Thursday, August 25, 2005

Huacachina & Pisco: Sandboarding and animal excursion in the south coast of Peru

A buggy and sandboards in Huacashina`s dune field


Crossing the Andes on a 15 hour bus ride through the black night, we came to grey Hucachina, a tranquil Peruvian oasis setteled among huge sand dunes, which boats the best Sandboarding attraction in all . Planning to stay only one night, we found ourselves at the end so layed back by the warm sun and the surfing that we left only after five days, wishing we could take the sun with us up north to Pisco, our next destination. Pisco, and Island Ballestas, welcomed us with a greyish atmosphere, but nonetheless, I have enjoyed the animals and the unique scenery.

Curving our way to the coast
Amazingly, and even unbelievably, we finally dropped our muchillas at Trieste bus station in Cusco . After a month and a week, we finally found no other reason to stay in Cusco . Shay was a bit sad to leave the city, but even so, more prepared for some sunshine and warmth, as we heard from other travellers coming from the coastal town of Huacachina . Huacachina. Already in Arequipa, when me, Chris and Lee were waiting for the flight from Arequipa to Cusco , even then we talked about the place, waiting for some surfing action and a bit of sunshine. At the end, Chris was at that time in while we boarded the bus to Hucachina, but after he will talk with us (or read this blog), I know he will find his own way to enjoy this little piece of heaven.
Before we even bought the ticket, this bus ride was already notorious among many travellers as one of the worst rides you can experience in . We came prepared for vomiting and intensive dizziness, and even Shay thought about postponing his ticket due to a stomach ache he had 12 hour before the departure. In retrospect, Shay had the best ride among us three. It can not go Murphying more than that…
At first the bus rode the good asphalt road through villages, keeping a west bearing toward the orange painted mountains and the big sun going down. Getting darker, the road went up through the slopes of the Andes ridge, curving it. At first I didn't even noticed it, and read my book in pleasure, till I felt my head going dizzy. I raised my head only to see the bus going from right to left and back every ten seconds (and sometimes even faster). I put my book down and tried to focus my eyes on the dim lit road in front of us, to insure that I will maintain a reasonable level of dizziness, and I was successful, more or less. Lee was not affected by this curving and Shay was into his third dream. The curves were sometimes 180 degrees to one side and immidiatley adterwards, 180 degrees to the other side. When the bus goes 60 km/h curving down and up, right and left, you might feel a "bit" dizzy. On our way across the Andes, we saw fire on the top of ridges in distance, a special scene to see in the middle of the night, in the middle of the Andes . Around that time I was starting to doze off, but as I was entering the blackness of my conscious, the dizziness came back and woke me up. I was dozing like this for an hour or so till we finally arrived to Abancay, a town in the middle of the Andes . At that time Lee told me that the couple that sat a seat in front of us were throwing up all the way, alternating between themselves. Poor Lee, she was afraid they gonna spray her with their digestive juices, but fortunately, they kept their head way beyond the window line. Good thing my audiphones were on my ears…After Abancay, the road straighten a bit, and finally I found some hours of sleep, only to wake in rural villages on the way, when locals boarded and went down the bus. Around 6 am, when the sun rays came through our window, I had a déjà vu. Flat desert spread on both sides of the road, and the sun came from behind us painting the skies with gradient of colors from deep blue to yellow and orange, just to meet with the khaki color of the desert sand. Similarly to the ride from Santiago to San pedro de atacama in (which is another desert along the pacific coast). The light became stronger and stronger, and we the bus started to curve again. Although seeing the whole scenery, the dizziness came back and I skipped the idea of continuing reading my book. Not sleeping for almost the whole night, me and Lee just sat there and tried to enjoy the scenery (Lee maybe didn't suffer from the dizziness, but her seat made her back feel as stiff as cold steel). Shay kept on sleeping in the same position (and I have a photographed proof for that!).

Huacachina days - can it get any better than that??
Finally, around 8:30 am, we came to greyish Ica, lying among the Gaura, a thick mist that covers the southern length of the Peruvian coast, from Nazca up north to Lima . A very-very depressing phenomenon, I must add. Tired, we didn't have to hail for a taxi, as a driver was already offering us a ride to Hucachina, even before we took our backpacks from the bus compartments. On the way, between one huge sand dune to another, he babbled on and on about this hostel or that, from time to time practiced his Hebrew on us, and finally dropped us at the Casa De Reyna, a well known joint among the Israeli travelling community. This hostel was setteled on the verge of a 200 meters dune, going steeply up into the sky. From the hostel's courtyard one could see the daring surfers, going down the steep sand, trying to maintain some balance. While we tried to understand where we were, another girl started to talk with us, and quickly the four of us sat down to have breakfast beside the swimming pool and try to absorb as much sun as we can at that time of day. Rotem, 22, just came from Cusco also and was looking for some action too. We talked about going up that dune and surfing down later on. Meanwhile the coastal fog dispersed and the sun came on us strong and warm. We quickly changed to bathing suits and lyed on the bathing sofas, like a sacrifice to the holy sun. Late in the afternoon we hired sunboards and started to go up the dune. Started is an exact term, as we all stopped after 50 meters or so, puffing heavily, thinking about maybe sliding down only from the place we stand. The sand, even when stomped several times an hour, was still soft and each step pulled the foot backwards and made the whole thing a not easy and fun event. We strapped our feet to the sandboard and came down, not too fast, as the boards were in bad condition, and sand came in between the seam of the wood and the broken Formica covering. Even so, we managed to roll all over our selves, Lee dpoing a summersault twice in the air and landing heavily on the soft sand. Out of the cloud of sand, one could see her smiling face, full of greyish grains. As we saw it was too hard to climb that dune, we decided we gonna join the next day`s tour with the Buggy car.

The evening passed coolly, enjoying the cool air, and playing SHIT-HEAD in the room till late on night. The next day we woke up into a sunny skies and warm atmosphere. Again, we stripped to our bathing suits and soaked up the sun, only thinking about what we are gonna have for lunch. Around 16:00 we paid for the tour, and with a taxi, we were taken to the outskirts of Huacachina, which were on the other side of the huge dune. There, among adobe-like houses, were hidden four 10 something-seater buggies. We climbed on a 16-seater, a huge red caged monster, and strapped ourselves to the seat. Once the sandboards were mounted on the rear basket, and everyone were seated, the 50 year old driver (I presume) backed up quicly, and with a mighty engine roar, he sped the dirt road straight into the dune field, a mere 500 meter away.
At first I was sure they gonna take us to a dune, and we gonna surf down and they will pick us up to the top to do it again. WELL, that was not exactly the whole deal…
We quickly went up a small dune, and then the driver did a 180 turn and drove back on the dune sand till the other buggy passed us, and THEN, only then, the fun began!
Lets say, that those 2 hours were one of the best things I had done that last month (including the Superman, BTW). The Buggies sped over the sand dunes over 70 km/h, crossing one another, going up huge dune sands and then speeding even more once they crossed the dune knife, going down a steep gorge, while all of us were roaring and yahooing with joy and fright. It was an amazing roller coaster ride, with the soft afternoon sunshine painting all in warm orange and the wind blows our ears and hair. Such a feeling of freedom I don't remember for so long time! The playful-like driving, with each buggy passing each other in a race-like manner, everyone shouting and getting all out of their mind, we came to the first dune, the practice dune. Practice, as it was "only" a 10 meter steep slope. The driver pulled out a wax paste and smeared each sandboard. That was the first time I really went fast down a dune, and it was so much FUN!!! It was so fast, I had to almost sit down on my back leg, my right hand scratching the virgin dune so I could slow down the going down. Getting down, I shook the sand out of the board and went for another one. I have surfed down this dune 4 more times till I decided that it is time to take some pictures of the place and of Shay and Lee.
After half an hour, we climbed the buggy, and the roller coaster continued. This time I took out my precious camera, and tried to take shots of the other buggy, and also of the scene on the ride. Yea, dumb ass, but what can I do - the passion never cesses, even when driving in a metal cage, bouncing up and down dunes, and even when the lens gets a blow from the cage (or Shay gets a blow from the camera body smack on his head, the poor guy..). Eventually, me and the camera (and also Shay) came safely to the second dune, a bigger one, with an even steeper slope. Going down there was fun, even though I tumbled several times, finding my legs stranded to the board in an awkward position, the board jutting out of the sand in weird degrees. None of us actually came down that one in one shot: each one of us was thrown here and there, some times, loosing the grip of the board and the board flying and kissing the sand slope till it stopped at the bottom of the dune, leaving it`s master stranded mid height looking down with a stupid grin. This time the Buggy waited for us down the slope, and happy and joyful everybody would climb the buggy and head back for another run. After several runs like this we continued with the fun ride, now the air much cooler and the wind whips and flung our hair in all direction. We rode for couple of minutes till we came to another dune peak. Take it easy and slowly, instructed our driver, smiling and taking out the wax. It is very fast, so watch out not to break anything, yes? He continued while pouring and smearing the wax over the Formica. We went to the edge and took a look: it was impossible to see the end of the slope, but it was obvious that it is as steep as it is was high. Very high! Without thinking too much, I stranded my legs to the board and with a sync, me and Lee started going down. No sooner than we started, and I already zoomed down past Lee in accelerating speed, gripping the sand so I could slow down, but of course, it was for nothing. Me and the board flew the sands going down a 200 meter slope that only then I saw the length of it. At those moments, I understanded, it is very important to maintain the same balance, especially if you don't have any qualification with doing turns and zig-zagging with the board (as I was). Well, it is hard, especially when going down with increasing speed and not being able to slow down. I tried to do a minute manuever but lost control and did a summersault and a half, banging my head smack into the sand and doing some rolling till I stopped. I had to clean my face before I ventured on, not passing more than 10 meters before I lost it gain and lay flat on my back. I arrived down to the base of the dune, just to look up and see what a great dune it is. None made it down on both of his feet in one shot. We climbed the Buggy and raced to see the sunsets in the west, among distant dune peaks. Amazing!
As a final act of fun, we raced back to Huacachina, to the grand sand dune that boarders our hostel. While getting down and reaching for the sandboards, Lee noticed that her nylon bag was missing and when the sun already set behind the obscuring dunes, it was getting darker by the seconds. We talked with the driver that we gonna look for the bag, when the second buggy came and the driver was taking out a white nylon bag. Lee was relieved to find the bag, and I offered her I would take her bag and tie it to my pouch I carried with me, as we had to take with us all our stuff and go down the dune straight to the hostel. Well, lets say that the bag didn't came down as planned.
This dune is a major one, high and steep, and I even didn't waxed my board, as it was clear that going down here is going to be VERY fast (and I actually have brakes problem, so wax was the last thing on my mind). We again set out together, Lee, Shay and me. Again, I gathered speed quickly, tried to divert by a bit and was thrown all over the place, rolling so much, that when I stopped finally, I saw the world spinning around. Waiting for my senses to come back to normal, I shot my look back to the top of the dune, to see how Lee and Shay are doing. Then, I noticed that there are several objects strewn in a ten meter line from me and up the dune. Looking down I was surprised to see the nylon bag ripped to pieces, and nothing inside. DAMN! All Lee`s stuff were spread all over the place! Going up was not an option, as the sand was soft and the slope steep. So, after notifying Lee about her stuff, she surfed down very slowly and retrieved all her stuff but her camera, which was down below me and was retrieved by myself a minute later. Going down, happy that I didn't lost anything for Lee, we went back to the hostel to wash our self of all the sand.

Pisco & The Ballestas Island
We planned to stay another day in Huacachina and then leave the next day to Pisco, for the Ballestas Island tour. At the same day we planned to go north, Rotem planned to see the Nazca lines and be back before sun down so we all could ride together. Only, that the sun went down and the kid was not coming back from her tour. Finally, around 6 PM she came, so we had to postpone our stay by another day so we wont look for an hostel at dark. The next day passed quite lazily and around 4 PM we took our stuff and headed for Pisco, for the famous Ballestas Island tour.
Even though it is fondly described as the "Galapagos for the poor", this Island can not be even compared to the Ecuadorian Island group and to the unique animals living in that area. Many people are quite disappointed from this tour, especially due to the greyish fog that hangs around Pisco all day long and the nearby water line. Some are also disappointed from the amount and diversity of the animals seen on the tour. As I heard so many suggestions to skip it, I decided that I will go with minimum expectations.
Arriving at Pisco, a guy was waiting for us from the hostel we reserved a place in, and he led us the way to Madrid Hostel.
The next day we, Shay, Rotem and Me, boarded the crappy tourist bus around 7:30 am and headed for the Paracas national park, which is several km south-east of the Island. Most tours utilized a fast and compact speed boat that literally flew over the waters in amazing speed, but our tour operator had a 45 foot boat with a yellow tarp pulled over the simple but functional white benches. Ten minutes after we climbed the boat, we headed west along the north side of the Paracas peninsula, hearing the guide speaking in English and Spanish about history and culture, which at that time of day, didn't interested me too much. Soon we stopped by the huge Candelabrum, which is controversially associated with the famous Nazca hieroglyphics. It is an amazing carving into the rock, seen from a far and which stretches across the whole hill. Once we took our pictures, we continued with a course due north-west toward the Ballestas Island . On the way, lots of marine birds (mainly cormorants) flew in flocks very low over the calm waters, touching-not touching the water surface. Amazingly, from a certain point (some where in middle way), the flocks just kept on flying low and around the boat, with sea lions jumping out of the water near the boat.
On our way, suddenly, the guide told us there is an Albatross in the vicinity, and I was curious as how come the Albatross stayed in one spot for so much time. As we approached , we saw around three speed boats circling a point in the water, tourist flashing their cameras and taking pictures of something in the waters. When we had some sight of the bird, we saw a grey bird, sitting there in the grey waters, all surrounded by circulating speed boats, like vultures around a carcase in the deep Sahara . The Albatross was somehow trapped by an unseen underwater thing (fishing net?) and was constantly trying to escape the grasp of that underwater thing. As I acted similarly to the 40 tourists in that 100 square meter patch of water (taking picture), I could not have escaped the feeling of compassion for that bird, flapping desperately her grand wings but even so, helpless as ever. I had the urge to jump and release the poor thing, but the combination of cold water, cold weather and the fact that I am not sure anybody will wait for me, I gave up and just sad-looked at the bird as the captain sped from the area, leaving behind three speed boats, tourists and one Albatross.
Upon approaching the Island , we noticed numerous marine birds but also several penguins and numerous seagulls. Quickly I headed for the front of the boat, and the captain of the boat addressed me in Spanish whenever there was something to see (and there was!). Soon, we came to a family of sea lion trying to soak little sunrays, all looking sleepy and indifferent to our presence, as one would expect. We cruised around them for a couple of minutes, and then sped to other sites of attraction, looking at sea gulls, cormorants, and sea lions. On our way back , we passed a huge colony of Sea lions, making sound and rushing to sea to meet our boat. It was a great moment, seeing their playful spark in their eyes and behaviour. Five minutes later, we were already on our way back to shore. Four hours later, Rotem left for Ica , for her work there.
We stayed another day in this small and grey town, which was covered with fog all day long, which didn't made us too happy. What made us happy was a Chinese restaurant, which we ate there for lunch and dinner…
The next day, we pack our Muchilas and headed for the bus station for our next destination: Lima and Huaraz.

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