Four to five hours south of Lima is the town of Ica, Peru. We heard that this area has a small village named Huacachina, situated amongst the sand dunes where a natural oasis formed. The legend has it that a woman was a bathing in the lagoon when a hunter startled her and as she ran, her mirror fell and created the oasis. Her trailing veil created the dunes around it. Some say she still resides in the lagoon as a mermaid who drowns at least one man per year. So what better place to go right? We also wanted to go due to the sandboarding, dune buggies and pisco tours that originate from Huacachina. Adventure... full steam ahead!
Sandboarding, Dune Buggies and Pisco
We arrived by the Cruz Del Sur luxury bus and took a cab from the Ica's bus station to Huacachina for 10 soles. We chose Bananas Adventure Hostel right on the lagoon because of its good ratings on Hostelworld and other sites. Plus the pictures of the place and the lovely pool sounded inviting. Lima was cold and dreary for the most part with some sun peeking through the clouds from time to time. Huacachina is hot in the mid 80s and blistering sun. Sitting by the pool and getting back some of our lost tan was definitely on the agenda. It was cold at night however... colder than Lima. When we arrived to the hostel you walk right past the pool to a tiki-style bar and lots of outdoor seating. They were in the middle of their nightly BBQ and everyone was hanging around chit chatting. We loaded our stuff in our 4 bed dorm room with a private bathroom.
The room was nice. Bunk-beds weren't the best. They were metal framed and difficult to get into with low ceilings. The lockers were small, but secure and adequate. The bathroom was modern design and nice. One downside was we were missing a window in our dorm room. So it got quite loud at night and early morning as our window was right above the pool and tiki-bar. Overall we were pleasantly surprised with the hostel. The breakfast could use some work however. Really basic breakfast for the price of the hostel. 85 soles each per night (about 25 bux each) which included one tour per day or a BBQ at night. Since we were spending three nights here, we decided to do the BBQ the next night, the Pisco Tour, and the Dune Buggy/ Sandboarding Tour.
Pisco and Winery Tour
So what is pisco you ask? Pisco is a colorless or yellowish-to-amber colored brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. It is Made by distilling fermented grapes into a spirit of up to 40% alcohol or 80 proof. It was originally developed by 16th century Spanish conquistadores as an alternative to traditional brandy that was being imported from Spain. Pisco gets its name from the town of Pisco, Peru where the exportation to europe stemmed.
We decided to take the tour and hopped in a mini-van and headed out into Ica to a winery called El Catador. It's a multi-generational family owned business for centuries. The tour started by a brief description of pisco and we walked around the grounds where the guide spoke to us about the various methods of producing wine and pisco. We stopped by a huge screw-like press and vats used for stomping grapes. Only the women do it and even tourists can do it at harvest time. We continued on down to the storage tanks where the grape juice is left to ferment and finished up where it's bottled, distilled and purified.
Along the tour we got to see original vats used by the Incans and Spanish for fermentation. They are clay vats that are about 4 feet in height and are hundreds of years old. The vats were used until only a about 20 years ago, when the family decided to save them from further wear and breakage, thus preserving the history of the vats. The tour was interesting and the tour guide spoke wonderful English.
Tasting Pisco and Different Wines
After we took a tour of the facility we went back to the tasting room and the guide spoke to us about the different types of wines. We got to sample them in a shot glass as he described them. We tried a dry red wine, a "dinner wine" and various other types of wines. When we go to the pisco the guide was very careful to explain how to drink it without wincing. He said the first thing you need to do is smell the pisco. Secondly you take a deep breath in, and hold your breath as you drink the pisco. Thirdly you breathe out of your mouth with pursed lips slowly and fourthly you sniff the empty glass. He guaranteed if we do this, you won't wince at the strong alcohol content or taste. We all did this and it actually worked. There was no burning in the mouth or throat, only a warm sensation running down your esophagus and belly.
After we were done testing the wines, we went to another tasting room and tried alot of creme liqueurs and other wines. All in all, we only had maybe a glass of wine. The shot glasses were only filled about a quarter full and we tasted about 10-15 wines, piscos, and liquors. We were then allowed some time to hangout then we went back to the hostel. It was fun, however we didn't get even a buzz from the alcohol. We heard other groups got absolutely smashed on their tour. Evidently our guide who drove us there, didn't take us to the third shop that doled out pisco like water. Kinda glad we didn't
Sandboarding and Dune Buggy Tour
We are no strangers to the desert or dune buggies and sand. However sandboarding? Never heard of it. Apparently you take a snowboard and take off the bindings. Then you attach some straps, lay down or sit on the board and slide down the sand. Sounds like a perfect way to spend the afternoon. We took the 4pm tour from the hostel and packed into the buggy to head out into the dunes. The buggy itself is a Chevy Suburban frame that was tubed as a dune buggy. The engine is a V8 Chevy 350 and it seats 10 passengers and a driver.
As we left Huacachina and the lagoon, the adrenaline began pumping. We both absolutely love dunes and buggies. The driver took us around a bit and we got to our first set of hills. We stopped for a while and took some pictures from on high and waxed up our boards in preparation for our first set of 3 hills. They instructed us to lay on our belly as it was safer. Sitting can cause you to turn over and is less stable. Rolling down sand isn't nearly as soft as snow. However, some actually stood on them. First I went down and then filmed Shelly going down. Shelly over waxed her board and almost shot over the second hill. She went faster and further than anyone else. It was a lot of fun. The second and third hills were bigger and steeper and we loved every minute of it. Check out the video below to see the whole adventure including going down the hills.
We then drove to second set of hills that were much bigger and steeper still. We decided not to board down these hills and had enough excitement for the day. Mostly we didn't want to hike up the second and third hills in the sand and secondly we didn't need to hurt ourselves this early in our 6 month trip in South America. We buggied over to where they others were going to be coming down and enjoyed watching the sun set as we piled back into the buggy and headed back to Huacachina.
Speeding Back Home
There were a couple of people who took longer to get down the steeper hills (see the main picture... the hill was no joke) maybe because they got stage fright? We left the dunes a little later than we wanted to and missed the sunset from the top of the dunes. It was alright however. Since we lingered longer at the dunes, the driver's boss left in the other buggy and our driver gave us a real buggy tour. None of that mild driving as we went out to the sandboarding spots. The driver hauled ass! Took us up really steep hills and down again and the adrenaline was pumping hard. This is what I was looking for. The V8 motor pumping hard and driving fast over sand at dusk. It was incredible! We ended up getting back to Huacachina with time to catch some beautiful colors in the desert sky and had an eye watering ride to get there.
We absolutely loved this tour and would highly recommend it. Really a great day! Seriously check out the video below or you can go to youtube and watch it here.... https://youtu.be/7rNhyqtWiKs
How to feel at home in a foreign country
Change In Perspective
It's amazing how much the dunes reminded us of back home. Rolling around in the buggy and taking in the amazing desert skies gave us an immense sense of satisfaction. We really felt at home in California, not thousands of miles away in another country. We took out the drone and took some footage, however I forgot my phone and had to maneuver it "blind" (it uses the phone for gps location) and didn't take if far from me. We still had an amazing time! We also sat by the pool one day and burned ourselves silly. We did this a lot back home. We would take weekend trips simply to sit by a pool and relax.
Feeling at home in a such a faraway place is a strange feeling. Being in the desert with dunes and laying by a pool reminded us of old friends and good times back home. Sometimes while traveling you can get lonely and homesick. It's important sometimes to do familiar things that remind you of home. Even when your thirst for adventure is strong and the your desire to see new places drives you far, you still crave the little things that remind you of home and the comfort it entails.