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Ballestas Islands

February 26, 2011

Ballestas Islands seabird colony (Gabby Salazar)

We split up the long trip to Lima from Arequipa with stops in Ica and Paracas. While the town of Paracas left something to be desired – a handful of tourist restaurants on the beach and beach strewn with trash – the Ballestas Islands were worth the trip.

We stayed in a nice beach hotel in Paracas and walked along the shore the first night after arranging a tour for the morning. The birding was great – Peruvian pelicans, guanay cormorants, royal terns, and Inca terns lined the shore. After examining a few menus we sat down to dinner at a restaurant that claimed to have vegetarian options. Our ordering experience confirmed our belief that vegetarian does not signify ‘without meat’ in Peru – it only means ‘with vegetables.’ The vegetarian pizza was covered in ham. It is rare here that vegetarian dishes are meat-free and the pizza brought to mind the most ridiculous experience we had with vegetarian food. In Puerto Maldonado, we ordered rice and beans off of the vegetarian section of the menu (comida vegetariana) and were presented with beans that had pork in them. When I pointed out the fact to the waitress, she replied, “it’s not the meat, it’s only the skin.” We had a light dinner that night.

After our dinner we saw a spectacular sunset and went to bed early for our trip to the Ballestas Islands at 8am. We arrived at the tour agency and were led by a scurrying old man to the dock where we met at least 100 other tourists. We were filed onto a large boat and given lifejackets. The trip out to the islands took 30 minutes. I had been hiding under a poncho because the ocean spray was constantly hitting my face. I emerged to find a spectacular view of rocky islands coated with birds. There were thousands and thousands of gulls, cormorants, and boobies moving in waves over the islands. Inca terns swooped by the boat, their feathered moustaches waving in the wind.

We circled the islands and saw the birds, sea lions, and Humboldt penguins. The sea lions gathered by the hundreds and the large males fought ferociously on the shore. One large male bobbed up beside our boat and I was shocked by its sizeable girth.

As we continued to circle the islands, Rick and I felt churning in our stomachs. The rocking boat combined with the overwhelming smell of guano made the ride less than pleasant. Image stabilization on the camera didn’t help – as the image inside the viewfinder shifted slightly each time I focused.

We circled the islands for another 20 minutes and returned to the open water, relieved by the fresh wind. On the way out we passed an enormous flock of cormorants and other seabirds flying over the water. We kept pace with them as the swooped and dove.

The Ballestas were fantastic – a must-see when visiting Peru. A great trip, even with the guano.

Sea lions (Gabby Salazar)

Ballestas Islands (Gabby Salazar)

Ballestas Islands (Gabby Salazar)


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