Lines, Dunes & More Dunes

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South America » Peru » Ica » Huacachina
June 4th 2007
Published: August 9th 2007
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I just arrived this morning to Huaraz below the maginificent Cordillera Blanca range, via an overnight economico bus (seriously freezing at 4am as we traversed a 4000m pass). I met Lukas again (woke him up at 6am at his hostal) and we're now preparing for a 4-5 day hike to the Alpamayo Basecamp via the Santa Cruz valley. Except our preparations don´t seem to be going very well as they take their lunch breaks seriously here! Huaraz itself is a lovely building site nestling in the valley below the cordillera. We´ve been told that the building works are due to finish mid july, but i suspect that might be next year. Currently all the roads of this town are hidden under piles of rubble. Hugh gaping holes exist in the pavements to trap unwary pedestrians. Definitely you come here for the mountains!

So in the last 4, 5 days I´ve made my way from Cusco via Nazca, Ica and the nearby oasis Huacachina, transitted in Lima for a few hours only (thank god!) and up to the mountains.

The last night in Cusco was fun as I met up with some of my Inca trail companions for a big night out. After several caipiriñhas in ´Los Perros´ we ended up in the infamous ´Mama Afrikas´ for dancing to a mix of salsa and 80´s classics including the Proclaimers!! Wow!

The next day everyone from the group were heading in their own directions, and none towards Nazca, so I was on my own again. I spent the day relaxing in Cusco, failed to get to the main Inca site there (known as Sacsayhuaman pronounced Sexy Woman!), but did take in a rather nice carrot cake at Jack´s Cafe, and also saw a photo exibition with some original photography of Machu Picchu in the 1930´s. That night I got my bus at 8, and woke up to the final descent into Nazca from the high altiplano which was quite stunning.

In Nazca I was bustled quickly to a hostal by the waiting touts (guide book had warned that in Nazca they´re quite aggressive!), but for 10 soles thought I´d got a bargain. It was then that I got the hard sell from the guy to buy a flight over the Nazca Lines, the famous prehistoric lines etched into the desert. Well obviously I realised that ´his father´ wasn´t the pilot at all, and that the original price he offered was way over the top. After some 40 minutes of negotiation I got the price down to about US$42 which I was satisfied with. It was only later that I found out the standard price is $40! Oh well! In fact the flight was very enjoyable in a little 4 seater. I was sitting next to the pilot as we banked wildly left and right for 40 mins or more across all the lines. To be honest some of the lines were hard to see, but I snapped a few good photos of the classic Hummingbird, Astronaut, and Dog shapes, as well as taking in the general scenery: a huge flood plain. Except that might suggest that there´s a lot of rain there - in fact there are parts of the plain that have had no recorded rainfall ever!! All the water flows down from the high Andes. It´s thought that the reason for the existence of the lines (according to an illegally copied and poorly lipsynced BBC documentary I watched beforehand as they desperately tried to fill the other 2 seats in the plane) is that the Nazca civilisation (about 300 AD) suffered severe drought. Their underground water supplies dried out. Ritually walking the lines, some straight, some with classic shamen ritual shapes (monkey, dog, hummingbird, whale, etc) were to plead to the gods (who lived on top of Cerro Blanco) for more water! Or alternatively that the lines were alien landing strips and pretty pictures to greet them. Believe as you like!

Back in Nazca, I trawled the agencies briefly to try and arrange a sandboarding expedition up Cerro Blanco, the worlds highest sand dune measuring a staggering 2082m, situated 30m drive from Nazca. Unfortunately there didn´t seem to be anyone else that was doing the trip, and for a while it looked like I might not be able to organise it without paying double. But finally I found a place willing to do it for me solo for about US$28, with a guide and transport. That afternoon I splurged out and relaxed by the swimming pool of the large hotel there.

The next day my guide, Raul, picked me up at 6am and we headed up to the Cerro with our boards. The car takes you about half way up, then it takes a further 2.5 hours first across the adjacent rocky mountain, then finally up about 200m of the dune, to the top. On the way up I learnt that the sand dune formed because the cerro sits at a confluence of wind from all directions. Nobody knows how deep the sand is, presumably there´s rock down there somewhere. On the lower slopes the sand is so compressed that it has started to turn into a form of rock. The hike up wasn´t too hard despite having sandboards strapped to our backs, and the views from the top incredible. Looking down we towered above the adjacent mountains, with 1000m or so vertical dune to the base. So on to the boarding...

The secret to sandboarding is wax! Wax your board at every opportunity otherwise you ain´t going to go anywhere fast even if you point yourself straight down. The other difference between that and snowboarding is that turning on your back heel is hard, best left to the experts (apparently you have to be going at 70kmph to get a good edge). Just crouch low and point yourself downhill. I can tell you similarities exist though - falling at speed is reminiscent of falling on end of season early morning ice sheets, i.e. sore! Well it turned out that Raul was pretty good (in fact he told me he came 10th in the world championships!), so he nipped ahead and got some photos of my descent which are rather flattering! In the end we made it down in about 45 mins, with rewax stops every 150m of vertical descent or so.
By the end my thighs were killing me and we still had an hour or so hike out to the main road.

Back in Nazca I found a very local restaurant selling very fresh ceviche (raw fish dish) which was well worth the 4 soles (70p) I paid for it. Then I hopped on a bus to Ica. The bus drove across the flats where the lines are and through some lunar scenery (i.e. grey piles of dust) - yet somehow the locals still live there!

In Ica, I transfered quickly to the nearby desert oasis and backpacker hangout of Haucachina. It´s a laguna that nestles between 200m high dunes. Incredible. That evening I skipped, then walked, then trudged, then crawled up the final few metres to the top of the dune to catch the sunset. Bounding down was much more fun and took about 20 seconds! The place I stayed was definitely backpacker orientated: pool and bar! And swarming with Israelis intent on throwing themselves into the pool much to everyones amusement. That night I ended up hanging out playing Uno with some gap year girls from England, Holland and Belgium (they couldn´t believe it when i finally admitted my age!). Before I forget, I also did some impromptu surgery on Amy´s fingernail which was in a bad way. Apparently she´d been bitten by a goat back in Norfolk the day before her trip. The next day we did sand-buggying and some more sandboarding. The sand-buggying was like a rollercoaster ride without rails, and the evening spent drinking Pisco sour the local cocktail!

Well you can have enough of a good thing, so the next day, having heard from Lukas that he was going to be in Huaraz I headed on north, after a brief trip round the Ica Museum. There they had lots of indigenous pottery (usually yawn yawn, but actually this stuff was quite contempary), rugs (most of which had been stolen in 2004 and currently feature 5th on Interpols most wanted stolen pieces of art!), and a slightly disturbing collection of well preserved mummies and elongated (was it fashion or to look more like the aliens that were visiting them) and punctured (to relieve pressure) human skulls. Then on to the bus station for Lima, via a Tuktuk stuffed with all 5 of us, and a farewell to the girls who were heading south.

I´d heard lots of bad things about Lima before arrival, so was somewhat trepiditious about arriving at dusk without a ticket out. I´d also heard there are a lot of rogue taxi drivers, so I was happy to find my driver was 60+ - surely I could defend myself there if it came to it. As it would happen (of course) I didn´t need to. He turned out to be quite helpful, depositing me at the terminal for buses to Huaraz (a very dodgy area of town, most of the shops had bars to let you in once they´re satisfied you won´t rob them!). Unfortunately all the decent companies seemed to be booked up so I went economico with ´Empresa 14´. But they were fine. Must remember to take aboard my sleeping bag the next time though as it got very cold in the night.

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