A small desert town
Last Wednesday, we arrived in Paracas, a small coastal desert town of about 4,000 people south of Lima, to meet our first host from Couchsurfing, Jose. As we traversed the main boulevard through town, numerous tour guides offered us packages, tours, and accommodations. We were warned that this would happen, and just to keep heading to the hostel that Jose would meet us at. From there, we would go to his house. Jose greeted us warmly and led us to his home. As we walked towards the neighborhood that the locals live in, a little bit of fear crept in. All along our way to Paracas from Lima, we saw these sort of “shanty-looking” towns, and now we were actually walking through one to Jose’s home. It was some serious culture shock to see how the developing world lives first hand. Most of the houses were built with sticks, grasses, and some concrete. We arrived at Jose’s; his house was painted a nice light green color on the outside. It looked inviting among the others. However, we got inside, and we were still outside! A wide open space with no roof greeted us. There was no furniture or décor, just a concrete living area with one room, a kitchen and bathroom. Along with our initial shock and a little fear, we also worried how we would wash diapers (because Elijah went through a lot that day on the bus). Jose didn’t have any water. We learned it only comes for three hours a day in the mornings. We kindly told him we needed to get a hostel room for the night because we would need to wash diapers that night. He understood and showed us a good hostel to stay in, Hostal Los Frayles.
The next morning we woke up refreshed and less overwhelmed. Paracas looked a lot less frightening in the daylight. We realized we have been holding onto our American way of life and need to let go of some of our assumptions about living. Nevertheless we did decide to stay in the hostel the remainder of our time in Paracas; maybe we’ll be braver down the road as we learn the culture and language here.
Once we were more established (and had clean diapers), we were able to enjoy this small town and ended up staying 6 days in Paracas. We learned that just four years ago, there was hardly a town here at all. The government and politics"created" it in the name of tourism and actually gave locals free houses to move here (that they have to build though). Unfortunately, this is not a place where one would typically live. It lies in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places in the world, only receiving less than 1 millimeter of rain in a year; some parts have not seen rain in 500 years. So the entire local population of Paracas is dependent on imported good from other parts of Peru, leading to a lot of poverty despite growing tourism. However it’s possible that in 10-15 years from now this place could resemble Cancun, as they are continuously building nicer resorts here.
First, we did the touristy boat ride that takes you around the Ballestas Islands, also known as the “mini-Galapagos.” There we saw native penguins, sea lions, and numerous species of birds, like the blue-footed booby. Along the way to the islands you can also see the famous and mysterious "Candelabra." It's done in a similar style to the Nazca lines and no one knows who drew it or why.
There's also a small history museum in Paracas; it seems that very few people go there (sadly). The old man that runs it was very friendly, despite our limited Spanish and his limited English. He showed us these skulls that they found in Paracas that were about 5,000 years old. There were over 40 bodies and mummies found buried deep in the ground together. And each of the skulls are unique in that some are deformed, some are diseased, and some do not seem human, but rather more alien. They don't know why they were buried there because there was no remains of housing or living in the area from that time period. We were hoping to meet an American archaeologist, Brien Foerster, who has done a lot of work excavating the site and studying the bones, but he was not going to be back in Paracas until the 27th or 28th and we couldn't wait that long.
We also found an awesome little pizza bar/café that a local Peruvian, Darwin aka “Charles,” and his New Zealander girlfriend, Steff, run. They were so nice and helpful (we were also grateful to finally speak to someone in English, so we could understand a bit more about the culture here!). They took us to the market in Pisco, about 5 miles north of Paracas, so we could get some fresh Aloe and fruit. We got sun burnt pretty bad the first day or two in Paracas, as we didn’t quite realize how powerful the sun is down here. It was just about 70 degrees and cloudy, so we didn’t think about sunscreen until it was too late. Luckily just Jessica and Tracy got sun burnt; Elijah was fine!
It took us a few days to figure out the local scene here. Here are some things we’ve learned so far. First, Peru has these odd-looking native dogs that are black with no hair (think naked mole rat in dog form), and dogs of all kinds run around the towns freely, even though we’re told that most are pets not strays. Secondly, roosters crow at all hours of the night and day here, and they actually only become quiet around 6 AM when the sun comes up, strange! Third, coffee here is Nescafe (ewww!) unless otherwise specified, and even then it’s not very good. We thought that in a region where coffee is produced, we’d get better coffee, but oh well! We’re learning to live with less coffee. Also, we’re learning that we can get a good (and big) meal for 20 soles or less for the both of us (that’s about $8 US); it's not always what we expect, but it's usually good. We tried ceviche here, as they are known for their seafood on the coast, and it was delicious! That’s raw fish or seafood which has been “cooked” using only lime or lemon, then mixed with other spices or herbs. Another thing at restaurants that is a little frustrating and odd are the tiny napkins they give you! And we mean tiny! We’re not sure how anyone could use just one. Oh and lastly, Peruvians love babies! We’ve had so many women and men coming up to Elijah to play with him. Many of the women will actually offer to hold Elijah while we eat, which has been so wonderful!
So for the most part, our time in Paracas has been great. We met a ton of nice people that have been so helpful and friendly to us! We met a wonderful Chinese couple from California that were also on the same route as we were from Paracas to Nazca to Arequipa and so on. We also met a nice couple from North Carolina who shared our love of gardening, living sustainably, and traveling. And we can’t forget the locals who helped us: Afriem and Manuel, who worked at the hostal, Steff and Darwin, Jose, and the countless others who made us feel welcome in their town!
Unfortunately there was also the not-so-wonderful time in Paracas. We've both now had small bouts of travelers' sickness, even though we've tried to be careful with what we eat and drink. And as we said earlier, we got sun burnt. Well, Jessica didn’t just get sun burnt, she actually woke up two days later with half of her face so swollen that she looked like Quasimodo! Aaahhh! It was the weirdest thing ever! Instantly we looked up what could have caused it and the only thing that made sense was that it was a one-time allergic reaction to the sun. Anyway, it has lasted for about three days now and I think it’s finally getting better (thanks Romaine for doing some long distance healing!). So normally Jessica would have just chalked this up to something weird and awful (and probably would have hidden inside the whole time), but since we’re on this soul searching journey, we believe everything is happening for a reason to help us along our path to find God. After waking up with half her face deformed and peeling from the sun burn, Jessica realized how attached she was to her outward appearance. She thought that she had rid herself of being concerned with how she looked (as she stopped washing/styling her hair and doing make-up about two months ago), but clearly there was more work to be done. It was really tough to deal with this realization, but that is what we want along this journey. We’ve read from both Ram Dass and Deepak Chopra that to truly know God we must give up our attachments to things of this world, and that definitely includes how we look. It was hard, but Jessica dealt with it, and literally (and figuratively) shed her old skin to be open to a new way of being and seeing herself in this world. We think that this will be one of many eye-opening and mind-expanding tests that we’ll endure along our path.
Anyway, we left Paracas and arrived in Nazca after a four hour bus ride. We learned that long bus rides plus no food equals one unhappy breastfeeding mama! We’ll be carrying snacks from now on every bus ride we go on. We’ll be in Nazca just two days, enough time to see the mysterious Nazca lines and move on towards the Andes Mountains. Stay tuned for more!!