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Published: January 24th 2016
A literal oasis in the middle of the desert.
I have never seen an oasis before. Can you imagine; a lagoon sustaining loads of life in the middle of a desert? With nothing but sand all around it? This was something I had to see, another first to tick off the list.
We were on another overnight bus from Arequipa to Ica, courtesy of Cruz del Sur again. In previous overnight bus rides I have ended up almost freezing to death, so I made sure I wore trousers and a jacket this time. I even felt smug looking at the other gringos
on the bus wearing nothing but flip-flops, shorts and singlets.
The smile was wiped off my face about one movie (The Fantastic Four - distinctly average) into the journey. I was boiling. I perhaps should have dressed a bit lighter.
Oases normally sustain wildlife - things like birds, mangroves and fish. Huacachina was also sustaining something else; tourism and the locals who live off it. After a hard slog up one of the surrounding sand dunes, it was quite a sight to see - this lake surrounded by promenade of bars, cafes, restaurants, hotels and palm trees, in the middle of the highest and steepest sand
About to go over the edge on my sandboard.
dunes I have ever seen. I've never seen anything quite like it.
Which is why, like a lot of things, there are a lot of tourists - they probably outnumber the locals - and local holidaymakers from Ica, just a 15-minute taxi ride away.
For a place bristling with tourists however, there isn't a great deal to do.
Our hotel had a pool and there is also the main lagoon - and the hot weather required us to make use of both. Both however, were decidedly filthy, and even though I had yet to cool down from my hot bus ride, there was no way I was going for a swim in either.
So for two days we basically did nothing but chill out. We enjoyed some beers on the promenade on our first night before going back to our hotel room for a quick siesta - a nap form which we would only awake from at about midnight, thanks to the alarm on my phone deciding that it couldn't be bothered to go off.
Late in the afternoon on our second day however, we did the one thing that there is to do here - a dune buggy
The lagoon that brings life and tourism to the middle of the desert.
and sandboarding tour!
This wasn't to be the first time I had done dune-buggying - that was in Dubai
. This time however, I was hoping that we'd be given a bit more of a licence to play around a bit with our dune buggies.
It wasn't to be unfortunately - we weren't even going to drive the buggies ourselves this time. Instead, we would all be strapped into a large buggy resembling a safari jeep
and would be taken for a wild ride on the dunes.
Not knowing what dune buggying was (one of many things Merian learned while travelling with me) Merian did a bit of reading and came across a description of it as being "like a rollercoaster". Well, the description wasn't far off - it certainly was thrilling as our buggy hooned over the top of some of the said steepest-ever-dunes-I-have-seen to the point where I swear we were literally plummeting head first down a mountain of sand. It was great fun though - judging by the screams of the American girls who were also in our buggy, they thought so too.
Once the dune buggying was done, it was time to try sandboarding.
Our rollercoaster ride.
relatively accomplished snowboarder, I was really looking forward to doing it and comparing the activity to it's snow-based counterpart. It was something that I missed out on doing in San Pedro
, so I was looking forward to making up for it here.
Whereas you were actually given snowboards in San Pedro, it was tempting to question whether these custom-made, glorified, wheel-less skateboards with velcro bindings were actually fit for purpose. If you were a complete beginner however, it didn't matter - like the majority of people, you could just go down head first on your stomach. You got to hit some serious speeds this way though.
You were also apparently given proper lessons in San Pedro. In Huacachina however, as soon as I had strapped myself in, our driver simply told me to "go". Lonely Planet tells you that snowboarders will be disappointed by sandboarding and they weren't wrong. It is slower, and it is harder to turn because cutting into the sand causes it to collapse and your board can't hold its line. I am also admittedly a little speed-averse and we were going down some seriously steep dunes, so I had a natural tendency to brake and control myself,
Sandboarding Down The Dune
Making my way down the dune!
resulting in me pretty much "snowflaking" my way down the dune. By the time we got to our last two dunes, I decided to scrap going down on my feet and decided to go down on my stomach. It was a lot more fun this way.
Unlike snow, sand doesn't melt and it doesn't wet your clothes. But it gets in everywhere, including places I didn't know sand could go. You have to wash quite a lot of it out of your ears too. A whole lot of it also ended up in my pocket camera. This camera has broken down before due to sand clogging the lens, and so it happened again here. Which was really inopportune, as the last thing we did on the tour was to take pictures of Huacachina from an amazing viewpoint. Lucky the Korean couple on our buggy were kind enough to take some for me on their camera for me to download later. Sadly for my camera, it looks like this sand-induced malfunction might be terminal.
Luckily it is only my back-up camera - but should anything happen to my DSLR or my phone, I will be sweating a bit!
Rather charming and pleasant promenade that circles the lagoon.
shower to rid ourselves of all the sand we had picked up, we decided to treat ourselves and had a fancy dinner in the fanciest looking restaurant in town, overlooking the lagoon.
Apart from the criolla
soup I had - which was a little spicy, had milk or cream in it and was really nice - the food unfortunately didn't live up to its setting. The local Peruvian wine was also disappointing.
But we should be able to make up for it in Lima, which is reputed for its gastronomy scene and is our next destination. I was glad to be leaving Huacachina to be honest - it's cool to see but there really isn't much to do. I'm looking forward to not having sand everywhere too!
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