Days: 292 & 293 (13 April 2015)
Total distance travelled: 56,902.7 kilometres (35,343.29 miles)
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the deserts I imagined in my youth.
From watching movies or reading Biggles books that took me to far flung places, I’ve never really experienced a hot sandy desert like they display in brochure pictures.
That’s why a trip to the oasis town of Huacachina always felt like a good idea.
We paid more than we otherwise would have to get here, opting for the convenience of a shuttle run between Paracas and this little desert oasis, ahead of our more usual local transport options.
Arriving to a hot mid-afternoon, we wandered a short stretch of the town before finding us a dorm, then completed our town circuit before finding somewhere to feed our hungry bellies.
Originally established as a retreat for Peru’s wealthy elite, the cliental has evolved somewhat over the intervening years, and although small signs of former grandeur remain, the visitors these days are well and truly, in the whole, of the backpacker ilk.
Not surprisingly the options available to us were decidedly gringo in nature, but in a place like this, we simply opted to make the best of it. In fact, we found ourselves enjoying whole heartedly the fare that was dished up as we dined on the shores of the greenish, brownish pool that is in fact the life of the oasis.
It would have been a most lovely, tranquil setting, but for the serenity breaking roar of V8 engines every four or five minutes.
Unfortunately for the fragile eco-system that are the gargantuan sand dunes that surround this little pocket of activity, the adventures of many are not solely confined to the town.
Like the volcano boarders of Nicaragua (near the city of Leon), Huacachina also attracts the thrill-seekers.
Some come to sandboard through this beautiful landscape (not ideal, but not as destructive for the environment), whilst even more come to saddle up on board a powerful dune-buggy and soak up the fumes as though they’re part of the latest ‘Mad Max’ instalment as they roar across this desert expanse, climbing up and over the sometimes slippery slopes of the sand dunes themselves (horrible for both the sand dunes and the environment).
It was a token objection, but they were activities that we opted to abstain from participating in…
Having wandered the town, truthfully there really is little to do here, so our next plan was simply to hang out until late afternoon, before making an ascent of the dunes for what we hoped would be a spectacular sunset.
We contemplated hauling a few beers up the sandy slopes with us, however from the base looking up, the climb looked steep indeed.
It raised doubts as to how cold they might remain, so we thought better of it and began our climb.
Initial predictions had us expecting a half an hour climb at least, but surprise surprise, a mere fifteen minutes later, we sat atop the highest of the dunes, not so secretly wishing we’d brought those beers along!
Several minutes atop our perch however and we thought better of those beers, with the trash of countless climbers past surrounding us, and even more fluttering up from the town whilst we sat.
It was a surefire way to make an otherwise beautiful spot, horrible.
What this vantage point did show us, was how small Huacachina was down below, as well as how close we actually sat to the larger town of Ica nearby.
Sure, we could see mountains in the distance in one direction and a seemingly endless sea of sand dunes in another, but not so distant to this place (that truly felt like a desert oasis) was a large, bustling town.
We shared our dune with a Japanese photographer, his high end gear and tripod ready to catch the setting sun just as readily as us with our point and shoot camera and Go-Pro.
It was lovely, but again, could have been lovelier, if we could we remove the fluttering trash as it flew by, and had we been able to silence the ever present roar of the dune buggies as they took another load of thrill-seekers out to torment the dunes.
For many minutes, we watched the slow ascent of a sand-boarder, at first we’d assumed to be a female, until upon closer inspection it proved a very topless male with a long ponytail.
He too we thought had climbed for the setting sun, but after sharing with his lungs a large spliff (joint), a large draw of actual breath, he was off, cruising down this high dune and racing back towards town.
Obviously experienced, we worried about his approach to town, as the sand quickly gives way to rough, dangerous ground, but this he seemed to know, aborting has ascent just before the terrain became too dangerous.
It was pretty cool to watch.
Still, we think he’d abandoned these heights just a little prematurely.
The shadows were by now already long, but the sky had begun to bathe is in a ruddy glow as the sun made what seemed now a pretty rapid descent.
Pictures never do the scene complete justice, but for us it was a beautiful place to be, and the highlight of our Huacachina experience.
I’ll bet our friend beside us, with his top gear got some pretty impressive shots indeed.
As the skies slowly darkened, a fire sprang up closer to what we assumed was a suburb of Ica, adding a nice touch to the ambience.
That is until I looked a little closer and realised that rather than an evening cooking fire, these flames were in fact a pile of trash, full of plastics and releasing toxins that would likely like to kill us.
It was a little more sobering after that.
Still, the view was nice…
We dined at the same place we’d eaten lunch (their menu had some decent, delicious sunding selections), sipped on the cold beer we’d missed on the dunes, then early the following morning we were gone.
Huacachina was beautiful, but it didn’t hold much more for us.
At least not until we have a change of heart and want to trash some of those lovely sand dunes…
* Our direct shuttle (Gringo shuttle) from Paracas to Huacachina cost us $20.00 Soles per person.