South America Living

A Journey Through Paracas National Reserve in Peru – Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a short story about a backpacking trip though the Paracas National Reserve by traveler Emilie Dannenberg from England. Part I is located here.

After a nap and an avocado I carried on, singing into the vast dust planes (there was no one around) and rock formations and the dunes of different hues, and I crossed a big salt patch, this one a bright reflective, almost harsh white, and the salt crystals crackled under my boots.

Sand and Sea at Paracas National Reserve

I felt like I was on some alien planet or in the future. I reached the beach where I would pass the night. It was a very big beach too, but in its bay it enclosed striking rock features, arches that the sea burst through, crags and angles, protruding grit platforms.

I glimpsed some crabs disappear into the holes they´d dug into the sand. I went to one of the holes, nudged some sand in and sat back down. Out came the crab with an armful of sand, cradling it out in front of him and scuttling sideways with his legs. Then he tossed the sand out of his arms with such an abrupt and disgusted sideways jerk that I apologized immediately. But it was very amusing and I had a few more goes before I left him in peace.
I ran down high cliff dunes with the ocean churning below. Wind, water and elemental chaos. I felt free.
I slept nestled in sand humps and it was very snug. Although before I fell asleep I was afraid the ocean would rise to claim me and swallow me in the night. The only victim nestled there on the beach. (There was an earthquake here in 2007)
The next day I embarked on the final stretch. As the sun intensified I grew tired. The sun had sapped my energy more than I´d noticed since it was masked or seemed to be diffused by the wind. Also I would take cigarette breaks while walking: the hiking-smoking combo. But I think the pictures on the cigarette packets are going to help me quit again.

On both sides there is a picture of a man with sallow flesh like a zombie, his mouth gaping open and a tube wound into his nose. I will quit, or I will die from the psychological trauma of having to look at that picture every time I want a smoke. Even as I write this I can see the translucent flesh and lolling head and grey eyes on the back of my eyelids.
I continued on, kind of stumbling now, corroded by the sand granules and beaten by the wind and sun. Finally I reached the fishing village. I looked down to where the shacks were clustered on a bay (it is a fishing village in the middle of the desert!) Triumph! I thought, and lay behind a dune to shelter from the wind and scraped at the last remnants of jam and peanut butter with my fingers and ate a lot of sand.
I waited for a car to pass. There wasn´t much traffic. Eventually I hitchhiked a quad bike going into the village (the wrong direction, but anything was good.) ´Are you lost? ´ asked the driver, and I felt a bit sheepish telling him I was here intentionally, I´d planned this walk deep into desert to emerge, at the end, at an unknown fishing pueblo.

I´d just assumed it would work itself out. It was Saturday so the entire village had gone to buy supplies from the city. But it turned out the driver was a park ranger and he took me to the building and I ate lunch with two rangers, bathed and even slept on a mattress. Then from across the bay I saw a truck chugging slowly around the shore towards us. It moved very slowly so I had plenty of time to intercept.
The driver cheerfully agreed to give me a ride out so I hopped in the cab, displacing a young man who went to lie on top of the cargo in the back. They had been collecting a type of seaweed from the beaches. It would be ground up and sent to China, where they would use it in creams and shampoo.

We drove slowly around the bay and stopped for long intervals to pick up piles of it that had been thrown out by the sea. They had to bundle it up and weigh it before stashing it in the truck. It took ages. Like the other truck ride I´d caught in Peru. We´d waited all day while they brought endless bags of rice up the trail on donkeys, and heaved it into the truck with brute manpower. It was very hot and all day the sweat boiled out of my skin.
But finally we were off. We didn´t sink in the sand. There were four of us in the cab and another four in the back, piled high on the seaweed. Our driver was late for a meeting with his wife and there hadn´t been any reception to call ahead. His wife was very angry with him and her sharp voice pierced through the phone. Our driver was frustrated and angry, what could he do? And his helper, a young man, was calling a client to tell him they couldn´t make it today.

It was already dark, they were tired, they´d been driving all week. Everyone was riled up, indignant and shouting. Everything was frantic and loud. I sat squeezed in the middle. When we reached Parancas I wished them good luck and escaped fast from clamour. The human world had flooded chaotically back.

Photograph by Emilie Dannenberg, all rights reserved

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