After nearly 2 months in Peru, I finally managed to leave Lima for the first time. This past weekend, I took a quick side trip with my friends David and Andrea 5 hours south to Ica, Huacachina, and the Islas Ballestas. With less than a week left of my practicum in Lima, this trip was a bit of a warm-up for the 5 weeks of travel I have planned starting next weekend.
My practicum, speaking of which, has been an absolutely amazing experience that I’ll have to elaborate on soon. I’ve learned more than I imagined possible in such a short time about TB, epidemiology, and public health; made friends with wonderful researchers from Peru and around the world; and hopefully contributed a bit to the research as well. But more on that another time. This post is about travel…
So, after a 5 hour bus ride with the latest Fast and Furious movies as company (seem to be a big thing here), the three of us arrived in Ica, a town described in my guidebook as having a “downtrodden air” with a “richly deserved reputation for theft.” Fortunately this wasn’t our final destination and a 10 minute taxi ride brought us to Huacachina, a desert oasis just outside of the town.
By this point it was about 11pm and being the naive tourists we were, we hadn’t yet booked a hostel. Smart move us. Well, the tourist office happened to find us three “beds” in the adjoining hostel for about 9 dollars each. I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels, but this one was pretty rough, even for 9 bucks. In addition to the world’s worst mattresses, our new roommates seemed to be imitating rabbits under the covers of one of the bunks, much to our ears’ chagrin.
Leaving the love birds alone for a bit, we left to get a drink at the attached bar called, I kid you not, Huacafuckingchina. Clearly we were in a backpacker’s town targeted towards an international twenty-something crowd… Anyway, we had to be up early for a 6:30 bus to the Islas Ballestas the next day, so after finding our roommates asleep, we checked in for a fairly sleepless night.
An early breakfast- and coffee-free morning (we really failed at the planning part of this trip) found us on the bus to the Islas Ballestas, dubbed the “poor man’s Galapagos,” in search of sea lions, penguins, and other wildlife. After getting there just in time, we jumped on a big speed boat tour that would take us around the islands in the area.
This is when the trip took a turn for the better. The first stop on the tour was a huge geoglyph in the side of the mountain. No one really knows who made it, how long it’s been there (hundreds of years at least), or what it was for, but one of the theories is that it was drawn by aliens. Seems reasonable. Anyway, this was a bit underwhelming, but on the way to the main attraction anyway, so no complaints here.
As we got closer to the islands, it became clear that they were home to a lot of birds. I mean a lot of birds. The islands were quite literally colored white from their excrement. Think of it like the Manhattan of bird cities. Or, just check out the picture if my imagery is insufficient. Anyway, we saw pelicans, Peruvian boobies, inca terns, sea lions, Humboldt penguins, and lots more. The enormity of the bird population is hard to describe; I’m surprised none of us got pooped on…
After some much needed coffee, we took the bus back to Huacachina and immediately found a new hotel. They were out of 3-person rooms, so they gave us a 9-bed suite with a porch facing the lagoon and a private bathroom for $11 each. Quite the improvement. We chilled for a bit before moving on to the weekend’s star attraction: sand boarding.
This (and the penguins) was my main reason for wanting to do the trip honestly, and it definitely did not disappoint. Strapped into a 10-person dune buggy, we quickly realized that this transportation was much more than just a way to get up to the sand boarding. Quickly reaching 55 mph, we jumped out into a desert scene resembling the Sahara and trounced around the utterly massive dunes. To say that people were screaming like on a roller coaster would not be an exaggeration.
The sand boarding itself was fun, though I definitely had the biggest wipeout of the group. Sliding down the dune, I caught the front edge of the board and got a face (and mouth) full of sand. I think Andrea might still be laughing at me for that one.
Ok, this is turning way longer than I thought. Needless to say, it was a jam-packed weekend. I’ll spare some details, but Sunday consisted of driving into Ica, taking a taxi out to a winery (with unremarkable wine and decent pisco), and getting stuck with no way of returning to Ica for a few hours (before convincing a taxi that he could take us back to Ica and return before the customers he was waiting for returned…). We explored a bit of Ica, nothing noteworthy really, and caught the evening bus back to Lima, arriving just after midnight.
A long, but very fun, weekend for sure.