November 22- 24th
In Lunahuana there is a river, some horses, and a rock wall for daring exchange students that aren't frightened away by the loose hand grips. After the several hour drive from Lima, there was no time to stretch legs or take many pictures, just a quick change into our bathing suits to go rafting. I couldn't tell you how many short rafting trips I've done, but this one was by far the best river I've been on. We passed local men and children who fished on the skirts of the river for fish, & there were houses and hotels recently built to provide luxurious comfort for those who too, easily fell in love with the mountains divided by the river- who could afford it that is. There were several boulders that our rafts had to "dodge", securely guided by a man with a scorpion tattoo on his bicep and a scrawny, 20-something year old woman. Of course there were many quick splashing fights and we also pulled aside to one of the banks where mild rapids pushed by that made for a natural slide... these were just some of the highlights. After each command, "atras!" (back), "avance!" (forward), "derecha, avance!" (right, forward) and the strokes of the ores to answer the calls, the same thought kept reoccurring: I can't wait to relive this experience with Maria as my captain guiding the raft in the US.
Immediately after the rafting, we ate lunch and then went horse back riding. All of us were excited to go explore the dry part of this scenic area, and after mounting the horses, we only stayed on them for about 8.5 minutes. Yup, we went up a hill, then turned around. It was quite a disappointment, but the 8.5 minutes were still nice nonetheless. We passed by a garden where they kept bees, noted by the large sign that hung from a tree: "Miel" (honey). Unfortunately we didn't have time to explore the hives, which left me a little sad that I didn't get to cross off "visit bee hives" on my list of things to do in Peru.
Then it was on to the sketch rock climbing, and aside from the grips that would start to wibble, wobble, and spin when you grabbed them, it was a hard wall to climb anyway. Only 5 of us wanted to risk our lives.
After a couple hours of driving, we arrived in Paracas at night. We checked into our hotel (my 1st hotel in Peru!), and the only real difference: they don't give you complimentary shampoo, just a bar of soap.
The next day we woke up and enjoyed breakfast on the roof which had a lovely view of the ocean and all of its boats scattered near the shore. Then we had to wait in line for over an hour to take a boat tour of some islands (Islas Ballestas). It was really strange to see so many tourists in such a condensed area "come one, come all!" Afterall, the biggest group of white people we've seen in Peru has been our own group of exchange students.
We loaded into a big boat with several other people and another group of students to take the tour. Immediately I was reminded of Baja: the speed boats to go fishing, and also touring and exploring the small islands off the coast and the seperate time when we went whale watching.
The first stop on the tour was to an island that was Paracas's version of the Nascas Lines, an ancient geoglyph, believed to be made by a pre-Inca culture (from a really really long time ago). They call the glyph "El Candelabro" (The Chandelier) for its resemblance- though the tour guide was saying that the researchers believed it resembled a cactus, which from other artifacts collected from the civilization that made this glyph, had huge cultural significances. As always, there are a lot of different theories as to who/why/how/when it was made. Regardless, it's a HUGE formation and who ever made it knew what side of the island and where exactly to make it, so that when ever it was windy (which it is in Paracas), it wouldn't mess up the geoglyph! (Check out my picture of it)
After this island, we toured other islands for their ecological significances. The majority of the islands (there were many), were big and mainly covered in white from all of the bird poop. The islands were either completely inhabited by birds (seagulls, pelicans, some Ica-type bird, penguins, some vultures, and after some research there are supposedly Blue-footed Boobys, but I didn't see any of those) or a ton of sea lions. Some of the islands even had people living on them (we delivered one of the people bread & a newspaper). My guess is that these few people live on the islands to collect the bird poop, which they sell for fertilizer. However, recently there has been over cultivation so they've had to cut down on harvesting for the sake of the ecosystem there.
Hands down, this is one of the favorite things that I've done in Peru so far- and I think largely because of how similar the whole experience was to my trip to Baja when I was 14. Three years later, I finally have gotten the chance to experience such an ecologically and culturally rich adventure again. It's a bittersweet memory, and it's funny because some of the times that I feel the most homesick are when I think about Baja- even though clearly it is not my home in Colorado. I think it's home to a lot of my personal growth, and the spark to my passion for traveling. Without Baja, I probably wouldn't be in Peru right now.
Back to Peru...
Two hours later we returned to shore, bought some souvies and drove further south to the town of Huacachina just outside of Ica. Immediately I was in awe that we were in a town, COMPLEATLY surrounded by sand, big sand dunes- the size of foothills and small mountains! My first thought: how does this city manage not be buried in sand when the wind blows?! My second thought: Magic. Our hotel for the night attracted all of the hippie travelers (many from the boat tours earlier that day too). The next thing on our agenda-- SANDBOARDING! That's something I can cross off my to-do list.
The big green bugui that would be escorting us through the dunes was big, green, noisy, and fast. With good breaks--phew! I had the front seat with my friend Savannah next to the driver. With no windshield to protect our mouths from the blowing sand, we had to cover our mouths with our hands which muffled our screams of excitement and many comments-it's very hard to have a conversation while flying over the tops of dunes, turning quickly in the valleys and zooming by other buguis in the open desert. Driving around in the dunes beats any roller coaster I've been on, because let me tell you, it's a constant adrenalin rush, especially when you start to think about things you've read about it like, "there have been an increase in deaths from reckless drivers"... you get over that quickly when you think of how much fun you're having "yippeee!"
We finally stopped to do sand boarding at a top of a pretty small dune, a hill if you will, and the sandboards weren't very inviting. Simply a piece of wood cut roughly in the shape of a snowboard, painted, fabric velcro straps and some wax applied each time you go down. No one stood up on the boards, everyone just laid down on them- much safer, and easier. My first time, I fell off my board at the end- just slightly embarassing. Our guide then picked us up at the bottom and we went on our way.The second hill, which was about twice the size of the first, our instructor MADE me go first because I fell off my board. He refused to let anyone else go unless I went, but naturally I wasn't that excited to go after my previous run. I tried every excuse I could think of "Pero, no seeee" (but, I don't know) and "Tengo mis lentes, no puedo ir primera" (I have my glasses, I can't go first). He just simply put out his hand, telling me to give him my glasses and patiently saying "ven" (come) repeatedly. After loosing the battle, he taught me the proper way to hold on to the board (because there is a good way to hold on to the wobbly velcro straps...) and off I went! No crash and burn for me! There was a girl though who crashed, twice as hard as my previous run and it was a little concerning. We kept going to more dunes, each time increasing in height and steepness. There was another group of mixed travelers who were following us and we got to know them a little bit- one was even a former exchange student who went to California (about 13 years ago). In the end, both of our guides took us to a little oaisis in the middle of nowhere in the dunes. There was a small patch full of trees, rocks and some water. After taking many photos and walking around a bit, we went to an open valley part of the dunes and enjoyed the sun set. It was a cute ending to share with the other group of travelers.
We returned, went swimming and then ate dinner. Later that night, the same girl that fell off her board ended up going to the hospital and returned with the diagnosis of an intestine infection (after everyone thought it was a head problem from the accident). I got really sick that night, from about 12:30-5am. Lots of vomit, so much so that I couldn't sleep, unless I was passing out in the bathroom by the toilet. I have never been so sick before, it was awful. I'm sparing lots of gross details, haha. I don't know what I ate... but I refuse to blame it on the ceviche I ate earlier in the trip (I love fish too much to let this scar me like the other exchange students). For the following week, my whole body was sore and I hardly ate anything.
Aside from ending the trip with being sick (and on our way to returning to Lima, we visited a winery and a castle), the trip as a whole was fantastic and I would go again to the islands and the sand dunes. I would probably avoid eating at all of the restuarants I ate at though, just to be safe...