huacachina - oasis town, sandboarding and dune bugging

  • huacachina main road
  • trying to get work done
  • hard to work looking at this
  • and this
  • dunes
  • more dunes
  • and more
  • and some more
  • cool buggies
  • our trusty driver
  • ready to board
  • alec with major wipeout
  • hannes, pre wipeout
  • loving the girly boots they gave me
  • all the way down with no wipeout
  • nutters going down head first
  • our shadows
  • huge dune
  • huacachina oasis town
  • ruining the great shot

On Wednesday the 1st of July after 12 hours on what has to be the best bus I've ever been on, we rolled into the town of Ica. Before talking about Ica and Huacachina I have to mention how truly brilliant the service on the Cruz del Sur bus from Arequipa to Ica was. The bus station in Arequipa is not a bus station but rather it's called a Tierrapuerto. It is better than some airports I've been in in certain countries. Once you've bought your ticket you actually check your bags in as you would for a flight, then they invite you into the departure lounge, which rivals any airport departure lounge I've been in before (mind you, I'm a cheap bastard so I've never been in a business class lounge). There was free Wi-fi and really comfy couches to chill out on. Then the bus....This was like a 5 star bus. It even had wi-fi on board, unfortunately I couldn't get a signal though. Again, the dinner they served, rivaled any airline food and the 2 semi-cama seats I had to myself made for an excellent night's rest. All this for 80 soles (just over 20 pounds).

The main reason I came to Ica was because it's the closest town to the small oasis village of Huacachina which is a hub for sandboarders, as it has some of the biggest sandboarding dunes in South America. I also planned on hanging around for a few days to catch up on some work. What better place to do this than at the Arenas hostel, which has a good sized clear swimming pool, and is surrounded by some very imposing dunes. And at 25 soles (4 pounds 50) per night for a bed, I could pretty much afford to live here for the next 3 or 4 years.

I had sandboarded about a month and half ago in San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile, and it was quite cheap, so I was pretty pissed off when the guys in the hostel said a buggy trip to the dunes plus a pro sandboard (just a snowboard with proper bindings and boots as opposed to the usual crap wooden ones they hand out) would cost 65 soles (about 15 pounds), nearly double of what I paid in San Pedro. This put a bit of a dampener on it, in fact I was toying with the idea of telling them to get screwed and just walk up the dunes with a rented board from somewhere else. But, as has been the case so many times before on this trip, things that often start off a bit disappointing, or seem like they have no potential, turn into the most memorable experiences.

When the dune buggies showed up to pick us up, I immediately got a bit more enthusiastic about it all. These things looked like something out of the Mad Max movies - although the driver was a geeky looking oldish guy who didn't really look like he should be behind the wheel of this adrenalin inducing piece of machinery. There is no way they would be roadworthy in Europe, possibly not even South Africa. And the engines, man oh man, this definitely brought out the redneck in me. That sound of hard raw power would make anybody want to give out a big "Yeeehahhh!".

We loaded the boards on the back, jumped in through the roll bars and strapped in with rollercoaster like seatbelts - at the time I wondered what that was all about but in a few minutes it became perfectly clear. After driving a couple of kilometres we turned into a small village, and by the time we had crossed it I saw the true immensity of these dunes. Until now I had thought the place only consisted of the 2 big dunes surrounding the oasis, but in fact this area is a pretty big desert. And when we hit the dunes I realised what the seatbelts were for. The trip through the dunes was like something out of the Dakar rally. There was no playing around here. We were motoring full speed up dunes of about 30 degree angles, then pulling handbrake turns at the top and speeding all the way back down. Other times we would shoot up to the top of the dune, which probably had a ridge about 2 meters wide, not being able to see what was on the other side - our driver of course knew as he's been doing this for 11 years - then the dune buggy would roll over the top and my stomach would come up to my throat as we headed back down the other side. It has been ages since I'd been on a rollercoaster and this brought back those memories of going to the fairgrounds as a kid. My screaming capability also went back a few years as I yelped out like I was a 10 year old kid again. Still I think I managed to be more manly than Hannes, who at one point let out such a high pitch screech that everybody I thought I was sitting next to a 5 year old girl on the world's worst rollercoaster. After such an adrenalin rush, I figured the sandboarding would be real boring, and again I was wrong. Well for the most part at least.

Here´s a clip of the dune buggy ride

The first couple of dunes were really child's play, and having a board with proper boots and bindings made it even easier. I felt like a bit of a shitester because everybody else on the dunes just had the scrappy boards - if only they knew how much better it is with the real thing. Most people were heading down on their stomachs, which looked fun, but hardly sandboarding. The last 3 dunes, and in particular the last one were awesome. The last one was a total of 300 meters in length, and I think vertically it was a 150 metre drop. Not sure about the math here but this is what the guy told me, which means the angle is about 45 degrees? The 2 dudes with me, Hannes and Alec (a young English dude who's also travelling solo), did really well especially considering it was their first time sandboarding and neither had any snowboarding or skiing experience. Unfortunately though, the last dune had the best of Alec. About 20 meters into it, his board caught an edge, he flipped over, the board came off his feet and he stayed stuck in the sand while his board spiraled all the way down the dune (people jumping out of it's way).

After the boarding we decided, as Alec put it, that it was beer o'clock, so we headed to the hostel bar for a few cold ones. After gorging ourselves at a really good cheap restaurant I've been going to for every meal over the past couple of days, we hit the only bar in town that had more than 1 person in it. There were a few other travellers in there and of course they had happy hour for the whole night (something very common in Peru). So as has so often been the case, our beer o'clock beers turned into a bit of a big night out and we finished up at about 4am, which basically put an end to our plan on heading out to Lima today, the 3rd of July. Oh, and the 2 Peruvian girls running the restaurant we've been eating at, seem to have taken a liking to us, and have asked us to go dancing with them 2 nights in a row now. Not sure if we'll take them up on the offer though.

Might be here for another day or 2 before I head to Lima for a quick stop to repair my camera or buy a new one. Also getting really excited now about buying my surfboard in Lima and hitting my first major surf stop since Uruguay. Been dreaming about it ever night since leaving the mountains and I only hope I can get in and out of Lima with my board before the nationwide transport strikes start on the 7th.

3rd of July today, so a very Happy 38th Anniversary to Mom and Dad!!!