make do with what nature provides, because it’s a long trip back to Playa El Chaco or onward to Ica.

Sunday Travel Tales

One of the trips that I did often was up the Tambopata River, a five hour journey from Puerto Maldonado which is 55kms from the Bolivian border.

Puerto Maldonado is a jungle town. At the airport, if your yellow fever isn’t up to date, you get a shot there and then

Long narrow boats that didn’t go fast along the windy river as the passengers gazed at the scenery which never really changed. The odd flash of excitement as the boat swerved to avoid a floating log or some such.

The scenery never changed, much – image: AV

We passed the odd river community, other boats carrying stuff like bananas down river.

Bananas – image: AV

Muddy cayman watched us, we watched them – image: AV


Muddy children watched us, we watched them – image: AV

Household chores, no washing machines here – image: AV


Mothers doing the washing, while the kids swam and bathed.

Other boats with passengers going downstream to Puerto Maldonado. Everybody was very friendly, everybody waved.

But the scenery was the same, the water was muddy and the river twisted and turned.

My first trip, I found interesting; the second and subsequent, merely a trip. Quite frankly it became boring.

But it was necessary, as we were on our way to spend two nights in a jungle lodge in the Tambopata Reserve; although the second night, we woke at 3am to take the boat back to Puerto Maldonado in the dark, only the moonlight as our guide, to get our onward flight after 8am.

Finally, we arrived and signed in at the ranger’s station, then it was onward again for another 20 minutes, a scamble up a muddy bank with makeshift steps. and…

First sight of the lodge – image: AV

That was part of the adventure, just getting there in one piece.

More on this another time.

Sunday Travel Tales

Running late, so a quick one tonight.

Still in Playa El Chaco, this week one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen.

Taken from the beach in front of the fishermen’s houses, with their fishing boats and Paracas Peninsula in the background. The condition of the photo is not good, hopefully it will not detract from the beauty.

Baia de Paracas/Paracas Bay

Sunday Travel Tales

A small beach where I lived for several months in 2000/01 is the gateway for tourism to the Ballestas Islands about 17 miles off the coast of Peru. The islands are a story on their own, but this is about the beach.

Playa El Chaco was divided in two, on the left you had restaurants and some places to stay, on the right were the families of the fishermen. The dividing line was the floating wharf that served for tourist departures and fishing boats.

The floating wharf and ever present pelicans. The end of the dock rose and fell with the tides.


The monument high on the dunes – image credit AV


Playa El Chaco has a history, right in front of where I lived (the centre of this photo) was where Simon Bolivar landed to liberate Peru. There is a large monument on the dunes behind the village.

The village was very rustic, many of the houses had no roofs; they were not necessary as it never rained. The only adverse weather the region experienced were the Paracas Winds that swept across the Paracas Peninsula and over the harbour in August and September.

The beach was the playground for the kids, they’d chase and tease the pelicans with fish and swim amongst the fishing boats.

The families all worked, the men fishing, the women making and selling artifacts that represented the islands, all manner of sea lions craft from sea shells, and the kids would wend their way through the throngs of tourist and around the restaurants hopeful of making a sale, or better still enticing a tourist to the stall area on the village side of the wharf.

It was near these stall that my local bar was located. Made of bamboo it was a focal point for the locals.

Juan Luis perched in front of the bar, the artisans’ stalls can be seen in the background – image credit AV

Even five year old Juan had to work selling for his mother.

Playa El Chaco was an interesting interlude in my travels. In the morning I would get a collectivo taxi to Pisco, 21kms to the north, and work with a tourist agency. I did some planning work for them, reworked their advertising propaganda, and many times was required to accompany groups of tourists to the islands as a guide.

The afternoons were free. A leisurely cerviche lunch, with beer, a nap and a walk along the beach reflecting on life.

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