The alarm clock rang at 5am. I wanted to get out early and take a walk in the desert to photograph the dunes at sunrise since last night we didn’t get to see much in the dark. At 5 there’s light already, I keep forgetting I am under the equator line. This is my first time under the equator so it’s still a bit of a reason to wonder; the sky is different, I don’t recognize any stars. We walked for a while (after five minutes you realize that all those movies of people running in the desert are fake, there is no running here, walking takes too much energy already), I shot many photos of the dunes and the oasis seen from above. It gives me a feeling of being in Morocco, never been there but from the photos I’ve seen this is what it reminds me of… actually it sounds like I need to fit Morocco in one of my next trips.
There was some fog and therefore we did not see the sunrise, and only around eight, when the sky showed itself a bit, we saw that the sun was already high. I missed the warm sunrise light. Too bad, it will be for next time.
We laid down on the sand (very thin, the thinnest I have ever seen, but it doesn’t stick because it’s not humid and there’s no salt) and we enjoyed this morning in the Peruvian desert. Back at the oasis, at 9:30, we had breakfast and then did the desert tour in a Dune Buggie and tried a hand at sandboarding, it’s like snowboarding but you gotta go straight, speed is ridiculous and you can’t stop unless you throw yourself down, fall, or reach the end of the slope (which typically ends with falling hard after what must feel like when you drop out of Warp Speed if those dampeners are malfunctioning). We had tons of fun; in our group there was a German girl who had just visited Chile by herself and will be traveling until January when her boyfriend meets her, and together they will travel South America until April; there were also 3 Israeli and one American.
We had sand everywhere… back at the hostel Lindsey and I took a nice swim in the pool (wish I had more time to tan, the sun is strong here and it’s barely spring. Scorching hot!). We met some people and had dinner with them, that was the end of a long, exhausting and fantastic day.
I removed some more sand from my pockets and after breakfast we lingered around the oasis for some more photography and a bit of relaxation, then in the afternoon we took a cab to Ica. There, we wondered the streets a little without getting too far from the populated center while we waited for the time to catch our next bus. Regardless of the recent earthquake and destruction the town was bustling with an ongoing flow of people, this probably would have been a good opportunity for a photo reporter, but that’s not my kind of photography, so I just enjoyed walking around and mixing up with the crowd. We also quickly discovered that this town knows the art of pastry making, in one of the bakeries we saw we had, what we agreed was, the best strudel we ever had. I could go back to Ica just for that. In the late afternoon we finally boarded our bus to Nazca and after a few hours spent staring at the desert out of our windows we arrived.
In the morning we walked around Lima. The hostel owner was very nice and showed us around, then took us to the bus station of the company Cruz del Sur to get our tickets. The hospitality of the people in Peru by far exceeded our expectations. We were shown the direction to a Peruvian restaurant to calm our growling stomachs and ate a huge plate of Lomo Saltado (stripes of beef, cooked in a pan with an awesome sauce and mixed with french fries, red onions and red peppers). The portions were very generous, a plate would have been enough for three people, but that didn’t stop us from finishing the place. The price including drink (a pitcher of Chicha Morada, a sweetish, non-alcoholic, non-carbonated drink made with red corn and fruit) was barely $3.
After lunch we took the express bus to Ica. It was a very comfortable 2 floors bus with chairs reclining almost completely, a TV playing movies and one bathroom on each floor. Downstairs was the location of the first class, with completely reclining chairs, bed style; first class occupied half of the length of the bus and had a door for access and privacy). From the brochure on-board I learned that the bus had a GPS tracking system so that the company could send help shall the bus stop for any unscheduled reason in rural areas. Some buses even have Wi-Fi. Soon after leaving the hostess passed lunch; I wasn’t ready to eat again and I just nibbled a bit to see what it was like, not the best food I had, even less appetizing than airline food.
Ica is located some 300Km south of Lima and before arriving we passed by Pisco, the town that was subject to a major earthquake nearly three months before our trip and left over 500 dead. There was a lot of destruction, but that didn’t seem to have touched the good spirit of these people. I admired their resiliency.
Once at the bus station in Ica we hopped on a taxi for Huacachina, 5km away. By then it was dark and we couldn’t see much of the scenery other than realize that our surrounding were now sand and more sand. Huacachina is an oasis in a desert of giant dunes, around the lake there are hotels and restaurants. Trusting our ever-faithful Lonely Planet guide we asked the driver to take us to a hostel called Salvatierra. The cab ride was $2 and the welcoming in the hostel was once again a very warm one. A young boy gave us the tour and told us about a dune buggy / sandboarding trip that was taking place the next morning. We asked for an obtained a private room with bathroom and shower (open sky ceiling over the first part of the bathroom) which coasted us $6 each plus $2 for the (large) continental breakfast. In the hostel we met many young people coming from all over the world to offer their help in clearing the city from rubble left by the earthquake and whatever else they could do as volunteers. We took a short walk around the oasis and ended up stopping by the patio of a restaurant, where we met a group of young people from several countries who were here to spend two days; many of them had just met or met randomly at some point of their journey. We sat with these fellows and joined them for dinner and, once again, ate too much for very little.
My plane landed perfectly on time at the airport in Lima. Luckily mine was the first plane to arrive at the gate that night as most international flights arrive late night and it’s suddenly chaos at customs and luggage retrieval just after a few flights have landed. It took me about 20 minutes to pass customs and retrieve my heavy duty backpack. Once out of the gates I noticed, in the mass of taxi drivers holding a sign, a man holding a tablet with my name on it. I walked to him and we greeted each other in Spanish. I asked him if he spoke English and after getting a negative answer I thought “Here we go, time to brush up my Spanish.” After nearly two hours of waiting for my friend Lindsey (and discussing all sort of things with the driver, including politics, in what was my first real conversation in Spanish) I was starting to worry that she had not made the flight as she was flying stand-by, but her smiley face made it through the gates and she explained that her plane, regardless of being on time, landed after all the others and therefore it took a long time to pass customs and the luggage carousel. The three of us headed to the taxi with destination our hostel in Miraflores, a nice area of Lima by the sea. Lindsey and I had met nearly randomly just a few weeks before and we still didn’t know if we were a good travel match. I had told a friend that I was going to Peru and her words to me after “Nice to meet you” were “Can I come?” I said “Sure” thinking that she might be joking until I received a text message a week later saying “This is Lindsey, I was serious about Peru” and now she was sitting next to me, in a cab in South America.
We were greeted by the very nice hostel owners and after checking in our quaint but clean room we tried to fall asleep, by now it was nearly 2am. Sleep didn’t happen until 4am but we were already up at 8 to start our discovery of Peru’s capital.
We decided to have a mellow day and after a quick breakfast walked around the shoreline of Miraflores, stopping at parks to take photos and checking out the neighborhood. Walking took us to a shopping center on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and we sat at a restaurant where we could taste some local cuisine. We found our plates to be very flavorful, I especially liked the “anticuchos de corazon,” pieces of beef heart roasted in a skewer, which reminded me of something similar from Sardinia. We sat at the shopping center for a while watching the paragliders fly by the cliffs and offering rides to tourists and then strolled some more around the streets. On my flight to Lima I was sitting next to a man from the city who gave me many recommendations about places to see, what and where to eat and even the address of a car rental company. We visited the car rental and asked to speak to the lady whom I was referred to, who turned out to be the owner. She welcomed us into her office and after sitting down we explained that we were planning to visit Arequipa in the south of Peru and Cuzco. Since rental was around $500 with a drop-off in a city other than Lima we expected her to try and convince us to rent a car instead she was adamant on the fact that in Peru people drive dangerously and we should instead take a bus to our destinations. She even made phone calls to the most prominent bus companies to check schedule and prices and we finally decided that exploring the country by bus was the best way for us to see places and meet people.
Around sunset time we headed back to our hostel in Miraflores where Pedro, one of the owners made us a welcoming Pisco Sour, the local concoction made with Pisco, a peruvian liquor, egg white and lime. Delicious. The perfect way to end a perfect day.