Poetry in Paracas

25 Dec

My comrades! I have been meaning to write sooner but the inevitable has taken a train and is now cheekily waving from the horizon. What I mean is that time is flying and my head is spinning. There is much to write, much to catch up on – especially since my good friend and project manager Rose Patton has arrived in Perú and we will embark on our first big adventure very soon: into the highlands we will go to spend New Years in Cusco at 3,400 meters above sea level. But here is what happened last week . . .

Venturing south of Lima to see the towns Chincha, Pisco and Paracas, we found ourselves getting into a speedboat one morning to see the Islas Ballestas, famous for being the home of thousands of birds, penguins, sea lions and even dolphins – and for its high produce of guano. Guano is a bird excrement which is a very effective fertilizer (my brugmansias back home love it) and one of Perú’s major exports. As I had heard a lot about the beauty of the islands, and as Rose loves the romance of speedboats, we joyfully boarded – without a hat for protection.

Rose Patton and the Trusty Swimvest

On board were mostly Peruvians but also excited visitors from Japan and Scotland. As the boat picked up speed and crashed against the water, we were repeatedly surprised by the higher waves that slipped over the edge of our boat and flew into our eyes, mouths and hair. The passengers screeched in delight and horror.

A lovely Peruvian mother confided her theory: “I think the captain of the boat is mad about something and now he’s letting it out on us!” She chuckled and covered her son with towels.

The boat slowed down as we approached the first island. The tour guide explained what we were seeing into a microphone in perfect English and Spanish. It was the famous Candelabro, a large-scale geoglyph that has been causing a stir among archeologists, those who hope we’re not alone in the universe and, well, everyone else.

El Candelabro

There are quite a few theories as to why this geoglyph was imprinted into the side of the island. It could have served as a beacon to mariners, much like the Northern Star. My favourite theory, however, was that it was created in honour of the San Pedro cactus, a powerful hallucinogenic plant which is common in the area and is still used regularly in shamanic ceremonies. Here is the cactus by the ruins of Inkahuasi (more on Inkahuasi in the next post!):

San Pedro cactus at Inkahuasi

After half an hour on the speedboat and not a dry strand of hair on our heads, we approached the beautiful Islas Ballestas . . . And thousands and thousands of birds . . .

As soon as our rowdy speedboat approached, the startled birds took to the skies and performed what Peruvians like to call “a baptism” unto the unwitting adventurers without hats . . . or with open mouths! While Rose got a spot of precious guano onto her arm, a poor little boy staring up at the birds in fascination recieved a baptism . . . in his mouth! What a thing to happen. He panicked and shortly after fell into the deep sleep of shock. His mother demanded some alcohol to revive his spirits but there was none onboard. We all learnt that the Islas Ballestas demand two simple things: wear a hat (or you’ll be washing precious, gooie guano out of it later) and always keep your mouth shut.

The speedboat raced mercilessly to the next island but slowed down as we approached its jagged edges. The birds stared at us in equal fascination as we stared at them. The small Humboldt penguins were spotted with cries of delight . . .

. . . and so excited were we, that we didn’t notice the sea lions until we were close enough to clamber onto the rocks and howl with them: howl at the sea, howl at the speedboat and howl all its joyful passengers like a secret animal circus giving a show for the tourists.

The sea lions basked in the sun with a glorious laziness that made us all envy their lives and question ourselves: why do we humans always create such a fuss? Why do we run in circles, have appointments, chase money, live in cities! So many creatures on this planet simply lie in the sun, gnaw at each others’ ears and occasionally swim with dolphins and jellyfish. A salty life of sleep and flippers. Who will make the first move?

I filmed as much as I could, capturing close ups of a sea lion picking a fight (or simply establishing again to his crew that he was their alpha male), of penguins and swallows – and as our speedboat turned to race back to the shores of Paracas, a flight of pelicans rose from the islands and followed our speedboat in a perfect V against the afternoon sun. It was a poetic farewall of the birds of the island.

To anyone eager to visit the Islas Ballestas (I already told you about that thing with having your mouth open), I need to say this: the ride back to the shore is rough. Waves sprayed over the boat edges from every side with such ferocity and spark, that all passengers rode with their heads down, desperately trying to pass out from the sea motion, the stinging salt in their eyes and the fact that they were becoming soaked through and through. To ride merrily in a speedboat: don’t sit in the back. Our poor friends from Scotland were in the last row and returned drenched and wind-whipped without a dry patch of life to their names. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride back and chatted away to anyone who would talk to me – which was basically no one. My father came along for the ride and he got a few priceless photographs of Rose and I smiling at his camera seconds after the waves hit our faces.

Back on shore I can only say this: what makes a town unique and an emerald to our memories, are the people. As Rose and I strolled along the beach promenade and poked through the colourful artesania shops selling jewellry made of sea shells, sharks teeth and sea lion fangs – we found Franco and his shop of creative wonders.

Franco's Shop

Franco is a creative artesano from Piura, in northern Perú. He travels throughout Perú selling his art but found great joy in being in Paracas because it’s good for business and not yet as tourist-swamped, unfriendly and dangerous as other shores can be. He fastens sea shells into woven necklaces and bent metal into quirky earrings for us on the spot. A braclet of his creation that fascinated me was a silver fork he had bent into a braclet, melting the teeth of the fork into Dalí reminiscence which held a purple spondylus shell in place. If you see me after Perú, check out the braclet on my right arm.


Franco speaks gently and carefully, looks you in the eye when he speaks and gives off a feeling of safety and honesty. He is the kind of guy you want to sit with all day, watching life pass by outside his shop and discuss the things in life that Truly Matter. When I asked him if it was possible to live only off his work as a street artesano, he replied with a soft chuckle: “Yes, it is possible, but only if you have no vices.” After a pause he added: “I have no vices.”

Ah Paracas gave us some poetry that day. It gave us the looks of baffled penguins, the startling baptism of birds, the growling of sea lions. It gave us strangers holding strangers hands as they laughed in fright at the ferocity of the speedboat and comforted each other that we would be on firm land very soon. It gave us pelicans rising as we turned away from the islands, pelicans who followed our speedboat against the afternoon sun like companions, like an ancient and wild ritual. It gave us an artist who said: “Take this green pearl. It used to be in my dreadlocks, you can have it for yours”; a man who chose an open road for his life, and as every day passes still believes that people are fundamentally good and it is worth living so close to them.

That was Paracas.


5 Responses to “Poetry in Paracas”

  1. Jane December 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    I loved this one! I wish I was there, trips to islands are my favourite thing 🙂

  2. claudio caselli December 25, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    touchy report ritti, thank you so much, on the way leaving the vices behind . .. lol. tc. merry xmas from ULM. C

  3. Giancarlo December 26, 2011 at 3:30 am #

    wauu!!! Ritti!!!….esta muy bueno!!!.. me alegro que estes disfrutando tu viaje!! =) , ya nos cruzaremos en el camino,.. recibe una lluvia de bendiciones para ti, =)…

  4. Gerhard December 28, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Paracas gave you a lot and you gave it to us, thank you for that Ritti. Isn`t it rewarding to safe some really good memories? The experiences (landscape, animals, people) you have had that day where there before but the impressions are yours. It depends on the antenna and the openess for something new, but not like consuming, it`s the small details that matters. That must be the reason why you named it (your) poetry in Paracas.
    As you don`t believe in a coincidence it wasn`t one either when both of you run into Franco, the jewelry artesano. What a great answer that he gave to your question saying “yes, it is possible, but only if you have no vices”. I could imagine that this was a kind of foretaste of what you can expect once you are going to see the Q´eros. I`m looking forward to the next chapters of your journey.


  1. Ayllu | Rit'i Sonq'o: A Writer's Anecdotes - January 16, 2012

    […] people ever. On his travels, Kwinten had met Harald, a tour guide working at Paracas (see Poetry in Paracas), who had, in turn, brought people from the social project Pisco Sin Fronteras to Cusco. I found […]

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