Day 2: From Lima to Huacachina

Huacachina Travel Blog

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Rising at 04:20h will never be a my new hobby, but enjoying a whole new country has it's price... This is part of that price.

Paying that price continues at "breakfast": we are leaving so early, that the kitchen  of the hotel has not opened yet, nor has the breakfast room - so we have to make do with tea, milk and cookies (and coffee, for those who can actually drink that stuff) at the reception. Now, I'm not one to go for a full English breakfast, but this is quite the other end of the spectrum.

Before we board the bus, I try to take some photo's of the exterior of the hotel - mission impossible, of coarse: it is still dark as night outside, and that regularly doesn't result in the best pictures (and after my return home, it's clear that these feable attempts have been utter failures).
Well, at least I tried!

Around quarter to six we board the bus and set out for the desert - not that we can see that at first: when we leave Lima, the sun is still such a long way below the horizon, that it's pitchblack outside, and the few stray photons are by no meas sufficient to reveal anything of our surroundings.

But about an hour later, daylights starts to come in, and the desolate landscape appears. I find it a hugely impressive sight, those vast plains of sand, surrounded by some hills of sand, with some rare-growing plants scattered around. For me it's the first time I see a desert in another way than on a TV screen. It's then that I realize that something is wrong - compared to those TV-pictures: where is the sun? We're in the middle of a vast sand-desert.
.. under a thick pack of clouds, slightly misty and in a rainy drizzle! So more promises of a fascinating country....

One and a half hour into our drive, we stop at the restaurant "El Piloto" in San Luis. The kitchen there is open, so we can have a bit of breakfast after all (and to be honest, their toasted sandwiches do taste good under any circumstances). The service in the restaurant is even quick enough, that we have some time left to run into the shop of the neighbouring gas station, to buy some drinks and snacks for on the road.

On the road again, we pass another two hours of fascinating desert before we reach our first "real" destination in Peru: the harbour of Paracas, from where we will cross the Pacific (eh.
.. a little bit of it) to the Islas Ballestas. Even before we have left the bus, we are already stormed by salesman, who try to sell us hats, caps, scarves, picture cards and many other tourist stuff. I know, I should have resisted, but I couldn't help yielding to the temptation to but a cap with printing of Pisco - at least I talked 25% off the requested price.

At the seaside we are stormed again, only this time it's the local guide running to our tour guide, half-shouting: "hurry, hurry, you have to be in the boat in five minutes, it is going to leave without you!". The news is passed on towards the ladies and gents of the restaurant we are in front of (that's where most of our group are at that time), and we rush to the docking place.
.. Where we find not one, but six boats, and no one knows which is to be ours... Not surprisingly, as a couple of minutes later our local guide reappears out of nowhere (again), showing us to a seventh boat, a little bit further back along the pier.

Now, if you go there yourself (and I can really recommend you to do so), don't expect a cruise on a luxury liner - it's more like an overgrown speedboat, offering places to just under twenty people, to race across the open sea in an open boat, dressed in orange life-vests, at 45 km/h. It's really worth your while!

It starts with a bit of sightseeing, as the boat halts in front of "il candelabra", a huge drawing in the sand, vaguely resembling three candles - or a bunch of three flowers, if your imagination takes you onto a little different interpretation.
They were made by the Nazca-people, about fifteen hundred years ago, and for us it's a little prequel to what's in store for us tomorrow.

On the rocks below "il candelabra" we can also see that they are largely covered by something white, and we see a lot of birds... These two facts are related... But before I spoil too much of the story, we continue in the boat, now again racing across the water in a straight line away from the coast. Ahead of us, the group of rocky islands slowly grows larger as the distance decreases. We are heading about 25 km away from the mainland to reach the Islas Ballestas.

What we see is spectacular! By themselves, the Islas Ballestas are no more than a group of rocks sticking out of the ocean, but wildlife is teaming everywhere you look.
Thousands upon thousands of birds of many different species (gannets, pinguins, cormorants, etc.) and other kinds of animals (sealions, crabs, just to mention two). A magnificent sight. We just can't seem to stop taking pictures there. And if all these animales weren't enough, the rockformations are quite special to see too.

And of course, where there are that many birds, there is lots of Peru's former main export product: guano. These rocks are even more covered with the grey-white stuff than the rocks we saw beneath "il candelabra". There was a time that guano was was sold all over the world, tons and tons of it, and all that had to harvested by hand. Just looking at the islands gives us an idea of the horror these harvesters had to go through. Just imagine that you have to spend your day scraping bird-do of the rocks.
.. Not my idea of a dream job. Just then our local guides surprises us with a bit of extra information: over the last couple of years, the guano-market has been on the up again, and, though less frequent and on a smaller scale, people have restarted collecting the droppings...

The tour around the Islas Ballestas takes about half an hour, after which we race full speed back to the harbour. Luckily, the Pacific gives credit to its Dutch name ("Stille Oceaan", which means "silent ocean"), so none of us ahs the urge to be close to the railing (other than for taking pictures).

We dock at about lunchtime; there is a very good restaurant just one minute walking from the pier. High time to taste the Peruvian cuisine. I order a typical Peruvian seafood-dish: Ceviche (don't mistake it for cerveza, that's something totally different), a dish of raw fish pickled in lemon juice, mixed with raw onions and served with different kinds of potatoes and rice.
This delightful dish has a refreshing taste from the lemons, and quite a bite from the onions. The wide variety of potatoes in Peru can cause mistakes: I thought I was eating a papaya (it even tasted quite similar), while it was in fact a deeply orange kind of potato.

Fish must swim, so my quite differing taste for drinks also surfaced: yesterday evening I was only one of the two in the group who very much disliked the local cocktail, pisco sour, now it turns out I am the only one to like the local soft drink, Inca Kola. The others of the group find the fluorescent yellow bubbling liquid disgustingly sweet - tooth destructively sweet - during the rest of the holiday I consumed quite many a bottle (and still, after return home, my dentist didn't notice any Inca Kola-effects).

Arriving at the restaurant, we were welcomed by a couple of musicians, playing traditional Nazcan and Inca instruments. The cheerful tones are widely appreciated in our group. Later, while we wait for our ordered dishes to arrive, a local magician starts showing his tricks. His magic is quite good, but hit presentation lacks a bit of variation: he started his show by asking where we came from, and after that, every is escorted by his shouting out a shortlist of names of the Dutch royal family (those South-American background).

After lunch there is not much time to look around the (mainly souvenir) shops, before boarding the bus. Finally the sun has broken up the clouds, so the desert now shows its familiar looks: sand, a blazing sun and a clear blue sky.

Our next stop is a visit to a bodega in Guadelupe, in the region called Pisco. Our local guide takes us around the site, showing the vineyards, the crushing place (where the grapes are crushed to juice and pulp - the latter is also used in the production of the wine), the large stone vats, in which the wine is stored to ferment, and the distillery, where the wine is made into pisco. And... probably you´ve already guessed it: after the tour we get to taste the pisco, a number of varieties. None of them I go for a refill of my (luckily) small glass.

>From the bodega it takes just a little over ten minutes to get to the Museo Regional de Ica, our next site to visit. It is there where we learn some things about the history of Peru, and the different civilizations that lived there during different periods.
These periods are called horizons, of which there have been three. During each horizon, one civilization dominated most of Peru. One of these period, a large part of Peru was ruled by the Nazcans, a tribe that originated locally. Apart from a lot of pottery and embroidery, the museum shows weapons, signaling cloths and ritualistic items.

In the last part of the museum, we find a number of items for which the region of Peru is famous: mummies. The mummies are wel preserved, at one even the tatto on the left leg is still clearly visible. And they all have a really strange shape of the skull with a hole drilled in it. It was a tradition to bind the heads of small children, so the head would get an elongated shape, but the reason for the hole in the skull is still a mystery.
It is a fact that these were made during the persons life: there are signs of bone regrowth, but that's all we know...

Just outside of Ica is the oasis Huacachina. After one more stop in front of a cash machine, we arrive at the Hotel Mossone. Already at first glance we can see that this hotel has got a really different style. It has only rooms on the first floor, most  of which are situated around the "main square" of the hotel. The lack of a view left aside, I have a very nice room, which actually consists of three rooms: a sitting room, a bedroom and a bathroom. Later, at dinner, I hear that the rooms our group members are in differ very much from each other. Some complain is not much larger than a Sojuz-space capsule, others are staying in what is just only a little bit too small to be a dance hall.

I take a few minutes in my room to set myself up for the upcoming night, put some batteries in recharges (don't you find it oh-so-easy too, that every [iece of electronic equipment has its own recharger for its own kind of battery? - not!), and set out for a walk before dinner. Huacachina is surrounded by sand dunes, and I try to climb one. Just trying, because about three quarter way up, I just plunge down on the sand, too exhausted to climb any higher, but high enough to watch the sunset over the hills of the desert.

Back in town (if you can call it that), I walk around a little bit more, buy some souvenirs and a small bottle of pisco puro. No, I didn't drink it - back in the hotel I found out I had completely forgotten to bring along mouthwash. And since I thought it tasted like.
... Well, you can fill in the rest, I think.

Returning to the hotel, I still have enough time left to throw the sand out of my shoe (so much came out, that I thought I was now waring the magic sand flask the magician used this afternoon) and change shirt, before going to dinner. There we chat about previous travel experiences and about Peru until well after the meal has finished, a nice way to round off our  first full day in Peru full of special experiences.

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Huacachina Hotels & Accommodations review
A palace on an oasis
A beautiful hotel, beautifully situated. Built more like a Moorish palace than like a hotel and placed right next to the oasis, the hotel breaths an a… read entire review
photo by: yadilitta