Huacachina, washing away to much dune sand with too sweet a wine.....

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South America » Peru » Ica » Huacachina
June 21st 2007
Published: August 8th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

Huacachina was one of those places in Peru which is not top of the tourist list, but the closer you get to it, the more people end up talking about it, and eventually you end up spending FAR much more time there then you'd ever have thought!

Simple reason. From Lima south most seems a desert. Most cities have a Plaza de Armas, some churches and maybe, if they're big or old enough a cathedral and some colonial buildings. The rest is a rag-tag of unfinished and unattractive buildings, not made any more atractive by the average peruvian's inability to find garbage bins! So in most cases you tend to move onwards, and fast too.

Ica, the place were we jumped of the bus (from Pisco) wasn't much better looking. The short taxi ride to Huacachina was painless, a bit longer than expected, but the lagoon soon appears when you come zipping down the dune and around the lagoon!

To keep it very short, it's the sort of place that looks just like the postcard! And that's what we tourists like. Even more, it is actually reasonably quiet, by any standard. Depending on the place you stay of course, as some hostels can be party/disco havens, and others just have a certain kind of unconsiderate tourist staying in it (our second place) who tend to whisper at the top of their voices, preferably at 2.30am when they close the bar and they've run out of pot to smoke!

So, we stayed at the Hosteria Suiza for the first 2 nights. Main reason was to get out of the taxi, and have a few quiet nights first. Quiet it was, but also pricy, and the beds were Indian style (i.e. very hard). The second place, Carola's, right next to it, had a bit better beds, was half price, came with monkeys and turtles attached (to trees), but as said, too many inconsiderate pr!cks in it. So we did move again, to la Huacachina, and needless to say, we should've gone earlier. Almost new, with good beds, quiet (apart from the geese, the parrots, and the roosters, but at least that's nature). The only thing missing were double bed, as they were taken.... if only we'd known earlier.....

The food in Huaca was a bit of a gamble. One of us got a bit sick, the other very very sick indeed. The hard bed in the Suiza didn't help in the recovery process. We did have a few nice meals, but it took a while to work things out, and there are obviously no supermarkets in this here oasis.

Dune buggy madness
Ah yes, we'd been warmly recommended by many people to jump on anyone of the many dune buggies here. They come in all sorts of sizes and bright colours. Most seem to have been welded around a very big, old, and underpowered amarican built engine. Most of this welding seems to have been done around the back of the house, next to where they cut and bend their sandboards.

Anyways, we did jump in (at the Carola actually, and we've been told they've had a few "incidents" since our trip), and held on very tightly. Well, I hardly managed to get the seatbelts over me, but that would come in handy later (being squeezed in my seat). Our guide was a man of few words, and a heavy right foot, of course. Raced up a sand dune, pulled the handbrake, threw the sand boards out the back, and waved his hand in a manner of "off you go". Safety instructions a plenty here. So we went for the safe option, belly on board, down the dune. By that time one of my eyes was defunct anyway as a lens had slid away (sand dunes, not a good idea to wear lenses!), so my depth perception was gone anyway.

The awesome dunes were spectacular in every way possible. Bit of shame that we had to take the lovely scenery in to the soundtrek of roaring 6 and 8 cylinder engines, but nevertheless spectacular!

Of course you build up spirit and courage, so by our third stop, we were looking down a set of very likely the highest and steepest dunes! Made it down anyway, and by the third descent the wax had worn of, so speed was hard to gain here.

We also did the "sunset special", meaning (we thought) we'd get to see Huacachina Lagoon at sunset. None of that! Sun was going down alright, but so was the buggy! Up and down every bloody steep sand dune he could get his wheels on, and at quite crazy speeds as well. Rollercoaster comes to mind here, except we had no tracks or safety harnesses. Yes, that belt did come in handy now! I'm sure the driver's sunnies were darker than ours though, so a slight concern, in between clenching our jaws together, that he might not see every little hole in the dune sand.

No, we didn't stop to see the lagoon at sunset, somehow we didn't book on the scenic tour. But we were glad to get out in one piece, maybe with wobbly knees, but alive anyway. Only took 15 minutes then to find my lens underneath my eyelid..... but we're still finding sand everywhere, of course....

Wine, very sweet wine
experiences like this don't come along every day, so when they do come along, its a wonderful thing to be able to share the tale ....
we start the morning simply enough with a breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and pancakes sitting lagoon-side in Huacachina.
when complete, we meet our taxi driver for the day.
he guides us up the street and around the corner and delights in opening the back seat of a Deawoo Tico (old korean rip off of a Honda Jazz) ... so tiny that Rene chooses the front seat with the slim hope of some leg and head space.
unlike other vineyard tours we have done, there is no mini bus with a group of rowdy tourists looking for free samples, it's just Rene and I, looking to be educated in the ways of Pisco.
educated we were.
well at least by the third bodega (vineyard), but lets not skip ahead.
the first bodega is a pleasant enough experience. the lady speaks very smooth, calming and we feel like we are entering a story book tale.
she shows us where the grapes arrive from, how they are crushed, how they end up in the machine, how the grape juice gets cooked and then how vapour gets cooled and turned into pisco. it's all a matter of time in the vat. she explains to us that the process is all mechanical these days. the big wooden barrels are just for show, the wine and the pisco are now housed far more effiently.
she leads us to the tasting room.
it's here that we get to taste 3 glasses of the red wine. 1 sweet, the next sweeter, and the next a sort of local blend that the locals purchase directly from the bodega. it has no label.
we then move onto the pisco.
we are showed how to consume like a local and soon the 42% liquor is warming the cockles of something nd everything.
we purchase a bottle of the red that we like the best (rough selection) and onto the next experience.
the next bodega is a little different to the first.
here things are done the traditional way.
this means they get their feet dirty.
after a wander thru the vines, we arrive at an explanation very similar to the first ... except no machine.
here the grapes arrive and its festival time.
beauties from all over the continent contest to be crowned Pisco queen and then seem to take pleasure in stripping down to a swim suit (with appropriate sequins) and then proceed to dance in the trough with all the grapes.
smiles, music and laughter all round.
this is where the Pisco starts.
in the trough as many as 6 people dance and swash the grapes with their feet and the grapes are then moved into the next trough.
a big press that is made from a very old tree hangs over the next trough and it takes 2 very strong men to operate it.
it squezes the grapes further and then pushes the juice through to the next stage of the process.
here a solo hombre stands in the pure grape juice with a cloth acting as a filter to ensure that the parts of the grape that are not needed to make pisco don't make it to the next section.
finally the liquid is passed through and stored in clay pots until it is time to place in the cooker/cooler process.
the final drops of the wine or pisco are finally formed under the diligent watch of a crucifix with a skull and cross bones on it.
go figure.
after a terrific display of the historical photographs showing many trophies and other awards, we are ushered into the tasting room.
here our little guide seems happy to feed us strong pisco until we find something that we will purchase.
the batch is so bad, we settle on fruit juice ....
our third and final bodega of the day was my favourite.
it consisted of tasting via stuffed animals.
the owner is a descendant of Bolivar, a story not hard to believe given the dust and oddity of the artifacts on display here.
what i found most entertaining (and i was glad that we had been to 2 other bodegas and had had the opportunity to sample a touch of this and a touch of that ...) was the ecelectic collection of stuffed animals.
we walked in past a stuffed iguana.
we moved straight through to the back room, dominated by a stuffed turtle, tasted some pisco straight from the clay pot. technique has to be mentioned here, because even though it looked as if our guide had been consuming pisco on a regular basis that day, and for most of his life for that matter, he handled a slender bamboo stick with particular accuracy. the bamboo stick has a small cut out in the bottom, making it a perfect pouring stick.
and pour he did. this guy was generous. in fact, he seemed less interested in the bottled beverages at the front desk for sale and more interested in keeping us in the dusty museum, under the watchful eye of the stuffed animals sampling as much as we could.
so, after we sampled the stash the stuffed turtle was looking after, we moved onto the stuffed sealion section, then the caimen (little crocs) and by that time, i think we were both looking for a stuffed animal that might lead the way out.
finally we drank our way to the front door and struggled to find the bottle shop.
courtiously we bought a bottle of the liqour we could remember most .... the one that apparently makes you have twins....

Some more video links of our dune buggy extravaganza (there's one more at the very begging of this Blog entry):

Bit of a race with some other buggies

Other dune buggy dropping bye

Rene clearing some space

Bin coming down the dune

Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


And here is where the eventual Pisco drips out, after destilling it.And here is where the eventual Pisco drips out, after destilling it.
And here is where the eventual Pisco drips out, after destilling it.

Mind the cross above it, and the crossed bones and skulls on that cross (bottom).... the first 10 liters are actually toxic!
Our comfy tour mobile for the wine tour.Our comfy tour mobile for the wine tour.
Our comfy tour mobile for the wine tour.

This is actually an average Peruvian taxi!

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