Paracas – into the land of birds

Imagine tiny islands full of birds. Many birds. Lots, lots of birds. Actually millions of birds, flying all over. For me (I am a nature freak) it was one of the most amazing views of this trip.

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Islas Ballestas are the main attraction of the National Park of Paracas, a couple of hours south from Lima. Some people advertise them as ‘Galapagos of Peru’, which is somewhat too flattering for the Peruvians. But still the Ballestas still impress with their wildlife. They say there are 150 different types of birds on the islands. Impossible to spot even a part of them, but what you see is exciting enough: there are colonies of pelicans, Peruvian boobies with their chicks, Inca terns, cormorants …. and …. penguins  (It has always been my dream to see the penguins)

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The Humboldt Penguins, called also peruvian penguins, swim in the cold streams of the coastal waters of Peru and Chile. And they are so cute, walking clumsy on the ground but don’t be deceived – they become extremely fast once they enter the waters!

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The boobies, cormorants, pelicans and penguins live in peace and harmony with sea lions. I saw whole big colonies of those beautiful creatures – really extraordinary!

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Islas Ballestas used to be economically strategical for Peru in 19th century due to the guano, the bird shit (there were far more birds on these islands at that time). Guano was being sold to the European markets and the economy was experiencing a boom. There was just one little problem – exported at the rate of more than 500 tones a year, exploited by the greedy governors, the guano islands got depleted at one point… And the peruvian economy was close to crash.

Some sociologist nowadays would say that the country did not learn much from its history. The Peruvian economy now is based mostly on the export of gold, silver and copper, which are bound to finish one day as well…

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Huanchaco, the home of the pelicans

I visited Trujillo and the area for a couple of days at the beginning of November. And I left amazed by the city of Chan Chan, the huacas of Mochica and … the pelicans.

Just a 15 min bus ride from Truijillo lies the small village of Huanchaco. Years ago it used to be a tiny fishing village, where every morning the fishermen were going into the sea on their caballitos de totora. With the tourists coming, the village grew, as well as the number of bars and restaurants. Now most of the traditional boats, caballitos de totora, serve only as a tourist attraction. But out of the season Huanchaco still has a flavor of the fishing village that it used to be.

Apart of the fishermen and their families, the faithful habitants of Huanchaco are the pelicans. It was the first time that I have ever seen those birds and I could not stop looking. With their huge beaks and long neck they look a lot like a pterodactyl and a little bit like a duck. In fact, science says pelicans are the closest living relatives of the pterodactyl ancestors!

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Cordillera Blanca – through the valleys of Aquilpo and Ishinca

Since the day hikes in the Cordillera Blanca are just like a scratch on the surface, never getting to the core of the mountains, I decided to book a longer tour with an agency. The hikers usually choose the relatively easy, but beautiful Santa Cruz trek. As this tour is recommended and extensively described in the Lonely Planet, it sometimes sees as much as 100 people at each camp every night! Enjoying mountains in a crowd is really not my thing, so I decided for the tougher but no less beautiful 3-day tour through Aquilpo and Ishinca valleys, with the advantage of sharing the experience with just three other gringos, a local Quechua guide and his son, two horses and two donkeys.

It turned out to be the right choice and a spectacular trek. The way goes up through the dense forest of the Quenual trees, passes the tourqouise Aquilpo Lake, and climbs steeply up to the mountain pass of 5000m. From there, over the snow and huge rocks, it descents into the valley of Ishinca. The nights were freezing cold, with the temperature falling below zero, but there is nothing comparable to the feeling of waking up in the morning with the view of the snow-capped peaks. It was an unforgettable adventure – untouched nature, breathtaking views and the sensation of being on top of the world.

(Note that using a toilet in such a remote area is far more complicated than usual 😉 – check the picture!)

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Sacred Hatun Machay

Around 75km from Huaraz, deep in the Cordillera Negra, the part of mountains the tourists usually neglect, lies secret and sacred stone forest of Hatun Machay. It is truly a spectacular place, a one unique valley with countless rocks of various shapes and forms.

Wandering between the rocks, I could well imagine that it used to be a sacred place for the acienct cultures living in this area. The name – Hatun Machay – means in Quechua the Big Cave. And in fact, one of the caves is full of ancient drawings and carvings of animal and alien-looking man. There is actually an ongoing discussion in Huaraz whether a sanctuary like this should be used as a climbing center…

Discussion going on, the amateur and professional climbers are filling the small refuge built recently in the valley. Rocks are indeed a paradise for climbers. Thanks to two Austrian guys, who were so nice to let me use some of their equipment and assecurate me, I could try it myself. The feeling of climbing 35m wall at the height of 4300m is unbelievable!

Apart from rocky adventures, the nearest mountain (4800m) offers stunning views over the whole Cordillera Blanca. I think this part needs no comments, the beauty of the place is anyway impossible to express in words.

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Cordillera Blanca – Las Lagunas

Cordillera Blanca is one of those places that raises admiration mixed with a great respect. Trekking here is not easy, as at so high altitudes there is little oxygen and every step up is a fight. But it is a battle worth fighting, the views at the end are breathtaking.

I think the pictures speak for themselves.

The two glacier lakes on the pictures are Laguna 69 (4600m) and Laguna Churup (4450m).

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