Ica - Huacachina Oasis - Peru Travel Information
Ica is well known to many travelers in Peru, due to its Huacachina oasis that is situated between enormous sand dunes. The oasis attracts many tourists as well as Peru's rich families, due to the variety of adventurous sand activities that are available, such as sand-boarding and sand tours on special sand buggies.
Not many people know that a short distance out of the city (about 30 km), in the planes of the Ocucaje desert that surrounds Ica, hundreds of whales' fossils are awaiting for millions of years. Roberto Penny Cabrera, "the desert man" took us to observe these whale fossils.
Roberto is a geologist in education, a miner in profession and an adventurer in his soul. One short look was enough to understand with whom we were dealing. Roberto is a modern combination of Indiana Jones with Crocodile Dundee. He also looks, talks and acts accordingly. With great pleasure and a lot of enthusiasm he will lecture on his greatest love - the Ocucaje desert and the special phenomena which you can learn about when touring it.
We spent an amazing day with Roberto in the desert. In the beginning of the tour he brought us to a cemetery from the pre-Inca era, where he demonstrated his skills as a grave robber (guaquero), an occupation that he started with but stopped many years ago. With a long and thin steel bar he stabs the soil until he spots the place where soft soil is replaces the hard desert soil. Understanding the geological logic is the key for finding the graves, explains Roberto. Most of the desert's ground is covered by ground layers that were hardened by the pressure during millions of years, therefore soft soil is a sign that the place has been recently dug, and was not harden yet again. If you dig in such a place, summarizes Roberto, you will probably expose a grave. Later on, this geological logic will be used for other uses.
We continued our way into the heart of the desert while Roberto's open 4x4 crossed ancient sceneries, where it seems time had stopped. The perfect silence of the desert is not interrupted by any human, other than Roberto and his guests.
Whales' fossils in the middle of the desert
In this amazing and quiet place, at a height of over 600 meters above sea level, ancient whales' skeleton fossils were exposed by a slow process of wind and rain. These whales' fossils have been there since the era when the ocean still covered the area.
The whale's fossils are well preserved - it is easy to identify their different parts; their spinal columns and their heads. In any other place in the world, these whales would have been surrounded by fences and been taken to a museum. In Ica the whales are lying on the ground near us, while we have our lunch. No doubt, a surreal image.
Shark fossilized teeth
Roberto's biggest love is shark teeth hunting. But not just any sharks - Mega Sharks.
The deep water horror, the Carcharodon Megalodon, appeared about 25 millions years ago and lived until about 2 millions years ago. The size of the megalodon is under debate, but most investigators agree that the megalodon's length was about 20 meters, more then 3 times that of the great white shark. The megalodon's exact size is hard to estimate since sharks are boneless (instead they have cartilages) therefore the only part left from them is the fossilized teeth. Other parts of the megalodon were never found, and therefore the way it looked can only be imagined. Based on the teeth's size (teeth that were found were over 20 cm long) it is possible to estimate that when this monster opened its mouth, his jaw's height was about 3 meters!
The favorite food of those giant sharks was mostly whales. When a whale was swallowed by a shark, some of the shark's teeth got stuck in the whale's bones. These teeth would be rapidly replaced by new ones, so during its life, the shark changed hundreds of teeth. Today, millions of years after the death of the whales, bones of those ancient whales are being exposed by the winds and rains, and then slowly crumble. The shark's teeth that were stuck in the whale's bones are then released to the surface.
This is where Roberto comes into the picture. Using his geological knowledge, he teaches those who join him the geological process that occurs, which enables us to find the shark's teeth. And the teeth indeed are found - there is even no need to dig since they are just lying on the surface. We spent half a day running around Ocucaje desert's hills with childish excitement, trying to find the elusive shark's teeth. The feeling of satisfaction that fills your body when you find a shark's tooth on the ground is so amazing that it is hard to describe.
The shark's teeth are there in huge quantities. Anyone can make himself a nice collection of shark's teeth after a short tour. However a geological understanding is necessary for knowing where those teeth may be found. The system of finding the shark's teeth, demonstrates Roberto, is watching the trails of bone remnants that were created by the rain during its flow on the surface, and on this trail shark's teeth will soon be discovered.
Ocucaje desert, the place of shark's teeth, is not defined as a natural reserve, and therefore it is legal to collect the shark's teeth that are on the surface. In areas that are not defined as a nature reserve, the Peruvian law only forbids digging in the ground.
We will never forget the day we spent with the desert man Roberto Cabrera. It is true t hat the same things can be seen in a museum, but in where can you collect beautiful shark's teeth and eat lunch next to a whale's fossil?