Monday, December 20, 2010

On to Paracas, the National Reserve

We rise early on Wednesday to catch the bus to Lima in order to meet up with other ORCA Peru members for our trip to the Paracas National Reserve.  The reserve is a 335,000 hectare area three hours south of Lima that encompasses a large peninsula, hundreds of kilometers of coastline, and inland desert.  There are seven of us total for the expedition, where we will document the condition of the reserve’s beach at Pampa Lachuza, which is on the south side of the peninsula.

The countryside south of Lima is beautiful rolling yellow foothills that meet the expanse of the south Pacific ocean.  We arrive in the town of Pisco, where we disembark and arrange for two cabs that will take us within the reserve.  I make the mistake of making eye contact with a cab driver and he follows me to the group.  Carlos is busy making arrangements with the cab drivers that he has chosen, and I tell my man, “no gracias”.  He leaves.  We all have a laugh at having the macho (male) in our group make the arrangements, but this is the society.

Back on the highway, we pass through the town of Paracas and I see several large oil factory ships and several bottoms trawlers, which makes my heart sink.  These boats are from the United States, Peru, China, and Japan, and are allowed to conduct their business in the “national reserve” of Paracas.  There is an oil pipeline that runs for hundreds of miles inland through the rainforest, where oil is pumped from wells and transported to the coast.

Several kilometers out of Paracas, our drivers swerve onto a bumpy dirt road, which will take us to the Pampa Lachuza.  We stop at the information gate and pay our fee, then continue on.  Everywhere is yellow, and when we see the ocean the bright contract of the blue sea is stunning and new to me.  We bounce down the road, the drivers seem to have their own preference as they swerve in different directions to miss the potholes and rocks.  

There is a point in Pampa Lachuza that the tourists from Lima go to; it has a white sandy beach and two cantinas that serve meals for 50 solas, or about $25 a plate.  This is expensive by Peruvian standards, but the tourists figure that they are paying for the view.  The Paracas national reserve was hit by the earthquake in 2007 and the crumbling remains of two other cantinas are omnipresent (many of the coastal villages hit hardest by the '07 quake still have not recovered, despite the presence of the oil industry).  We get out of our cabs and the first sight that I see is a big lazy pelican sitting in the doorway to one of the ruins.  We head around the cantinas to set up our campsite on the beach; there is one camper present already but we are told that he is leaving.  The first order of business is to eat lunch and set up the tents, and then we will head out across the desert to the fur seal rookeries.
 We grabbed the necessary items for the survey: clipboards, cameras, binoculars, water bottles, and headed back down the road that we arrived on.  I looked ahead; a vast desert mountain was directly in front of us and Carlos was heading that way.  Fortunately it was late in the afternoon and we would be hiking as the sun would be going down, but we reserved our strength, taking even, measured steps.  Other than the desert surroundings, I could have been on a hike with Sitka summer camp participants, the chicas were wearing popular Lima dress which is very similar to what young women in Sitka wear, all had their cell phones and all were in reach of loved ones calling them.  I was happy to have Patty, a beautiful Peruvian woman closer to my age, along as she addressed to Carlos the need for necessary pit stops and rest periods (we had a one and a half hour trip to make it to the rookery).  Up and down hills and plateaus, the desert has a medium grained brown and yellow sand interspersed with rocks, and a limestone bed.  Peruvian mountain lions make their way down from the mountains to hunt at night, as well as foxes, and the desert is home to an olive colored snake.  Nothing appears to be living or moving in the daytime, however, not even insects appear to be here.

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