An Oasis in the Sand

Huacachina is an oasis: literally. In 1999 only 115 people lived in the town, and I can’t imagine many more live there today. Only a couple city blocks long and wide, the town surrounds a small lagoon in the middle of miles and miles of sand dunes. The city is lush and green, with palm trees sucking the water from the single water source. One step out of town, there is only sand! The dunes create high cliffs of sand that tower over the city. While eating out on the patio, I often found myself wondering why the sky behind the palm trees was brown; it was always strange to have to horizon so far above eye level! At sunset, lots of couples and groups of young friends climb the dunes to watch the city in it’s final minutes of light. Huacachina is stunning! I had no idea that oases really existed, but this town is living proof.

I suppose I should let Adam write about the first day there, because I spent almost every second of it in bed with terrible stomach pains. I lost my appetite, but managed to drag my sorry ass to the table to share a dinner. I slept for 10 hours that night, drank litre after litre of water, popped all the drugs I brought and still felt like crap in the morning. So we had a slow afternoon. I managed to walk around the entire town before collapsing with exhaustion – which isn’t a huge feat in a town that has only 3 blocks. But the place was beautiful; it had grassy areas to sit down by the water where you could rent paddleboats or swim in the lagoon. A couple restaurants set up their tables and chairs right near the water for a fantastic view of the place. There was one luxury hotel right at the end of the water, and a bunch of lower budget hostels, each with their own restaurant and happy hour specials.

By the afternoon the pain had stopped and all I felt was lightheaded, woozy and restless. I was tired of sitting around sick and was determined not to let my illness get in the way of our timeline or adventures… So we signed up for extreme sports.

Sandboarding is a sport you can only do in very specific places in the world: Huacachina is one of those. It is exactly what it sounds like. Sandboarding is just like snowboarding, except A. The boards are shorter B. the bindings are simple and wrap around your shoes C. It is much more difficult to control yourself and D. It’s on sand dunes. So we left on our tour at 4:30 and drove off in a big, 7 person sand buggy. Our guide ripped up and down the dunes, scaring the living hell out of the two French Canadian girls next to us. You never knew when the sand was going to descend gently down, or cut off in a nearly vertical cliff: it made for quite the ride and the giggling screams of terror from Marianne beside me were so infectious we laughed most of the way there.

The dunes were unbelievable. They stretched out forever, climbing and falling in perfect slopes where the wind left them. The late afternoon sun left gorgeous shadows of contrasting light and dark brown against the blue sky. It was like looking over a brown ocean with huge waves crashing in on each other. 
After a half hour or so, after our eyes, ears and mouth were well covered in fine sand, we stopped at the top of a huge cliff of sand. “This is where you go sand boarding!” said our guide with a huge smile. Other groups had pulled up to the same spot and had pulled their boards out to the edge of the cliff. We looked over the edge, and straight down about 80m in a nearly vertical drop. NOPE, NO WAY, NOT A CHANCE IN HELL; there’s no way a person can go down that and survive! I turned to Adam and said “you’re on your own”. He looked down at the cliff with a little boy’s enthusiasm and grabbed a board. “You’re CRAZY” I said.

Now for those of you who know how awesome I am at Snowboarding, you should be surprised that I didn’t immediately go down the hill! Hahaha no, actually, my experience with flying down hills at huge speeds only occurs in nightmares. I would prefer to be sipping on a cold beverage at the bottom and wait, with a first aid kit, for Adam to show up. BUT, I also have a bit of an ego when it comes to being “too scared to do something” and Adam knows that about me; It didn’t take him long to convince me to do it. 
Standing on the board would have instantly been the death of me. I saw too many people get whipped around and flipped on their heads to try it. Adam obviously sand boarded down perfectly as if he’d secretly been practicing for six months behind my back! Showoff! So our guide showed me an alternate way of going down.
 Put your board down on the edge of the cliff, lie stomach down on top of the board, face first down the hill, gripping the bindings with your hands and feet flailing out the back. This seemed even crazier, but was my preferred option, so I lay down, and let the guide push me off the edge towards my impending doom.

Once over the edge I absolutely FLEW down; with sand whipping up into my face, I think I screamed the entire way to the bottom where I came flying up at Adam’s feet. I can’t believe he convinced me to do this on a day I was nearly puking my guts out only hours earlier!! But it was surprisingly fun!! I didn’t crash and I came out unscathed (unlike my wakeboarding experience in the Ilhabela that I still have scars from). We had to hike up through the sand to the next dune, which was much shorter than the first, and then finally a third before our guide picked us up.
 We then trekked over the hills in our sand buggy for a couple minutes before pulling up to another large dune. “Want to try again?” he pulled out the boards again as we walked to the edge of the dune to look over. I got instant butterflies. This was one on the biggest sand dunes I’d EVER seen. It was more vertical than the first and at least one and a half times as high. I was terrified! Perhaps I’d skip out on this one. The first guy to go down nearly came to a dangerous barrel roll finish as his board spun sideways at the bottom. His girlfriend flew down at record speed and came within inches of crashing into him. This did not look safe. Adam obviously grabbed a board, hiked up the hill to add another 10 ft in height and slid down the hill on his stomach, a trail of sand dust shooting out from behind him as he went down. I could barely hear him as he yelled what I can only assume were bragging taunts at me from the bottom. I hesitated a couple more minutes before the other Canadian girls (who chickened out themselves) convinced me I could do it. So once again, I came screaming down the hill towards the rest of my group! It was exhilarating and a little terrifying, but all in all I loved it! Successful afternoon on the slopes!

We trucked down to an area to watch the sunset over the sand and the whole place looked like a painting. It didn’t seem real to be sitting there watching the shadows change as the light disappeared. Then just like that, we all got back in the buggy and went back to our little oasis.

The next morning we had organized a winery tour with the two French Canadians from our dune buggy tour. Their driver picked us up at 11:30 and we set out to our first winery. Our guide, Jesus, spoke wonderful English and was a wealth of information about the brewery. The first winery was a family owned industrial winery. The family name, Picasso, is one I remember from home, but most of which were too expensive for me to afford in Canada. We walked around the grounds, learning all the techniques to make their world famous Picasso tempranillo wine and Pisco, the popular 42% liquor that is so common here in Peru. When we’d finished, we sat down to taste them all. We tried a red, white, rose and the Pisco. The wine was tasty, and the red tempranillo which had earned itself a gold medal in Peru and a silver in South America, was probably the best. However, I have to admit, Peruvian wine is not one of my favorites. All the wines we tried over the day had a certain similar taste to them that I am at a loss of how to describe. I suppose each country has this, and that’s how sommeliers can determine which country a wine comes from, but personally, Peru is not my favourite. We ended up buying a winning bottle of Pinot blanc from the winery that came highly recommended and was a great price. But that too left me disappointed: looks like those wine courses have made a wine snob of me after all!

The second place we went to was a family owned traditional winery. It was quaint, beautiful and everything was made by hand – or foot. They had huge concrete pits where people still stomp on the grapes to extract all the juices. Apparently once a year, on the March solstice, they have a big festival where people come to drink and dance over the grapes for the entire night to help make wine. We sadly missed this by only a couple days. Once the grapes are properly crushed, they are moved into clay pots and covered for fermentation. This winery only makes wine and Pisco once a year, not very sustainable that’s for sure. So it’s lucky that they also have a large field of various fruit trees, which also produce chutneys and pecan chocolate that is to die for! We got a tasting of several types of pisco, some dessert wines, a few types of chutney and the chocolate. It was a great way to end the tour.
 When we arrived back at our hostel we only had to kill a couple hours before catching our bus and moving onwards toward Nazca!

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