Huacachina is an oasis in the desert: a village, with a permanent population of around 100, set around a small lake just outside the town of Ica. Backpackers flock there for the dune buggy rides and sand boarding, and I saw it as a good way to break up the trip from Lima to Arequipa.
In Huacachina, I stayed in – stop the presses – a dorm, in a hostel called Banana’s Adventure. Rated #1 of the speciality lodgings by Trip Advisor, and with a name like that, it was impossible to resist. I arrived after a 5.5 hour bus journey to find skinny girls in bikinis draped around the pool, and behind them a shaded area with hammocks. Since my trip across Central America last year, I’m completely hooked on hammocks: they are my ultimate holiday experience, pure, unadulterated relaxation. The dorm was a small cabin with five beds, and I chose a lower bunk – despite hearing a horror story about a near-fatal accident in a bunk bed in Uruguay. (Evidently, I survived to tell the tale.)
I booked straight onto the afternoon buggy ride. At 4pm, a vehicle that wouldn’t look out of place on the moon arrived to pick us up, and we tore off into town. On reaching the gates of the desert, we were told to pay a tax. A tax!! On sand! Of course no one had thought of including the S3.70 in the price of the excursion. Then off into the desert we went. It was all very regimented, there were clearly set stops: “photo, photo!”; “sand board, stomach”; “sand board, stand up, once, three times, once”; “sunset”; and a final “photo, photo” on the slopes above the lagoon. The dune buggy ride was quite smooth, right up to the last part of the trip when it became a roller coaster ride that would have warranted a sports bra. Ouch. The dunes seemed impossibly high when we were first told to get on our boards, but in fact it wasn’t too scary. It was most fun going down on my stomach, though it was quite an exfoliation and when I got back I found that my pockets were full of sand. The sun set quickly, and darkness soon fell around us as we returned to town. That night, the hostel organized a barbecue, and the plan was to ‘go out’ – it was a Saturday, after all – but the four of us in the dorm all collapsed into bed by 10pm.
The next day was a day of indulgences. Banana and chocolate pancakes for breakfast. Chocolate brownie with ice cream for lunch. And piña coladas and mango daiquiris in the afternoon. Well, they cost the same as the fruit juice! I spent the afternoon chatting with one of my dorm mates – the other two had already left – until it was finally time to leave for my night bus from Ica to Arequipa. This was my best bus ride yet! In the evening, they showed My Name is Khan, a heart strings-tugging tale of an autistic Muslim in the aftermath of 9/11 that had me crying in my seat. And in the morning, the animated musical Anastasia! Bliss. If only all buses could have such quality entertainment…