When pounding on bags of sand with a sledgehammer isn’t doing it for you on the adrenaline side of things, action must be taken. I spent tow of my four weekends so far getting my adrenaline fix with PSF friends white water rafting in Lunahuana and sand boarding in Huacachina.
It´s not all about the adrenalin, though; there is so much to see right here around Pisco, and it would be stupid to not take advantage of the possibilities that are open to me right now. I´m here, in Peru; who knows when I´ll be back. I can stress out about money, about time; I´ve done too much of that. Of obsessing over putting aside savings to pay off the loans that already weigh down my shoulders months before school has even begun. I can tell myself over and over again that I can come back, that I can save experiences for later. To be frugal and careful and limit myself.
It´s necessary to be careful to a certain extent, but hey. This is life, this is my life, right now. And right now. This is what I have been waiting for; what I saved for for six months and possibly the most depressing summer of my life. Let´s go!
It said “White Water Rafting” on the events calendar my first weekend. The event was postponed a couple times, but a couple weeks ago we finally made it to Lunahuana. Lunahuana is about 5 hours northeast of Pisco, inland. It´s not the real mountains, the Andes, but you could call them foothills. It looked like a blurred transition between desert and mountain- the hills are jagged and have the form of major peaks, but are the dull tan shades of sand dunes and seem formed out of a mixture of sand and rock. I was puzzled. Are they hills, mountains, or sand dunes? Arid mountains, perhaps. I asked our uninformed driver in town and he shrugged and offered “ceros de rocka”, “rock hills”.
Lunahuana is set overlooking the Rio Cañete, a river valley that cuts through these curious mini sand mountains and creates a swathe of green to contrast the dull brown. It´s a town of roughly 3500, known best for adventure tourism and wine tasting. White water rafting, kayaking, and rock climbing are the most popular. Had I a bit more time there I would have tried to get in some climbing as well, but we only had Sunday. We ended up being gone 12 hours, and the rafting trip was only an hour long. We meant to do a two hour trip, but because we are in the dry season, the river has thinned. River physics demands that water rushing through narrow rocky beds makes for rapids too dangerous a ride for us mere beginners. There were a couple impassable sections, so the guides decided to cut the trip in half.
Even with shortened rafting, it was well worth the trip. We were all tired; a couple of volunteers had left that morning and we had been out late the night before. Even after several cups of coffee I was a bit concerned about staying awake for the duration of the trip. Turned out I didn´t have any trouble. Sailing up and over the peaks of rushing white water does not lend itself to napping, no matter how serious the lack of sleep.
We were a group of five PSFers, and were joined by an obese elderly Peruvian woman who somehow expected the trip to be some sort of low key leisure cruise. She was scared to death and squeezed the life out of my arm for support the entire ride. We got back into town soaking wet and spent the rest of the afternoon perusing the main strip and eating a late lunch and didn´t get back until around 8:00.
A few weeks later, “Huacachina” appeared on the events calendar. Apparently, trips to Huacachina are a roughly bimonthly affair for the entire PSF crew, and it was due time for a go. Although it has a population of 115 people, Huacachina is a big deal for Peru; it´s featured on the 50 sole note. It´s called the “oasis of America”. In the middle of the Ica desert, a small natural lake appears out of nowhere. It has been used for well water to serve the residents of nearby Ica, and to compensate for the loss, water is now artificially pumped into the lagoon to serve the many tourists who flock into town. Legend has it that a princess once bathed in a pool (the lagoon), and when intruded on by a hunter, ran off- the folds of her mantle as she ran are the flowing sand dunes that surround the oasis.
Huacachina, although a natural occurrence, feels planted, fabricated, created for the many backpackers who pass through every day. The town is built for international tourists. If you can call it a town- it´s really just a cluster of hostels circling the lagoon.
The bus left in the late afternoon and took off down the desert coast. The sea on our right, we flew South past Paracas, city faded away, and we were left lost in the dunes. An hour in, there was a jolt, a screech, a sink, and the bus chortled to a stop on the side of the highway. Flat tire! We were trapped without a spare in the middle of the Ica desert. We were stuck for two hours. The bus driver called the mechanic while we skipped into the endless dunes. The desert sun sank blow the sand and the sky bled red. We built a campfire in the sand and made merry until the bus was fixed, and reached Huacachina by nine that night.
We stayed in the nicest hotel I have been in my entire journey; the dorm rooms were about the same price as they would have been in Leon, surprisingly. I felt sorry for the quiet German guy who had had the spacious dorm to himself until 50-odd PSF kids invaded that night. We weren’t supposed to spread the word that we were from PSF, so due to some unintentional information leakage, rumors floated about of us being a secret spy club or some sort of confidential government group.
Walking to dinner, I ran right into Nils, a Quetzaltrekkers volunteer I worked with for at least two months, and his girlfriend Anna. I couldn´t believe it- I knew they were going to be traveling in Peru but had no idea when, where, or how long, so it was an incredible coincidence.
The group dined at a fancy café; I scrounged off friend´s plates to save my meager centavos for water the coming week. I had lost my debit card the previous weekend, the day before the earthquake. Unfortunately that card was my backup card, so I was holding out for fresh plastic to come in the mail. Halfway through the meal I decided I didn’t want to spend our one night in Huacachina at a restaurant and walked down to the lagoon, the splash of green amidst miles of tan.
Lights of Huacachina´s hotels and restaurants shimmered in the black glass lake and a small rusty boat rested at the shore. No oars, just a little rowboat. I got in. Sarah and Ed appeared; they were afraid I had been lost or stolen. Just trying to get lost in the lake in my little boat and waiting for a friend to help me row. They jumped in the boat with me and we paddled with our hands and floated in the middle. The carnival like lights swam in the water, yellow, red, orange; music from the discotheque throbbed from shore. We floated in our little boat in the heart of the oasis, in the thumb of life in a dry dry sea. Surrounding our pocket of light, the dark, mysterious dunes stood sentry to the bleakness of the sand beyond. We chatted, drifting in a surreal splash of paradise.
I had slept for a couple hours. I woke up to someone whispering in my ear: We´re going for a walk. Wake up. We´re gonna take a walk…. It was 4:30. Still dark, but the dorm was coming to life around me. I stumbled out of bed, wool blanket around my shoulders.
The dunes! We were trekking to the dunes! Now I was awake. In a massive party of disheveled and sleeping PSFers. We stepped out of the hotel and right onto the backyard, onto the never-ending sand. It took us about 40 minutes to climb to the highest spot surrounding the Huacachina oasis, a monster dune that seemed to rise ahead of us in never-ending crescendos of falling sand.
My calves cramped, sand spilled under my feet, I sweated in the wool blanket- Ed and I raced to the top and scoped out the highest peak at the highest dune. It was round 5:30 and still dark- we could see the tiny oasis, like a cluster of fireflies from above, across into Ica, and the dunes that spanned in every direction. We fell asleep before the sun rose, and I wrapped myself tight in the blanket, grateful I had schlepped it along for the climb. When I awoke, the sun had begun to rise behind a smearing gray cloud cover and the rest of the group had finally arrived at the top.
We lined the ridge like peak like sleepy birds on a wire. Around us, purples and reds singed the gray and the lights of Ica sparked in a sequined scarf to the West. With enough light., the contours of the dunes revealed themselves. Continually shifting, they sweep and curve and dance for miles. Dancers that bow to the wind´s conducting, shapes molded by the whims of the breeze. Like frozen waves, ripples skip across sloping sides. Huacachina sits cupped by the dry sculpted sea. A delicate bed of blinking diamonds.
I sat on the top of the dune after everyone else had long retired, waiting for the sun. On the opposite side of glitzy Huacachina, a dirt poor community scatters its cement block houses among the grains of sand. A radio blasted tinny from one of the houses, as if it were competing with Huacachina´s stereo systems. The contrast was a jolt. I can´t imagine living on the other side of the sand dune, a stone´s throw away from mini Las Vegas.
The Peruvians I took to be locals who had sat on the lagoon´s edge the night before must have wandered over from there. They came with friends and lovers to soak up the light and laugh and shake their heads in bafflement at the international party crowd.
I slept until late morning, and in the afternoon a big group of us went sand boarding, which was really the reason I had come. We rented out two dune buggies and rolled out from the hotel, two minutes away from the middle of nowhere. The dune buggy ride was the best part of the excursion. It felt exactly like a roller coaster, without the excruciating slow ascent. We zoomed up to the peak of each dune and sailed down , screaming and sand blowing in our faces. I could have ridded the buggy the whole day.
Sand boarding is without a doubt superior to volcano boarding. The two can´t compare- it makes me wonder, again, why exactly we think boarding down gravel is a worthwhile activity. I admit my annoyance grew with each of my volcano boarding trip I lead. (the first couple really were fun).
Sliding down sand with a waxed board is fast and smooth. I didn´t quite master standing up on the board for the duration of the ride, let alone turning or carving, but had fun all the same and had a couple exciting falls (none of which left me with dramatic abrasions or a concussion. *cough cough volcano boarding*) But let me make this clear while we´re on the subject of boarding down stuff- Skiing and snowboarding are, inarguably, unsurpassable on every level. After trying the other stuff out for fun, there is no point in trying to master sliding down other surfaces unless you have no access to snow, in which case, I am dearly sorry.
We came back tired, parched, and with sand stuffed in every pocket and every shoe, went for a swim, and jumped back on the bus for a sleepy6 ride back to headquarters. This time the bus did not break down. I slept well that night, and the next morning was back to, as the hiphip remix I know declares , “spending most our time rebuilding Pisco Paradise”.
The community on the other side of the dune....