CLO (Community Liaison Office) is an office that is resident in most embassies and exists to connect with and support embassy families. This group helps newcomers with orientation, helps with the key American needs such as cable tv, Direct tv, getting cell phones, finding churches and schools, and providing social events. We are very fortunate in Lima to have an excellent CLO office with a 4 person, hard working staff. They regularly provide group visits to museums, restaurants and other sites to see in the Lima area as well as making sure that the embassy community has all that it needs during uniquely American holidays (e.g. Thanksgiving and Halloween). For newcomers to post this group really does help with orientation and settling in and has been a god-send on many occasions.
Anyway, CLO put together a Saturday boat trip to visits the islands that - without the ugly winter fog and cloud layer - can actually be seen from Miraflores and all of coastal Lima. Being intrepid adventures Richard and I said "heck yes, count us in"! So we headed off to the wharf area of Lima - a town call Callao on the north end of the bay. Callao is now the wharf area, naval headquarters and site of the old spanish port.
We headed out to sea in a "yacht" per Peruvian terms. It was more of a relatively large cabin cruiser designed to fit a dozen people comfortably, so we loaded it up with 25 Americans plus crew and headed out.
There are a number of islands offshore from Lima. Being in a desert climate with no, and I do mean no, rainfall they are totally devoid of plant life. But they have tremendous historical economic importance. Centuries of sea birds have used the islands as a depository for their waste - or guano. Sounds pretty icky, huh? Well in the mid 19th century scientists discovered that the Peruvian guano was 36 times more potent than the fertilizers being used in Europe at the time. Hence, a new industry was born! The following is a brief description of guano's importance to Peru:
"Layers of sun-baked, nitrogen-rich guano (seabird droppings) have been diligently deposited over millennia on the islands off Peru by large resident bird colonies - in places, the guano was as much as 50 meters deep. Guano's recognition as a first-class fertilizer dates back to pre-Inca times, but few would have predicted that these filthy riches were to become Peru's principal export during the mid-19th century, being shipped in vast quantities to Europe and America. In fact, the trade was so lucrative that Spain precipitated the so-called Guano War of 1865-66 over possession of the nearby Chincha Islands. Nowadays, over-exploitation and synthetic fertilizers have taken their toll and the birds are largely left to their steady production process in peace, but for licensed extraction every 5-10 years."
Now wasn't that worth the detour - where else would you get such relevant scientific information?
Well, guano was not on our mind as we headed out and passed the two major islands off Lima - San Lorenzo (which is now a naval training area and home to the beach house of Peru's President)
and the second island which housed the national Alcatraz like prison until the mid 1980's. Like Alcatraz, this was a prison that would be tough to leave alive as the water is quite cold and the island is 3 miles offshore.
Our destination, however, was Isla Palominos - a smallish island that is home to birds and hundreds of sea lions. The opportunity for guests is to jump in the water and swim with the wild life. While Richard and I passed on this chance, many among our group (mainly the military guys and teenagers) jumped in and enjoyed the frolic.
We elected not to do so and instead suffered for 20 minutes while the boat floated near the swimmers. Why you ask? See above on guano - the stench is strong and foul and we were down wind. I was most impressed by the tour company however. They provided cotton balls soaked in alcohol to sniff as a means of overcoming nature's scents. It sort of worked but we were glad to head away and left with much respect for the poor souls who must harvest this stuff every 5-10 years. The next time you place fertilizer on your roses you will now have a better idea of the effort it took to bring that to you.
Anyway, we headed off but took an interesting detour at another island and got to see some Humboldt Penguins (trust me, that is what you see on rock in this picture...However, lest you can't see anything other than specks try this link - http://www.go2peru.com/gal_callao.htm )
Yes, penguins do live this far north because of the very cold current, aptly named the Humboldt Current, that comes up this way from the Antarctic.
So we invite all you visitors to take advantage of this nature opportunity. We will be sipping a Pisco Sour on shore....