Driving across the sands at Paracas National Reserve
After Bob made some hasty notes from a map on display at the main pavilion in the absence of either staff or a handout to take with us, we then drove off into the dust at Paracas National Reserve located on the Paracas Peninsula in Peru. As we soon learned on our excursion, this reserve is a world of sandy wastelands, isolated beaches, and high ocean cliffs.
The Paracas National Reserve is considered one of the most important locations along the Peruvian coastline as it is the home of many different types of species of mammals, including seals, and over 160 species of birds. The Canadian Wildlife Service conducted an aerial census here in the past and found over 7,700 Sanderlings. We had come to this reserve because of our love of birds.
This is a land of red burnt sand and hot, hot days. It was 120F in the sun the day we were there, so a hat, sun block, and sunglasses were a must.
I took a look at the endless sea of sand at one stop on our way along the paved road along the shore…a roadway that soon turned into a sandy dirt trail. You could compare our experience to being out in the wilds in Northern Ontario, in Canada. In Paracas National Reserve, we were lucky to find even a faint beaten track in the blowing sands. And road signs? Pretty much non-existent!
There are rocks randomly placed in patterns to guide you along what might be the “roadway”, but otherwise, we were on our own.
Bob and I had to make decisions every step of the way as to which path to follow. They were all elusive even after a short distance with many crisscrossing repeatedly.
We finally found our way to the quaint fishing village of Lagunillas nestled in a bay inside Paracas National Reserve.
A young man on a bicycle hastily road out from the village to encourage us to come and eat at the village’s fresh seafood restaurant. “For now”, we told him, “we are going to continue into the desert, but we will return later for food”.
With his directions on how to find our way to an uncharted lookout where it’s possible to see birds and sea life, we drove up the sandy roadway that led into the hills behind the village. Little did we know how important a part that man from the village would be in our “adventure” later that afternoon. Remember, language is an ever-present barrier for those who can’t speak Spanish. More on that to come…
After close to an hour, Bob and I figured out that we had followed the wrong sandy road. We did find some spectacular scenery…sheer cliffs, thunderous surging waves, tiny secluded beaches and the constant mountains of sand, but it was not the sandy road to the hoped-for lookout. So we turned around and returned to an earlier junction that we had passed by.
In some cases, we followed tracks to the top of a giant dune only to find the drop-off on the far side too precipitous for our little Toyota.
Finally, we found the right road through the desert to the lookout, but it was a challenge. In many stretches, the surface was so rough and bumpy that it imitated a corduroy road.
Our destination was reached at the top of some spectacular cliffs at the bottom of which was a colony of seals basking in the sun.
Sea lions were also seen surfacing and diving as they searched for food. Next to the shore, massive boulders provide a safe refuge for the seals, while just offshore, fishing boats from the local village were going about their daily work. Given our high perch on the cliffs, we really needed at least a 600mm lens to get good pictures. Unfortunately, we did not yet own a 600mm lens.
What an amazing view of the sea life below, and the various birds soaring in the sky above us.
The sand formations on the cliff tops in Paracas National Reserve have been sculpted by endless storms driving wind and air-borne sand to create amazing rounded shapes.
After a respectable amount of time, we finally decided to cut across country taking a more direct route back towards the village of Lagunillas and an essential meal.
Everything was going great. We could literally drive anywhere over the dunes…or so we thought until we started across some particularly yellow, wavy-looking sand. The front wheels of the car chewed into the dirt and embedded themselves up to the axles.
This was not ubiquitous quicksand, and we thought if we treated it like snow, we could extract ourselves from the tricky situation. Bob attempted to dig the sand out from around the tires and employed pieces of a cardboard box for grip beneath the tires, but they refused to move backwards. While I pushed the car, sprays of fine sand were thrown up as the tires dug deeper into the quagmire.
It was about that time that a passing car driven by Ricardo directed us to the village to secure help. In the meantime, he and his passengers continued along the cliff-side track, and before we took a few steps, another vehicle arrived, sent by Ricardo, and well-dressed though he was, this driver threw his white shirt in our trunk and went down in the dirt to assess the problem. Directing us to gather rocks from the area, he assembled the jack, elevated the car, and placed stones beneath the tires for traction. When our car was extricated from the mire, everyone shared a good laugh, many thank yous were passed along, and then we learned that our rescuer was none other than the owner of the restaurant to which the young man on the bicycle earlier in the day was bidding us come to eat. Needless to say, we accepted the invitation to lunch.
The whole rescue process had taken about an hour. Bob was so caked in yellow sand that he looked like his arms were encased in mustard plasters. The crystalline blue waters of the cozy bay below the cafe offered the perfect place to rinse off his legs and arms before eating.
We arrived at the restaurant around 2 p.m., and both Bob and I were ravenous. Our lunch consisted of local beer, Cusquena, homemade vegetable soup and deep-fried, freshly-caught calamari.
No sooner had our friendly waiter delivered the beer to our table than a mariachi band walked up to the front of the raised dais and began to play lively tunes.
I love the sound of a pan flute! This setting was so perfect; we could not have planned anything more appropriate for the experience we were trying to achieve.
Just offshore in the quiet bay, a colony of Humboldt Penguins had set up shop, which provided great viewing and photographic opportunities while we ate.
Peruvian Pelicans vied for space on the same rocks.
After we finished our delicious midday meal, Bob and I explored the small fishing village. The wharves were bustling with the activity of fishermen about to head out to sea.
A trio of dories lay stranded until the tide comes in.
A pair of Peruvian Pelicans that took notice of one fishing boat coming back to shore made moves to usher Bob and me from this pier.
On top of the amazing sights and sounds that Bob and I experienced that afternoon, I felt so fortunate to have witnessed firsthand the goodwill and selflessness of the local people. This made for an extraordinary day!
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