Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 30, 2010

Hopping up Peru’s South Coast

We’ve had a couple things taking up our time lately, which is why we haven’t posted much about what we’re up to. We haven’t had good internet access, and I’ve been using what we can get to hunt down links about what’s been happening in Cusco. Also, we’ll be launching our new website next week, Unpaved South America (www.unpavedsouthamerica.com), a resource and travel magazine for travelers who want to get off the beaten path. And we’ve been moving towns almost daily. We’ve been busy.

So what have we been up to?

Well, we packed up in Arequipa and headed to the coast. After over a month at altitude (is it weird that I don’t think 2300 meters is very high anymore?) it’s been nice to be at sea level once more.

Sorry there aren’t any pictures in this post—we’re in Lunahuana right now, and the only internet cafe has perhaps the slowest signal we’ve found in Peru. We’ll make it up to you, we promise.

First stop: Paracas

We were searching for somewhere mellow with a good wireless connection, somewhere on a beautiful beach, but with no tourists, with good food and beautiful sunsets, and a good wireless connection.

Paracas was not that place. It’s known for being the jumping off point for tours of the Islas Ballestas and the Paracas Reserve, two wildlife refuges set amid towering sand dunes and bare stone. The main attractions are sea lions, humboldt penguins, and the occasional Chilean flamingoes and dolphins. While you can visit the Paracas Reserve on your own, or with the help of a taxi, it’s impossible to visit the Islas Ballestas without joining a large tour group in a speedboat made for 30.

Paracas, the town, is little more than a portal. It’s stuffed with touristic restaurants and expensive hotels for those who want to sleep in another few minutes before making their 8am tour. Bright, quaint boats bob in its harbor, but the beach is a narrow strip of garbage-strewn sand and the water is polluted with engine oil, washing up brown and cloudy.

As we walk, an old man dumps his trash out by the shore, and a massive flock of seagulls descend on it, squawking. They are contested by a growing flock of pelicans—they all fight, tearing at the plastic bags. Dozens of blue Shell Nautilus engine lube packets have been washed up on the high tide line, tossed aside by the boat owners, who poison the fish that they catch for their children’s dinner.

North to Chincha

Chincha has a higher concentration of internet cafes in its center than anywhere else we’ve been, and yet not a single one of them would let me connect my laptop to their internet cables. Maybe it’s the first time anyone’s ever brought a laptop in?

I was most excited about seeing the Hacienda San Jose, an old slave plantation that’s evocatively described in the Lonely Planet. We caught a cab for the 20-minute ride out, only to be told that the Hacienda has been closed for repairs since the 2007 earthquake. They’re expecting that they have another year’s worth of repair-work to do before they’re ready to reopen.

El Carmen, the “beating heart of Afro-Peruvian culture,” is Chincha’s other main attraction, but generally only on party weekends. Our cab driver took us on a swing around the towns central plaza, pointing out earthquake damage and repairs that have taken place.

Lazy in Lunahuaná

Our next stop (and current location) wis Lunahuaná. We were lured in by promises of wine-tasting, and ensnared by the mellow, laid-back feel of the town. It’s a 30-minute combi ride of the Panamericana, just about 2 hours south of Lima. It’s one of those towns where you can walk down the middle of the street, where everyone has flowering vines growing over their walls, where the biggest party on a Friday night is gathering in the Plaza de Armas eating popcorn while a marching band pays homage to El Señor de los Milagros.

Today we’re going to check out some of what Lunahuaná has to offer, including a haunted house! Rob and I have a bet going as to whether I’ll find a bottle of wine that I find drinkable. I tried a couple yesterday, and although they weren’t too bad, they were teeth-jarringly sweet. Someone here has to make a normal dry red wine. I’m keeping my fingers crossed…..

(That was written before we went out, when I was still in a state of blissful naievety. All the wine in the area is a sickly sweet Borgoña variety that really doesn’t appeal to me. While most of it I can imagine that some Peruvian would like, there was one winery in particular that had the sourest, most terrible thing I’d ever tasted. Maybe a nice dry vino tinto does exist out here, but I gave up looking after the first couple of tries. Rob wins ten soles.)

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