A Travellerspoint blog



The Oasis

sunny 27 °C

Fri 10.04.09 - Huacachina
Getting to Huacachina required 4 transitions – collectivo (mini van stuffed with people) from Lunahuana to Imperial, another collectivo to Canete, local bus from there to Ica (approx 2.5 hours leaving 2 seconds after we bought our ticket) then a short taxi ride to Huacachina. All told it was 4 hours but we avoided any waiting time which we were stoked about.
The place was crazier (landscape speaking) than Lunahuana. Our hostel was situated on the edge of a small lagoon, which was surrounded on all sides and for miles by great white sand dunes. The ‘town’ was originally built in the 1920’s as a holiday destination for Peru’s elite. The original hotel there still caters for that sort of crowd. We spent the afternoon looking around the town’s restaurants and hotels (quick tour, very small), decided that the lagoon looked far too green to be a safe place to swim for anyone other than the Peruvian kids and then hiked to the top of the western most dune to watch the sun set.
As we trekked up, we watched a convoy of dune buggies tearing around the sand dunes, following a sort-of track only barely distinguishable by the tyre imprints in the sand. The buggies launched themselves blindly over the dune buggy peaks, getting airborne before landing on the down-slope and extracting yells and screams from the passengers in the process. Sandboarders would be dropped off at the top of the steepest dunes and picked up again at the bottom. We were keen to try it, but not that keen on the price.
As the sun neared the horizon, we perched on the highest dune we could find and watched the light get deeper and the shadows longer to produce some fleeting images of seemingly endless desert and sky-scapes that we will remember for quite some time.
When the show was over, we turned tail and decided to run down the steep sand dunes in a unique combination of exhilaration, gravity, un-coordination and laughter that produced a buzzing smile until we reached solid ground and removed a cubic meter of sand from each shoe. As we write now three months later, the sand has only just stopped finding its way out of the shoes and socks that were worn on the day.

Posted by cromie79 18:35 Archived in Peru Comments (0)


Food, Wine & Pisco

semi-overcast 24 °C

Thurs 09.04.09 Lunahuana
Holy week got into fifth gear today – people came to the town in the hundreds and all day and at night a festival vibe pulsated through the town. It was great to have arrived the night before to appreciate the change, as now there were hundreds of people who filled the main plaza, drinking even in the early hours of the morning! The place was going nuts and so were we with the bloody car alarms. The Peruvian infatuation with horns and alarms was so frustrating. All morning, we’re trying to sleep in and every thirty seconds a car alarm starts going off just outside the window. Furthermore, they loved the sound so much that many people personalized their car horn with one which sounded more like an alarm. We figured the personalization was the only way they could figure out who’s tooting who. The air was just saturated with noise, people trying to get our attention, warning us of impeding danger, whatever – it was all around.
We hired some mountain bikes to visit some of the wineries and other sights up the valley from the town. We rode up the steady incline for about half an hour, passing the wineries we were to visit later before reaching our first stop – a suspension bridge where Limenos (People from Lima) were lining up for horse rides up to an apiary. It was nice enough, but generally unimpressive so we got back on our bikes, crusing down the hill to our first winery, or as it turned out to be, a Pisco distillery. It was a very honest and simple sort of operation and the amicable owner spent a good half an hour showing us around their facilities, explaining the process in Spanish and us doing our best to put together the pieces. The process for Pisco is exactly like wine up until its distilled. The grapes are hand picked and carried in wicker baskets up to their small crusher/de-stemmer which is over a concrete open-top fermenter (like a small pool). The grapes are plunged daily and spend two weeks on the skins, producing a very fruity sort of wine which is just let out of the fermenters by gravity into large plastic drums. When the vintage is fully ready, the wine is then siphoned off into the copper distiller, heated by a wood fire where the alcohol is boiled off and the clear liquid stored in old barrels until bottling. After this tour, the owner took us up to his bar/tasting room for us to sample his three different types. We were both surprised at how smooth Pisco is for a 40% spirit, making the task of finishing the massive tasting serves that he poured us rather pleasurable. They did make a wine this year too – a white one which he told me was their first time and after tasting it, through our tightened jaw we smiled at him and said, “Not too bad”. More than slightly emboldened by the Pisco, we tore down the road and had lunch at an outdoor roadside restaurant that looked busy enough to be safe. Andrew had the local specialty which was a kind of muddy freshwater crayfish bisque whilst most of those around us tucked in to the other Peruvian specialty, Cuy, or roasted guinea pig. We stopped in at another winery after lunch near the town and tasted around 6 wines, only one of which was any good at all.
We returned our mountain bikes and had a disco/pisco nap, waking up in the darkness with the buzz outside having grown into a frenzy. Being a carnival, restaurants were packed, so dinner was going to be from the local street food. We tried beef skewers, yuka (a cross between a yam and a potato), temales (steamed cornmeal parcel filled with spiced onion and meat) and local corn (with kernels twice the size of ours, served up with Greek feta).
We also tried a few Pisco sours from one of 20 or so outdoor bars which had sprung out of nowhere in the main square. Pisco sour is a mix of 3parts pisco, 2 parts lemon juice and 1 part sugar syrup, shaken with a tablespoon of egg white. They’re extremely delicious but dangerously potent, and it seemed that everyone was enjoying themselves on a warm clear night in the square. Meanwhile, a religious procession circled the town square and the neighboring streets, consisting of three statues standing on a table carried on the shoulders of four men each. The three statues were of Jesus, Mary and the Pope, all adorned in elaborate robes and flowers. A band followed the procession around, providing a fairly solemn sort of march music for literally hours. Every 10 minutes or so a bell would sound and the procession stopped to rest. The statues were put down and the band was silent, along with the following crowd until the bell rang again and the process repeated. No need to rush to Peru for Holy Week people.
With perhaps half a Pisco Sour too many, we retired to bed comfortable with our choice to leave Lunahuana early and head to the desert oasis of Huacachina.

Posted by cromie79 16:51 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lima - Lunahuana

semi-overcast 25 °C

Wed 08.04.09 Lunahuana
Got up at 4.30am in order to get to the airport for our flight to Peru. We thought we had plenty of time to spare but learnt at check-in that the flight had been brought forward a full hour. We paid our departure tax (on credit card because we’d used all our cash on the taxi), and rushed through customs, only to discover to our frustration that no-one checked our bloody departure tax receipt! If you have the time to spare in the airport at BA, we encourage you to try it on and save yourself a few bucks. Adding to the comedy and typical of South America, the plane was displayed as ‘on time’ but left over 45mins late, eventually carrying us northwards and over the Andes and the desert-coast of Peru into Lima. From the air, the suburbs of Lima looked like they had been run-over by a dust-storm – everything was one or two stories high and anything that was not mobile seemed to be covered in dust. We had been told that there was not much to hold us in Lima and a sight like this only seemed to confirm it. We needed to get a bus out of Lima to Canete (a town about 2 hours down the coast), the problem was that in Lima the city is so dis-organized there is no such thing as a central bus terminal. All the bus companies have their own, separate depots and terminals spread about the city. With our telephone Spanish not good enough to check which one we needed to get to, our only option was to take a punt that the first company we turned up at would operate our route. We hated taxis in South America – every time you get in one you feel like you could be held for ransom. The Lonely Planet doesn’t make you feel any safer either – saying that you should only ever call take a ‘radio taxi’, which is South American for a driver who is affiliated with an actual company. You see anyone with a car can be a taxi driver there, all they have to do is put a sign up on their window and get a sticker from the local taxi ‘registration authority’ – read corner store selling the sticker. Everywhere you go there is warning about getting into ‘fake’ or just dodgy taxis where drivers do anything from: demanding exorbitant fares, doubling the fare saying it was ‘per person’ and not total; taking you to a dodgy neighborhood and threatening to tip you out unless you pay an exorbitant bribe; and the worst of all, where random armed people jump in, blindfold you, steal all your things and take you to various ATMs to extort money from you, leaving you stranded (we heard of this actually happening later to an American couple who stayed at the same hostel as us in Arequipa). None of the cabs in South America, (apart from Brazilian ones) have meters, so to prevent getting ripped off you have to have some idea of what your trip is meant to cost before you jump in. As you could appreciate, this is extremely difficult when you arrive in a new country, with a new currency and little idea of how much things should cost, let alone how far your destination is from where you jump in. In the end and racked with fear on losing everything we had, we decided to take the safe option and pay for an official shuttle taxi from within the terminal, at a cost of US$25 (around 75 Soles)– which did not seem too exorbitant compared to home, even though we knew this was a lot more than what we would be charged if we risked a taxi out the front. We later learnt that a Lima local that a normal taxi from the city center to the airport should cost in the order of 10-15 soles, 5 times less than what we paid.
Nonetheless, we got to our first bus station and after working out they didn’t operate our route, were given directions to another bus terminal 5 mins walk away (from what we would tell). In our short walk, we were offered rides (read honked at) by no less than 10 different taxi drivers, lurking around all the bus stations to find a gringo to pick up. It occurred to me that this is the furthest possible place from Flemington Racecourse in November, where taxis willing to carry a passenger are as hard to find as a successful bet. Ignoring their incessant honking, we reached the a bus company who despite not operating the route, gave us directions and indication of reasonable taxi fare to the next place. We bargained with a swarm of drivers out the front and walked in the door of the next place and practically straight on the departing bus.
Once on the bus, in getting to Lunahuana we were struck by the moon-like landscape heading down the coast, south of Lima. The towns, the soil, the sea were all devoid of colour and it seemed to us that nothing could grow in this land. Then the contrast came as we passed through the numerous river valleys coming out of the Andes to meet the ocean where sudden lush green vegetation and widespread agriculture seemed to thrive off irrigated channels diverting water from the raging torrents. We jumped off the bus in Canete, caught a ‘collectivo’ minibus/taxi cramming ourselves and our backpacks in amongst 20 unimpressed Peruvians to Imperial, then another collectivo for about 35mins to Lunahuana when Kate and I had to share the front seat of small car. We tumbled out in Lunahuana and because of the holy-week (Easter) long weekend, were fortunate enough to find some basic accommodation close to the centre of town. We went out for dinner at a simple little restaurant and had our first taste of Peruvian wine – not the best, but then again we didn’t pay much either. Lunahuana itself was a small town (approx 3500 population) with white-water rafting, wineries and restaurants close by but with very little going on in the town… until Thursday…

Posted by cromie79 17:23 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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