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Escape from Huancayo

Ica, Peru


To be honest, last weekend was somewhat of a bender. It's not a Surprise that I can leave it to Paul Simon to put things into perspective for me. After this morning's shower I layed on the roof under the menacing Huancayo clouds, enjoying the sun that did make it to my pasty chest, reflecting on the weekend with Paul's wisdom echoing in my ears.

FRIDAY, MARCH 6
Harry, Jimmy, Clara the Yank, Louisa the Pom and I planned our own little getaway to Ica and Pisco for the weekend in an escape from Huancayo's reliably unreliable weather. After an overnight bus we arrived in Lima at the crack of dawn with Jimmy keen on swimming in the ocean for our first time on this trip. He only lives two hits of a 3 wood away from the ocean in Southern Australia. This has had to have be withdrawl for him.

Our taxi dropped us off at beach by a group of twenty odd morning runners stretching. We dropped our pants in the morning haze and ran for the ocean. The sand in my drawers was well worth the refreshing dip before we hopped on another bus to Ica.

Ica is only city of a hundred thousand, yet was still busselling more than Edmonton after a playoff game. We had no idea when we planned our lil getaway, but we arrived on the first day of a two week festival celebrating the start of the grape harvesting season - which is quite a big deal here because Ica is the pisco capital of Peru, even moreso than the city of Pisco itself. I'm sad to say we never participated in the official ceremonies, which included cockfights and pisco making.

Instead, we were staying in a small tourist village/hamlet/resort called Huacachina just outside of town, so picked up presips and TP before heading to our hostel. It turns out Huacachina is an oasis. Not figuratively, but literally. In the middle of sand mountains, there is this smelly lagoon surrounded by lush trees, hostels, dunebuggies and heaps of foreign and local tourists. We quickly ditched our bags and rented some sandboards to hit the slopes. With each step up I slid a half step down making the small treck decievingly long, but well worth it. I reached the peak of the giant sand hill just as the sun set behind the Tatooine-esque horizon (that's a Star Wars reference for those of you claiming not to be nerds). Sliding down was a tease, as sandboarding is much harder to turn than snowboarding, so you're better off just going straight to catch some speed. Unfortunately that makes the climbing to boarding ratio much larger than desired, which in turn makes renting dune buggies much more appealing.

The night out turned out to be a bust for me. Jimmy got sick and I took him back home while everyone partied in Ica. So after he was naked on his bed I ventured to the hostel's bar by the pool and hammocks to chat with whoever I could find. The yankees I met bragged about how much they knew about Canada. I bragged about the new slang I learned. I said that Aussies, and now I, call them sepos. It's short for septic tanks or yanks. I'm glad they laughed. The Columbian I met made it worth staying in as she told me her favourate places to go in Columbia and invited me on a hike in April.

SATURDAY, MARCH 7
We rented a buggy, but unfortunately weren't allowed to drive it. Prolly for the best though. The dunes ran on as far as we could see to the east, with Ica and Huacachina far off in the west. The guide said we would board faster on our stomaches, which was true, but that didn't satisfy ol' Ryan. Standing up offered much more of a thrill. Unfortunately, it also offered a greater chance of catching an edge, which resulted in a full front flip and landing on smack on my back. The pain is still splitting from that one.

After washing off the sand in the lagoon and then the smelly lagoon water in the hostel pool, we headed to the town of Pisco, where we were to catch a tour of the Islas Ballestas (aka "Poor Man's Galapagos Islands") early the next morning. The hostel was family run with an incredibly hospitable son, Julio, and a daughter whose smile will make you blush. It's too bad she had a crush on one of her brother's friends. Potential wife, I tell ya! They were getting ready to party in Ica, so we shared our 2-6 of pisco with them and their pilot friends. They invited us to come along, but warned us they would only get back at 6am and we had to leave at 7am for Islas Ballestas. No problem. Turned out to be an epic night. On the way home we dropped off the pilots at the airforce base.

SUNDAY, MARCH 8
It turns out Julio is right, the perfect cure for a hangover is coffee. One cup a joe and a 2 hour boat ride is nothing! From the boat we saw shore birds, pelicans, vultures and sealions. I didn't get shit on and slept on the way back to shore. Perhaps that excursion would have impacted me more under different circumstances. ...or if I wasn't a sardine jammed in a boat of touristas.

Later that day we stopped off at the small surf town of Cerro Azul. The rest of our crew went to the beach after lunch, but I opted for a nap. Best nap of my life! Harry and Jimmy couldn't wake me by banging on the door, so they crawled the ledge between the girls room and ours. After dark Harry, Louisa and I headed to the central plaza for a BBQ dinner from a street vender. I tried cow heart. Not bad. The large moon offered plenty of light for a walk on the beach before I retired again for another incredible sleep.

We caught the bus back on the side of the highway between the dusty town of Cerro Azul and the sand mountains. All said and done, it was an exhaustingly good weekend.

permalink written by  ryanmyers on March 10, 2009 from Ica, Peru
from the travel blog: Ryan's First Sabbatical
tagged Sandboarding, Lima, Ica, Huacachina, Pisco, CerroAzul and IslasBallestas

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Sealions and Sandboarding

Huacachina, Peru


The Ballestas Islands were extremely impressive in spite of the grey foggy day which seemed set to ruin any hope of us seeing anything. After a short speedboat ride, skimming through the mist along soft silver waves, a series of islands began to emerge. As we got closer we could see that they were carpeted with millions of sea birds, who also filled the sky with amazing endless formations. The pelicans were huge with strange voices and clapping beaks and tiny Humbolt penguins hopped and clambered up the rocks. Gangs of squabbling sealions hung out under archways cut into rockfaces and our driver drove us within meters of everything. The squawks of the birds filled our ears and the the islands were topped with a generous white layer of "guano", which was pungent to say the least. We were told that every year this would be collected and exported as fertilizer. And I thought admin work was bad.

We spent the afternoon being shown around the National Park which was, rather strangely, a desert on the coast. In spite of some beautiful cliffs, this was a bit of a disappointment. By the end of the tour it had become a comedy sketch - the guide taking us from one barren expanse of sand to another and struggling to rouse anything close to interest from even the most dedicated members of the group. Typically the museum was in ruins - another victim, we were told, of the earthquake two years ago. It was shocking to see how little the area had recovered, even in it´s prime tourist spots. The final anticlimax was flamingos - or at least that is what we were assured they were. They were so far away they could easily have been grizzly bears for all I knew, nevertheless we amused ourselves by feigning enthusiasm with other members of the tour.

The next part of our journey took us further South into this desert region. Soon the gentle plains became huge mountainous dunes and we arrived in Ica just as the sun disappeared behind the largest of them. It was a spectacular but also slightly disconcerting site - we were here for the sandboarding and I had no idea the dunes would be so imposing. With this in mind we got some boards the next morning (and a tutor who seemed to just want someone to hang out with) and made our way to one of the smaller dunes to practice falling over and see if we could master the art of minimalising oral sand intake. We had signed up for a dune buggy ride and sandboarding later that afternoon and the idea was that we would do all this in private before we started making fools of ourselves in larger groups.

In fact it was fairly simple to stay up while flying down a sandy slope and although neither of us were able to turn, slow down or have any real control over where we were going, by the time the afternoon came we were confidently surfing down with the best of them.The slopes became increasingly large until we were basically sliding down a mountain of sand from top to bottom in a matter of seconds. We lay on our fronts and used our legs to steer or slow down (although no-one seemed to be interested in either) and shot off at ridiculous speeds, screaming into the distance and shrinking to specks as we reached the bottom.

We were driven around the dunes in a dune buggy and although I hadn´t anticipated this part of the experience to be of any great significance, it turned out to be the highlight. Because we had chosen a later excursion the sun had started setting as we were sandboarding and now, as we hurtled around the dunes, the low orange sun cast beautiful shadows across the immense landscape and we could see the lights of the towns which sit comfily nestled in between the dunes. These tranquil images, particularly that of the palm fringed oasis of Huacachina, were juxtaposed wonderfully with the manic roar of the dune buggy which bounced and skidded as it flew up and down the dunes. It was like being on a really fast, really dangerous rollercoaster - which is, I assure you, a good thing, particularly when you make it safely home to the hostel.

The near death experiences continued into the night - an earthquake disturbing the peace of early morning. True to form, I paid it no attention whatsoever. I was only interested in resting up for some more sandboarding and when I finally woke we rented two snowboards - a progressive step as these are larger, faster and have better control than the wooden boards they give you otherwise. We spent the afternoon climbing up the larger dunes and coasting down again. Josh tired quickly - which I suggested was surely a sign that he should stop getting up early - but I could not stop, I pushed myself to go higher and higher. I was completely addicted.

A sandboarding joke was doing the rounds which I liked because you can pretty much apply it to any sport or hobby. It goes:

What is the hardest part of sandboarding?
Telling your parents your gay.

If I was being pedantic I would point out that actually the hardest part is trudging up the steep sand slopes in the baking hot sun - as much as we enjoyed going down the dunes, summoning the energy to climb them was proving difficult and eventually I had exhausted even my deepest reserves. After two days we were bruised and aching for a new setting.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on June 17, 2009 from Huacachina, Peru
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Desert, Dunes, Sandboarding, Earthquake, Birds, Penguins and SealionsAndPelicans

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