Turning sixty-three? It’s for the birds.

I reflected on past birthdays this May 29th, never guessing any of the curves life has thrown me. Long gone are the days of free birthday cake at Bill Knapps or playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Or fishbowl margaritas for a birthday lunch (24). Or a sweet sixteen surprise party. Or a new Barbie doll with twist and turn legs and real eyelashes (6). Thank you very much, Debbie Petruela.

In Asia, I indulged in durian near an elephant crossing in Thailand (56), walked a bridge to Vietnam (55). A

Half a lifetime ago, I turned 21 in Amsterdam.

I’ll just leave it at that.

But no one ever imagines what they’ll be doing on this sixty-third birthday. Ever. It comes down to two things. Either A: you think you’d be dead. B: you think of sixty-three as a fly-over year, the Wichita, Kansas between fifty and sixty-five. It’s barely worth a glance out the window when you’re on your way to get social security.

Well, not only did I never imagined living in a city named after my least favorite vegetable, I never would have imagined spending my birthday looking at boobies.
Uh…not cleavage, but the Peruvian bird.

I went to Paracas, Peru, for the big six-three, wanting to view Humboldt penguins. Paracas is about three hours away from Lima and a breeze to get to on the safe and clean Cruz Del Sur bus line. But after you get off the bus, there is only one thing to do.

Look at birds.

Now back to the penguins. I never had heard of Alexandar Von Humboldt the explorer or his namesake penguins until I started to teach, his discovery being a benchmark reading passage with my students. Odd how these Arctic birds live outside a blander-than-beige desert south of Lima, Peru. Erase any desert photographs from National Geographic with caravans of camels leaving stretched out shadows. Peruvian desert sand is a dirty color, like the dark gloppy layer you’d reach digging tunnels on a Michigan beach.

I got to see the penguins among other birds near the mysterious Candelabra etching. While some say this candle-looking thing was carved to guide ancient sailors, I’m convinced it’s a bird carved by prehistoric twitchers.

Other than birds, you may see stray dogs fighting, souvenir hawkers and fifty restaurants with the same menu. And one more thing. Sea lions.

A lot of this beauty is at the Ballestas wildlife reserve.
Ballestas is a brisk boat ride away from Paracas harbor, about twenty-five choppy minutes so bring your parka if you have it.

Guano or bird poop is still harvested there, which is what this dock is used for. You’d think they’d sell the guano is little bottles at gift shops, but they don’t.

I saw more birds than a Merlin birdwatching app could track. Turkey vultures. petrels. Oyster catchers. Pelicans larger and noisier than kindergartener. And playful porpoises, a sign that better weather is to come, as they are diving for anchovies.

My camera was not quick enough to capture a lemming-like line of penguins splash into the aqua water. Below is a blurry one on the rocks. Seeing it was a great birthday gift, right up there with my twist-and-turn Barbie.

There were also Peruvian boobies worth photographing (pictured below)
I wish I could say the same about mine.

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