The coastal town of Pisco suffered a huge 8.0 earthquake in 2007 that reduced 80% of the town to rubble. Later attempts to revive the place have largely failed due to corruption, little has been rebuilt and the residents are said to feel abandoned by the government. Add to that the guidebook warnings of extremely violent muggings for the sake of a few Soles and the question was “why are we going here?!” Indeed most tourists stay down the road in Paracas.

First observation – Pisco stinks!! An overwhelming aroma of sulphur and fish had even permeated inside the hostel. After a few obligatory Pisco Sours we had a terrible night’s sleep due to the never ending symphony of car and tuk tuk horns outside the window. Traffic in Peru is very very noisy. A taxi sounding its horn may indicate that they’re free, they have passengers, they’ve seen their mate, they’ve spotted a particularly pretty seƱorita, they’re turning, braking, overtaking, or just ‘because’; it’s non stop. At about 5am we thought something had actually driven into the hotel with a huge crash and frenzied beeping.

Bleary-eyed we surfaced very early to take a taxi to Paracas for a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands. This short journey gave us a sense of the devastation with fields of rubble and remains of houses on either side, peppered with stinky fish factories. Billed as Peru’s own mini-Galapagos, the protected islands in the Paracas National Reserve are a wealth of sea birds and wildlife. Joining the throngs of tourists at the pier we made friends with an American couple who were wearing the most amazing shoes they’d had handmade for them in Cuzco (mental note made of exactly where!)

I was having flashbacks to our last water experience – the rafting disaster – but thankfully the water was fairly calm and looked beautiful in the early morning sunlight. On the trip out we stopped to look at a huge Candelabra that had been carved into the desert rock in pre-Inca times.

The islands themselves did not disappoint. Sadly the flamingoes and dolphins were nowhere to be seen but with our hoods up (the birds like to use tourists as target practice) we spotted colonies of sea lions, penguins, huge jellyfish and crabs, and a huge number of gulls cormorants and other rarer birds (I wasn’t really listening…) – best told in photographs.

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