South America Living

A Journey Through Paracas National Reserve in Peru

Just a Backpack and the Paracas National Reserve

Editor’s Note: This is a personal account of hiking through the Paracas National Reserve by Emilie Dannenberg from England who is on her way from Peru to be “one of the best cloud forest guides the world has ever seen” in Ecuador.

The place is magic; it crept into my thoughts and I had to go back. I´d walked into the desert and scraped my foot in the sand, and underneath was smudged purple silver and blue like a bruise on the face of the desert. Or the wind blew over craggy shingles and they tinkled in an ancient song.     Travel Guide to Paracas

After being warned many times I would be assaulted I packed my bag with water and set out walking. The north side of the park was busier. There were cars and tour buses passing by on the dirt road, but also long stretches of silent desert. I strode happily along until I reached the first beach where I would camp. It was a very large beach that swooped and carved out the land in a crescent. The walls of the cliffs that protruded out to sea were lined with ages and eras, condensed into layers, each a different tone. The balconies soared out from the land at an upwards angle and broke off with a jagged edge into the ocean. It felt prehistoric, especially in the late afternoon when misty traces hung in the sky.

There were no gringos but a fair amount of people on the beach and they were all concentrated on the near side or centre. I walked the length of the beach until I was tucked away on the far side where there was no wind. I spent the afternoon drawing skeletons and thinking vaguely about ‘the thing that died and drained away.’ I saw some dolphins off the coast and felt very lucky. I watched the seagulls plummet into the ocean for fish; a vulture soared on an air current very close to my head. There were lizards that looked like miniature T-rexes.

Sunset on the Beach at Paracas National Reserve

By late afternoon all the people had gone, save a tent far on the opposite end, a couple of kilometres away. I camped behind some dunes (put my bag down behind some dunes) and lay on the slope of a dune on my belly and poked my head over the top and watched the sun go down.
The sun was setting when a dirt bike revved over the dunes toward me. I was wary and darted around the dunes a while, but then a short stodgy man took off his helmet, got off the bike, and pushed at it because it was stuck in the sand. The man was a park ranger. ‘You can’t camp here’ he said, ‘There are fishermen. It’s dangerous. You´ll be assaulted.’ I protested. The sun was nearly down. There was no one around. I offered to hike further into the desert to hide from the fishermen. (The fishermen that, by night, would sail in from the ocean, dock on a rock and scour the dunes looking for people to assault.) I told him he only wanted me to leave because it was so beautiful here; he wanted to keep it a secret. ´You have to camp at Lagunillas.´ he said.

They try to keep all the tourists fenced in at Lagunillas. Over the radio his boss affirmed that ‘Negativo’ I could not camp here, I had to go to Lagunillas. Lagunillas is very beautiful but very eerie and misty, and the wind is wild and pummelling. I could not sleep on that stormy beach, plus there were a ton of fishermen there. It was a port. The park ranger sighed. The sun was nearly down. He wanted to chat with his friends who were camped in the tent on the far side. He had no light on his bike. He would have to carry me out if he wanted me to leave. ‘You can stay, I´ll tell my boss you left,’ he said.

I felt very pleased. I had spoken to a human who was his own locus of decision not a cog in a system. Maybe it’s because here the system doesn´t have the resources to swallow up the individual, but I spoke to a human, not a robot that must unquestioningly execute rules and regulations. ´I´ll go chat with my friends,´ he says, and his bike takes of rickety over the sand dunes. 

There was cloud cover but the night had muffled brightness because it was close to full moon.

The next day I set off early. After a few hours I came to the salt lakes. On the other side of the ´road, ´ shrouded in the distance, was a grey cluster of buildings, a mining camp. The first lake was a black, grainy blemish. It had a lot of character and I called it Mustafa. I walked on and down the path I reached a silver lake where the water rippled peacefully. It was full and shining. The ripples seemed to stand up on the water as they glided to shore.

There were small birds on its banks that seemed to walk on water, and a flock of flamingos stood full of poise a short distance away. The sound of the birds and swish of water was the only noise that stirred the desert silence. I lay on the shore of the lake and the quiet stirred in me too.  

To be continued… read Part 2

Photographs by Emilie Dannenberg, all rights reserved.

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