In my last entry I mentioned a possible trip to Ica, which did indeed end up happening, and which was fantastic. In probably the best single day since I´ve come to study in Peru, we went to a wildlife reserve, a secluded beach, and a desert oasis. I started the day at 3am, rolling out of bed and out the door to catch a 4:00am bus, which dropped us off in Paracas about 3 hours later. We boarded a small motor boat and sped out to the Islas Ballestas, rocky islands that are home to tons of birds and thousands of sea lions. We tooled around the islands for an hour, getting amazingly close to the big cuddly-looking lobos del mar (sea lions) and uncomfortably close to the guano-covered rocks. Guano was once an incredible important export for Peru, and I´m pretty sure there was a war over it once. What is it? Well…it´s bird poop. It´s good for fertilizer, apparently, and they scrape it off the cliffs of the Islas Ballestas every few years or so. Despite the smell, we had a lot of fun watching the sea lions fighting and playing and sunning themselves, and covering our heads every time a bird swooped overhead. (See the gallery for pictures of sea lions, peguins and other birds, a mysterious symbol carved into the reserve by an ancient civilization, and some dophins we saw following a fishing boat on our way back from the islands)
We returned to land, and a friendly taxi driver/guide took us through part of the nature reserve and to a beautiful deserted beach. We swam around in the freezing cold Pacific and sunbathed on the beach. Some of us now have peeling burns to prove it (not me…I managed to survive the beach with no problem, only to burn the next day while napping on the lawn at the university. Well done, self.) After the beach our guide drove us to a beach front restaurant, one of the only ones not totally detroyed by a tsunami caused by the big earthquake in August 2007. The sea food there apparently was delicious. My chicken was, well, chicken.
We parted ways with the friendly taxi guide after he drove us to the Panamerican highway and helped us flag down a giant bus to Ica. In Ica we rushed off to Huacachina, the only oasis in the Americas. There some of the group relaxed in hammocks and three of us were strapped into a dilapidated dune buggy and set off to do some sandboarding. Sandboarding is apparently like snow boarding, if you have the skills to do it like that. We didn´t have time to learn how to stand up on our boards, so what we did was more like sandsledding. Although it sounds tame, heading face first down a giant sand dune is pretty exciting!
After a terrifying ride back to the oasis, all of us headed to the bus station and then back to study spanish in Lima; exhausted, sandy, and excited about our fun, touristy day.