Friday, October 22, 2010

Huacachina (Updated)

This weekend we went to Huacachina, an oasis in southwestern Peru known for its amazing sand dunes.To get there, we caught a bus from Lima at 2:30 am and arrived in Ica (a big city close to Huacachina) at about 7:30 am. After a 10 minute taxi ride, we were in Huacachina.

View from next to the lake

View from on top one of the sand dunes

The town was absolutely gorgeous. The center of the town is a natural lake, surrounded on all sides by massive sand dunes.

When we got there around 8 am, the town was absolutely silent. We spent a while walking around and checking out different places before we were able to get some breakfast (fresh maracuya juice and good coffee included!) and get a room for the night.

After asking around a little, we found a really cute place to buy our tours. The hostel was really laid back and welcoming with a huge courtyard filled with couches, chairs, and hammocks. We got dune buggy/sandboarding and vineyard tours there for only 50 soles, which was about 30 soles cheaper than everywhere else. And they even offered to let us take out the sandboards in advance to practice, since the tour wasn't until 4 pm.

So at about 11 am, we were out sandboarding! In the tours, a buggy takes you up the dunes each time. But since we were just practicing, we ended up climbing one of the dunes on the edge of town. Even though the dune wasn't very tall, the hike was difficult since the sand just kept sliding out from under my feet. At times, I felt like I was taking a bunch of steps but wasn't actually getting anywhere. But it was completely worth it. The sandboarding was so much fun! Instead of going down on my stomach, I decided to go straight to standing up. It was difficult and I ended up wiping out spectacularly a few times (one time, I did a head-over-heels somersault and smacked my head with my board). But when I got going, it was really fun. Turning is pretty impossible, so I just aimed the board straight down the hill and braked if I needed to. By the end, I was completely covered in sand.

Our hostel

Another photo of the hostel

After that, we spent a while relaxing by the pool at our hostel. Everything was so quiet and we couldn't see any other buildings around us, so it felt like we were the only people in Huacachina. It was so peaceful.

Then at 4 pm, we left for our dune buggy/sandboarding tour.

Out in the dunes

Getting ready to sandboard

Me sandboarding!

Me with the two other volunteers after sunset

It was so much fun! We spent a lot of time at first driving really quickly through the dunes, which was like a natural roller coaster. Then we spent a while doing sandboarding. On one of the runs, I went straight down without falling or anything! One of the people in our group was a snowboarder, so we went to some huge dunes after that. He went down standing up, but we all went down on our stomachs. The dunes were at about a 75 degree angle, but they looked and felt like they were vertical. For one of them, we couldn't even see the hill because it dropped off so quickly from the edge.

Sunset over the dunes. Look at the buggy on the side of the hill for scale.

Another shot of the sunset, about 30 seconds before the sun disappeared

Moonrise on the other side of the dunes

Overlooking Huacachina after sunset

After that at about 6 pm, we watched the sun set over the desert. It was so beautiful to see since it made all of the sand glow orange. And then on the other side of the desert, the almost-full moon was rising. It was really one of the most beautiful things I've seen so far in Peru.

After another half hour of driving around, sandboarding in the dark, and watching Huacachina light up from on top the dunes, we went back into town.

Then the next morning, I got up early and borrowed a sandboard again. My muscles were sore from the day before, so climbing up the hill again was pretty painful. But again, it was worth it. I had a few really good runs and managed not to hit myself in the head with my board again (a personal victory!).

Then after a shower and a leisurely breakfast at the hostel, we went on a vineyard tour. Ica is the wine (and pisco, to some extent) region of Peru and is the home of some of Peru's most famous vineyards.

View from the belltower at Tacama, an industrial vineyard

Another view of Tacama

Artisanal vineyard

For the tour, we visited two vineyards - one industrial and one artisanal. The industrial one (Tacama) was first, and it's considered some of the best wine in Peru. The vineyards were beautiful. It used to be a monastery, so the grounds were beautiful. And at one point in the tour, we went up into the bell tower and could see the whole vineyard. The mountains in the background are actually the Andes. They look really close, but it's just an illusion because they're so huge. After the tour was tasting the wine. We got to try 5 different types, and they were all really wonderful.

After that, we visited an artisanal vineyard, which means that they do everything by hand the old way. A lot of the presses and things they use are 150 years old. They focus on pisco (a Peruvian liquor) and have probably a dozen varieties, but they also make wines. The grounds again were beautiful though not as large. And needless to say, the pisco and wine were great.

And that was about it for our trip. It was really a great time. I definitely want to go back in the future and do more sandboarding and spend more time exploring the desert, but I still feel very satisfied with what we did.

In other news, this entire week for my kids is midterms. The down side - I had to spend my entire Monday writing all of my exams. I was up until about 2 am that night. The up side - after the exams, we have a little party in each class (to encourage the kids to come to class). So I got to buy all of the candy and soda this morning, and I'm quite excited to try these new Peruvian cookies and play Uno with my kids.

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