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All Desert Surrounded by Water ~ General San Martin, Peru

Desert in Paracas National Preserve

The city of General San Martin is south of Callao (Lima) and close to Chile.  Both seaport cities have coastal desert-like characteristics and are cool and arid receiving less than 2 inches of rain a year. The weather patterns are influenced by the strong Humboldt Current that sweeps northward in this area from the south bringing plankton, which supplies rich and plentiful food for the marine life in the area. Anchovies and tuna are abundant in these waters adjacent to Peru.

We chose to visit the Paracas National Reserve, which is reputed to be a masterful reserve of ecology in the coastal desert. The new, modern interpretative center featured pictures, information and models of the different species that are protected in the area. On the way to the Reserve our guide told us about the 400+ mummified bodies that had been found dating from thousands of years ago. The fully clothed bodies were in fetal positions and wrapped in cotton.

It is believed that the people were buried in this position so that they could be reborn in the afterlife.

Many of them died from tuberculosis and the skulls of some of the individuals, especially babies and young children, were misshapen by tightly wrapping boards at the sides and front of the skull to force it to elongate upward from the eyes as the child grows.

Some of these prehistoric people were also headhunters and removed the eyes, and brains of their victims and then suspending the skulls from around their waists.

Next we visited the Red Reach, a unique beach because of its red sand, which derives it color from iron in the soil.

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Marine sediments formed all of the soil in this reserve and we saw several prehistoric fossils.  Our guide explained that the land on which we were standing had at one time been the bottom of the sea and showed us fossils that dated back 30,000 years.  A shift in the Tectonic plates and many earthquakes in the area have radically changed the topography in this part of the world over thousands of years.

Turritelas Snail Fossils

Turritelas Snail FOSSILS


  Unusual rock formations that were shaped by wind erosion were interesting and were named “Moon Surface” and “The Cathedral.”  An earthquake destroyed the top of the Cathedral in 2007.

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 Paracas Bay is reputed to have the highest concentration of marine birds in the world, but we did not see that many during our visit.  We had expected to see Pelicans, Humboldt Penguins and Pink Flamingos, but all seemed to be elsewhere.  We did see gulls and terns in numbers.

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Wind and water erosion continues to shape and reshape this part of the landscape with frequent sandstorms, sometimes dropping great quantities of sand and burying roads and landmarks.

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Paracas Reserve

We left the Paracas Reserve area and traveled a short distance on the Pan American Highway, which is said to extend from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. We saw several agricultural fields along the way that are utilizing drip irrigation to grow avocadoes, seedless oranges, and asparagus in this arid, desert region of Peru.

Our last stop was at Sumaqkay, which is a Quechua word that means “quality and beauty.”

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Sumaqkay is surrounded by citrus groves, grape vineyards, and asparagus fields, but they are also engaged in weaving textiles that are incorporated into a number of products: wall hangings, garments, throws, handbags, and rugs.

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The men and women employed there work part time raising and picking produce for market and part time learning and perfecting their artistic skills in the production of fabrics and handicrafts for resale.  It is hoped that by providing these people with support and training it will help preserve the ancient textile industry and reinforce their identity.

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Epicurean Lima

On our second day in Peru, rather than going into Lima to visit churches and museums or to gain some knowledge of the archaeology of the area, we decided to learn how to cook Peruvian style and signed up for Market to Table: A Taste of Peruvian Cuisine.

Peru mixes native culinary traditions with the cuisines of Europe, Arabia, China, Africa and Japan.  The result is a collection of unique flavors that make Peruvian cuisine exciting and varied.  People of all races call themselves Peruvians and impact the local culture and cuisine with their own unique accents and flavors. The land has taught Peruvians generosity by placing endless delicacies within easy reach.

Our first stop on the tour was to the Minka Market, which Mary Jane decided was a super-duper, giant Costco grocery store.  This huge establishment, housed in multiple buildings, is located in Callao not far from the ship. We visited the fish terminal early in the morning to see fish and seafood, including octopus, scallops, sea bass, kingfish and marlin fresh from the briny waters. People can buy a whole fish and have it filleted or cut up finely for ceviche or whatever dish they are planning to make, or they can buy a portion of a large fish, such as a marlin or tuna, by the pound.  The variety of fresh fish and shellfish was amazing. Nothing goes to waste in Peru from the fish or meat market.  They eat things that we don’t eat back home and use bones and parts of the fish and animals for all sorts of things.










Over 3,000 varieties of potatoes are raised in this country in addition to many varieties of corn with which we were not familiar at all. We saw black corn that looked like our U.S. field corn and white corn that had huge round kernels. The corn kernels were the size of a cherry, tasted like corn but were slightly sweet – but not as sweet as Michigan sweet corn.


They had on display numerous varieties of garlic and onions, two of the staple items that seem to be in every Peruvian meal.  We saw cauliflowers that were soccer ball sized.  And we never knew there were so many different types of peppers and limes.








At the meat market you can buy just about everything – from chicken feet to pigs tails to cow stomachs and chicken innards.  Unbelievable.  They do not let anything go to waste.

This is Tripe (cow's stomach)

This is Tripe (cow’s stomach)




They eat all parts of the chicken including the feet.


The innards of the chicken that are included in their purchase.


Beautiful quail eggs

Beautiful quail eggs

The displays were outstanding throughout all of the buildings. Several of us commented on how clean everything appeared. Only a small amount of ready-to-eat items were offered for sale.

Our next stop was the Senorio de Sulco, an elegant restaurant that takes a thoughtful approach to traditional Peruvian cooking, that is located in Miraflores, an upscale part of greater Lima.


Here the Head Chef gave us a cooking demonstration in the restaurant’s wine bar area.  He prepared each of the items we were going to eat at lunch:  Ceviche, Causa Limena, and Lomo Saltafo.  After he prepared a dish, we each got a taste, so by the time he had completed the lesson; we all had started to fill our tummies.

Then we went upstairs to the main dining room where our table for 17 was arranged.  We were served a welcome drink, a Pisco Sour.  Pisco is about 40-50% alcohol so it packs a punch.  Mary Jane managed about 3 sips but Barbara drank the entire glass.  They also gave us another Peruvian drink, this one is nonalcoholic and pomegranate in color, but made from the skins and pulp of a number of native fruits and heavily laced with cinnamon.  It was delicious. These two drinks were followed by the four-course luncheon that included the dishes we had been instructed on making.






Our bus then took us to the Queirolo Tavern, a traditional old tavern, for a Peruvian style ham sandwich snack.  Needless to say, Barbara and Mary Jane skipped the ham sandwich and just had water, enjoying our historical surroundings.


Palomino Islands in Peru

Callao is the seaport for Lima, Peru and one of the main fishing and commercial ports in the country.  For our first day in Callao (Lima) we chose to take the Wildlife-Lover’s Paradise trip. We were delayed leaving the ship for our excursion because the fog was too dense, but finally the port authorities gave us permission to head toward the marina where we transferred to a speedboat that took us out to the Palomino Islands.


On our boat ride out of the harbor to the rocky islands, we saw numerous birds and local fishermen plying the waters near the islands. The islands exhibit a variety of scenery, sandy slopes, and irregular dark-colored rocks that rise out of the ocean in many shapes and forms.





Guano covers the rocky slopes on the Islands making them appear as though they are snow covered in this tropical desert area. Every seven to eight years the national government hires workers from the Andes to come to the Islands to scrape and collect the accumulated guano.   Ultimately it is mixed with fishmeal and used as organic fertilizer for the crops up in the highlands and other areas.  The last time it was collected, the Peruvian government made over $80,000,000 on the process.



On a couple of the islands we saw Humboldt penguins. The penguins had several chicks about to fledge but we did not see any in the water.IMG_6154


The other major inhabitants of the Islands are sea lions (thousands of them).  The penguins and the sea lions live in complete safety, as there are no predators in the area.  We enjoyed seeing the sea lions play, swim, jump and dive around us.  One of the young sea lions took a starfish up onto the rocks and several of them played with it tossing it in the air and snatching it from each other.



Three of the people on the trip went into the water and swam and photographed the sea lions.  The sea lions showed no fear of the swimmers or the boat in fact quite a large group followed our boat as we left the area and headed back to port.  They were various curious animals and would also approach the divers very closely and occasionally touch or nibble on them. The videographer from the ship, who was one who swam with them, was warned not to get too close to the cliffs as a seal lion might land on her if it jumped into the water.  A jellyfish that was swimming in the area did sting her on the foot however.




We had lots of fun seeing the penguins and sea lions cavorting, but had to get back to the ship as the fog was beginning to roll back in towards the harbor.