The Ghost Oasis and Poor Man’s Galapagos

We took a night bus from Arequipa to Ica which took about 12 hours.  The night buses in Peru are alright, especially with Cruz del Sur.  Your seats recline just enough to be comfortable but not quite enough to actually have a good night’s sleep.  There are movies you can watch on the little screens in front of you like on an airplane, but, they are all in Spanish.  Or, dubbed in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.   (side note: it’s crazy to think Spanish-speakers probably don’t know what Brad Pitt’s actual voice sounds like.  I wonder if they use the same voice actors for major celebrities.  These are questions that keep me up at night.)  I use the time to read, do crossword puzzles, write a little if the driver doesn’t drive with both feet (something we’ve noticed in Peru) and of course, sleep.  They even serve you dinner like on an airplane, and like an airplane, the food is not great.  We always supplemented our meal times with previously purchased snacks and drinks.

Ica is a nothing city but the main reason for going is to get to the tiny oasis resort area (too small to call a town or village) of Haucachina, which is only about a 7 minute taxi ride away and is bordered by mountainous sand dunes.  It was one of the most bizarre places I’ve ever seen.  I had to keep in mind that the tourist season hadn’t quite started yet, so it wasn’t actually a ghost town, but it felt like one.

We signed up for a wine/pisco tour (boring, too short, only got to try 4 tiny sips of different things) as well as a dune-buggy/sand boarding tour.  The dune buggy ride was good fun and I screamed and laughed my head off.  I might post a video in a few weeks as I really am quite a muppet and all of you should join in by laughing at me.  The sand boarding was not what I expected.  I thought we’d get to learn how to stand and carve like snowboarding, (which I’m competent at).  But, no.   We were merely instructed to lie belly down on the boards with spread-eagle legs and just, well, go.  It was very scary and so hilarious and such a rush.  I loved it but didn’t do the last run as there was such a big hill as to prohibit your view of what was coming.  I opted to run down the hill, which was almost as much fun!  Have you ever run down a giant sand dune before?  It’s quite a thrill.

The next day we signed up for a tour to Paracas and the Islas Ballestas.  This is affectionately known by travellers as the “poor man’s Galapagos”.  We were picked up at about 9am and driven a good hour and a half to Paracas.  The tour guide seemed terribly disorganized and we stood around for a while before finally getting shuffled onto a boat.  We were squished on board and were lucky to get the very back seats but at least we got seats!  We sailed for a few minutes before stopping to take a look at the strange candelabra geoglyph etched into the side of the sandy looking hillside at Pisco Bay.  Our guide explained it was done several centuries before.  Nobody really knows who did them or why, though there are different theories.

Next we sailed on to see the islands of the Ballestas where we got to view the wildlife for about half an hour.  We saw millions of birds, Humboldt penguins, and sea-lions.  The current was very strong and the islands are uninhabited so we always stayed in the boat and it’s the only way you can view the islands and animals anyway.  We took several pictures and videos and it made me want to see the Galapagos, because it was very exciting.  I do like a good boat ride and Cal loves seeing wild animals, as do I.

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After our allotted time, we were ferried back to Paracas and back onto our buses and driven back to Haucachina, arriving by lunch-time.  We felt like the tour was way too expensive and brief for what we paid, and not very well organized.  However, we wouldn’t have been able to see the things we saw on our own so you kind of just have to bite the bullet and shell out your soles and just deal with it.

All in all, Haucachina is an interesting place but you don’t really need more than a day or two at most there.  It is not a necessary destination of Peru and could certainly be missed, but I’m glad I got to try sand boarding and I’m also glad for this photo.  It is just the best!

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