In the last few days of the trip, we took what I think was our best unplanned trip. Since we had a few extra days left from coming back from up north early, we decided to go visit Islas Ballestas, also called the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”. Not nearly as rich in wildlife as the Galapagos, it nonetheless has a very high concentration of marine birds and sea lions.
The starting point for most tours to Islas Ballestas is Pisco, which is where we headed from Lima in the afternoon to spend the night. We had the most fantastic dinner at a little restaurant there – complete with delicious local pisco sours, of course. We both ordered the chef’s special, which was a selection of their best 5 seafood dishes, and were not disappointed. We got deep-fried seafood bits, seafood paella, seafood curry, fish in spicy red sauce, and ceviche. Everything was absolutely amazing, and so fresh! If this had been our last dinner in Peru, I would have left a very happy girl.
On the drive from the hotel to the docks, we saw lots of rubble – apparently there was an earthquake in this area 2 years ago, and beyond central Pisco not much has been rebuilt. In one place, hundreds of feet of a brick fence had collapsed straight to the side, the wall fairly intact in places, but lying on the ground.
Waiting for the boat, we were lined up in pairs – just like on school trips! Do you have your buddy?? On the boat ride to the islands, we also saw the Candelabra, a shape similar to those at Nazca, made in the sand of the dunes you can see from the bay. Nobody knows who made it, or how (if at all) it may relate to Nazca or other Inca sites. We also saw plenty of birds dive-bomb-fishing (apparently some can go a dozen meters under the surface), and small groups of pelicans skimming along incredibly close to the surface of the water, not having much trouble keeping up with the boat. And we were going FAST – I would not want to fall out of that boat.
The islands themselves were unbelievable, literally teeming with all sorts of birds. Pelicans, cormorants, boobies (hee hee), seagulls, penguins. The pelicans are absolutely huge, swooping down very majestically among all the other birds. Less majestic is an interesting fact that we learned about them – they use guano (that’s bird poop) to build their nests on other islands, for which purpose they scoop it up in their beak pouches to transport. Yuck. The penguins were a whole level of cuteness above everyone else, waddling around, standing around in confused-looking huddles when surrounded by other birds.
The guano itself is collected once every 7 years, and there are even guys who live on the islands, guarding against unauthorized collection of guano. We lucked out in not getting some of that precious “mineral” on us – no small feat with clouds of birds circling above us. One island, with a gently sloping top, was fully covered with birds, so it looked completely dark from a distance.
Of course, we also saw sea lions, many of them pups, who were incredibly adorable. Sunning themselves on the rocks, a few even posed for pictures while we drifted leisurely past them.