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PARACAS, PATHS OF SAND

After the initial surprise and almost as in a synchronised movement, everybody produces their cameras and starts shooting dozens of pictures. Everybody wants a picture of the Candelabrum to, most probably, tell their friends about the legends wrapping up these coasts back at home.

The motorboat gains speed again and this time the trip is longer, until finally we can catch a glimpse of the Isles. The waters are crowded with expert swimmers, hundreds of sea wolfs of all sizes move from one place to another. They swim, make one or two pirouettes, climb a crag, dive back into the water, and do it all over again, more pirouettes, another crag, and new dives. Everyone applauds and the photo session seems endless.

The motorboat slows to the point of almost being freely rocked by the waves, our guide begins an interesting explanation about the species inhabiting this part of the Reserve, he explains us that this is the only protected area in the country including a marine ecosystem within its territory. He also tells us about the important role the seabirds played within Peru's economy decades ago, when the peak of guano allowed Peru to be one of the richest countries in South America.

Although some tours offer to snorkel or scuba dive with the sea wolfs, that is not my case; on the contrary, I rather contemplate how life invades each and every centimetre of rock. How nature has created a harmonic and perfect coexistence amongst the living beings dwelling in these rocks, thus staging an astonishing natural wonder in the middle of the sea.

After going around the crags for a while, the boat gains speed once again and we leave the Ballestas Isles behind, minutes go by and with the cool wind hitting hard on my face I start recording these new images in my memory, new memories of a place that will always be fascinating.

We are on hard ground again and hunger makes my stomach roar, I go to see Mrs Elena and she, almost guessing I would be back, has prepared something special for me. A huge dish of cebiche with fresh fish, seafood and shrimps waits for me, accompanied by the ever-present glass of cold barley.

The afternoon is here and I decide to take a walk along the beach, though sadly pollution has taken its toll and El Chaco is no longer a summer-day resort. I spend the rest of the afternoon chatting with some tourists who have been travelling for months now, and lastly I go back to my hotel. The night is lukewarm, the sky is clear and a fresh smell of sea comes in through the windows; I sleep peacefully lulled by the sound of the surf.

The new day comes with a spectacular sunshine, I go to El Chaco and Angel is on the pier again, he has managed to get me into a tour to visit the rest of the Reserve. It is five of us on a small though comfortable bus: a woman from Arequipa and her North American boyfriend, two Australians and I.

We enter the Reserve and after a few minutes we come to a halt. No one has a clue for what reason though the driver pulls a pair of binoculars and tells us to look at the beach. There are dozens of unworried flamingos feeding and walking along the shoreline. The images in my books of history come immediately to my mind, it was on this shore that Liberator Jose de San Martin saw these birds in his dreams, thus conceiving the idea for the Peruvian Flag.

We stay for a while longer watching these birds as we take some pictures, then again onto the bus and back to the road. This time the ride is longer; the heat on Ica's coasts is increasing, and the silhouettes of the sand hills are endlessly drawn on the horizon.

Time goes by and we stop once more, the guide makes us get off the bus leading us down along a dune seawards. We all merrily splash and dabble in the small waves coming ashore until we see the reason we were brought here in front of us. The Cathedral, that famous rock formation carved by time and the wind located between Yumaque and Supay beaches, is waiting for us.

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