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Lending its name to the clear brandy that is Peru's favorite tipple and a source of fierce national pride, the coastal town of Pisco and its surroundings hold a special place in the national psyche. It's the point where the Argentinean hero General San Martín landed with his troops to fight for Peru's freedom from Spanish rule. It's the city from which pisco was first exported, and it's also an important seaport that had its heyday during the 1920s, when guano (bird droppings used as fertilizer) from the nearby Islas Ballestas were worth nearly as much as gold.
Modern-day Pisco shows little evidence of its celebrated past. Instead, what you'll find is a city struggling to get back on its feet after the disaster of August 2007, when a magnitude 8 earthquake shook the town for three minutes. Disregard for planning permission, illegal building extensions, and the use of adobe (mud brick) as the main building material had left a vast number of Pisco's buildings unable to withstand the quake, and hundreds of lives were lost as homes, churches, and hospitals collapsed during the tremor.
Undoubtedly a town that's had more than its fair share of hardship and natural disaster, Pisco had suffered from earthquake damage prior to 2007. The city stands where it does today because an earthquake in 1687—and pirate attacks in its aftermath—destroyed so many structures that viceroy Count de la Monclova decided to give up on the old location and start afresh where the city lies today.
Modern-day Pisco is a shadow of its former self, and most travelers base themselves in Paracas, just a few kilometers down the coast. For travelers wishing to assist Pisco's recovery, there are numerous opportunities to volunteer. While organizations active in the area vary over time, a good place to start looking for current opportunities is www.idealist.org. Even those without the time to volunteer should know that every nuevo sol spent in local businesses is contributing to rebuilding the region's economy.
Pisco at a Glance
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