The sand dunes of Huacachina are strikingly beautiful, their smooth yellow curves standing out against the bright blue sky so strongly you'd think they were photoshopped. The oasis, even interrupted as it is by shoddy South-American architecture, is a gorgeous haven of life; plants, trees and tourists huddled around a rather smelly pond.
Apparently the population, minus tourists, is only about 200 people, but it seems like every building is a hotel. We are so happy we are visiting during the week, during the low season; for us it is a quiet, relaxing place which we almost have to ourselves.
We check into a small hotel with dune buggies in the parking lot, a pretty garden with a clear blue pool and the water of the oasis itself within sight. 60 soles for the night and breakfast, about 15 euro. Easily within budget.
As we check in, we ask about sandboarding and dune buggies: we are in luck, there is a small group preparing to leave the hotel in a couple of hours. 40 soles each. Ewelina and I look at each other... why not? We might find something a little cheaper by walking the streets, but on the other hand we figure hotels probably don't like killing their guests and our guidebooks had warned us against inexperienced drivers. We sign up and take our things to our room.
Later, as we become more familiar with Huacachina, one of the things we get used to and learn to recognize, is the roar of a dune buggy in the distance. I had always thought the phrase "dune buggy" sounded kind of cute, harmless. I was so wrong. These buggies are monsters, roaring and powerful, little more than an oversized engine riveted to a sturdy metal cage on wheels, they are designed to race up the steep dunes and, in the event of driver miscalculation, keep their soft human cargo from getting squished as they roll back down again.
As we climb into our bright red buggy later that afternoon, we have no idea what to expect. But as the driver does the rounds and tightens everyone's seatbelts almost to the point of suffocation, we realize that we are probably in for one hell of a ride.
And sure enough, within seconds of the buggy's engine roaring to life our faces are transformed into adrenaline-fueled smiles of delight.. and fright. Like a roller-coaster ride without the rails, except more dangerous and lasting 2 hours instead of 2 minutes.
Every now and then our driver, a round, balding, dark-skinned fellow with a big smile, looks back to check if his passengers are happy, not panicing or vomiting or dead. Everyone is fine, although the girls do scream a lot during the steeper drops and rougher landings. Every time they cry out, our driver laughs maniacally. I get the impression he likes his job.
Another thing that makes him laugh, is sandboarding. Or, rather, helping us sandboard. He shows us how to wax the beat-up boards with a broken candle, how to lay on the board, hold on, elbows in, spread our legs for balance. Then he pushes one of the girls over the edge and laughs as she screams all the way down. Everyone makes it down just fine of course, and the group is all smiles as we move to bigger and bigger and bigger dunes, and our driver demonstrates parking on 40 degree inclines.
The crazy dune buggy ride makes a brief stop at an uninhabited oasis, where a magnet demonstrates how many iron fragments are mixed in with the sand (lots). The wild ride's final destination, before racing back to Huacachina, is on the top of a dune with an amazing view over the desert and the sun setting between dunes on the horizon. So pretty!
The rest of our stay in Huacachina is pretty laid back. Strolls around town and around the pond, ceviche and pisco sours, a burger and beers in a little metal/goth themed café... we like Huacachina. And yet, still feeling the need to make forward progress after our long delays in the Amazon, we only stay the one night.
The next morning we eat breakfast at our hotel, hop in a taxi to Ica and get on a bus to Nasca.