[Sat from my favorite vegan cafe in Cusco]
Ahhhh Huacachina, the dream-like desert oasis we fantasize about does exist. And it is truly magical.
Ryan and I arrived in Ica early evening and we headed straight for the dunes. We trudged up the sand laughing as each step we took we sunk back two. After a bit of a struggle we made it to the top and gasped over the beauty laying before us. The tiny oasis city was brightly lit and looked like a slice of paradise. The mountainous sand dunes looming over us, a red glow circled the almost full moon, and the perfect night temperature we Chicagoans have been craving for. I sat there in awe thinking all I need is a genie and a magic carpet ride to complete the fantasy.
The next day we booked the dune buggy/sand boarding adventure tour and thankfully friends we met recommended Chupon for the wildest driver around. Paying only $7 (the most fun per dollar ever spent) we hopped on the buggy with a group of eight and headed out for the sunset experience. Once Chupon got going holy hell did my screams (the good kind) start. He drove that thing with no fear flying over huge dunes, off crazy drops, and if we weren’t buckled in there was not a chance we would survive. When pulling up to the sand boarding spot he flew in so fast that people started running in the opposite direction. Too great. The first extremely steep dune, we waxed up the boards and took off on our bellies. Crazy fun. The next few dunes we had the option of attempting to sand board. Being a somewhat confident snowboarder, I figured it would be easy. Unfortunately the “boards” are basically a crap piece of wood with velcro straps to wrap around your shoes. I quickly figured out carving would not be an option. I stood up hoping my feet would stay attached to the wood and off I went. I’m proud to say I successfully made it down without falling until the bottom flattened out. I helped others attempt and our entire group successfully sand boarded down. We continued this over and over and I loved it. I could only imagine the shredding I could do with a proper board and boots ha. There are world championship tournaments held in Huacachina and apparently these guys are nuts. I’d love to get the chance to watch them tackle mile high dunes. Chupon took us to a few more dunes and a spot for photo ops and then we climbed aboard his buggy for one final wild ride. He asks, “Want to go fast? Want to go crazy?” “YES,” we all said in unison and then he tapped on his tip sign and we laughingly agreed. This time Ryan and I switched for the back row. Bad move. I thought I was going to end up with a concussion as I tried to hold on for dear life. We made it back alive and thanked our wonderfully insane driver for the best adventure yet.
That night Ryan and I decided to once again climb above the city to take night shots on his SLR camera. After playing around in the sand we challenged ourselves to hike up the tallest dune around. Slow and steady and about a half hour later, we summited the dune. From that height we could see miles around. City lights glowed below. Walking up took 30 minutes and running down took about two. I had no idea how much fun mountains of sand would be and I’m extremely glad we chose to swing through this city.
Our last day we relaxed around the pueblo waiting till the sun cooled down before heading to the bus station. From there we took off for Nasca, where the mysterious 2,000 year old geomatic figures, animals, and plant drawings stretch out over 500 sq km and make you wonder “did the aliens do it?”
Arriving early evening in the town that only popped up when an American scientist discovered the lines while flying across the barren region in 1939, Ryan and I knew we were going to enjoy this small city. Our tiny hostel was a Peruvian/Dutch run home with only a few rooms and a relaxing rooftop terrace. We spent our days wandering the town, eating fulfilling set meals for $3, and observing the locals whilst sipping cheap lagers in the town’s Plaza de Armas. We were often confronted by tourists agencies to take flights over the lines, participate in more sand dune adventures, and visit mummies that have sadly been robbed by pirates years ago, but we chose to skip it all. We thought about it flying over the lines but in the end we decided the flights were too expensive ($75/pp for 30 minutes) and not to mention dangerous. Although we knew it would not be the best shot of the Nasca lines, we headed to the Mirador (lookout tower) to catch a glimpse. Even climbing the tower felt unsafe as it swayed in the strong wind and reaching the top we could only laugh. Two small designs were visible, the hands and the lizard, but barely. A taller rock formation stood south and we took off in an attempt to see more. Just geometrical lines from this view, but we made it for the sun’s last stretch. It was beautiful in the middle of nowhere, the sky different colors in each direction, and the dry, rocky mountains sheltering us in the distance. From here we would have to flag down a bus heading to Nasca. Each time we stuck out our thumb, the cars, trucks, buses sped up (yes you would be happy to hear hitchhiking was not successful). Our only chance was walking back to the Mirador and hoping the locals could help. Thankfully they were still packing up in the pitch dark and after fifteen minutes we were on our way back to town.
Our last day was full of laziness; one of the best parts of traveling. We read, took naps on the rooftop, and filled our bellies before our big overnight bus ride to Cusco. Thinking we were late, we rushed to the bus station to find out it would not arrive for two more hours. We checked our bags and decided to kill time doing our favorite Nasca activity. Kids ran around on skateboards and scooters while parents chatted on benches and we sat on the steps enjoying semi-cold beers. Returning to the station, the agent informed us the bus was eating dinner and we would be waiting longer. Ok. More beers it is and why not a few pulls of vodka we still had from Huacachina. An hour and a half later, a bit drunk, and many buses (not ours) coming through, I finally got my confidence to yell in Spanish. Not too proud of it, but luckily only 15 minutes later our bus arrived. Now if you know me I travel cheap. I try and find ways to save a few bucks in order to spend them on adventure. In this case we were taking the cheapest bus I could find for a 14 hour drive. The economica did have 160 degree reclining seats but the economica was made in the 80s and full to the brim of locals. Laughing at what was in store for us we boarded the bus to find an old Peruvian couple in our seats. They moved quickly and we sat down to find Man On Fire playing on the TVs. Since this movie is half in English, half in Spanish they actually played it without the comical dubbing. This was a first. I had seen Blended in Spanish dubbing with Spanish subtitles, which funny enough does not match up, as well as the beginning of Lucy, and the Madagascar Penguin film. At least it is good practice right? Anyway with beers in hand, we reclined back in to our neighbors laps and eventually drifted off to sleep. In the morning we awoke to beautiful scenery. Winding through the lavish green mountains, our bus slowly climbed higher and higher. A short stop for lunch ensued a lovely picnic with a view, followed by a horrible traffic jam. For at least an hour, we barely moved. Who does construction on a Saturday afternoon on a two lane highway, God only knows, but as we sat sweaty praying we would arrive to Cusco the same day we decided to polish off the bottle of red wine we carried along. Yes, a lot of much needed booze reveals itself on this story, but as I said before I am traveling with Ryan, my liver destroying friend. Sometime before the sunset we pulled in to Cusco’s bus terminal and we found our way to the hostel. We quickly became enamored with this city and we have not left our old mansion converted in to a hostel since that long day. Today our plan was to set out to hike and camp a few nights on our own, but unfortunately last night I ended up with a high fever and horrible body aches. Today’s been another lazy backpacker day, but we hope to head off first thing tomorrow. More about my favorite city so far soon. Buenas noches amores. x