This desert oasis is an Instagram dream. 6 km from the small town of Ica and a 3-hour bus ride from Lima are crisp sand dunes that meet the horizon far in the distance. Nestled between these otherworldly hills is a small lake with palm trees, hotels, and restaurants circling its perimeter.
All the pictures of Huacachina show this idyllic paradise, so unlike anywhere else in the world. These photos tugged at our adventurous heartstrings. In reality, however, Huacachina was not quite as magical as it appeared in the perfectly filtered photos. Maybe it was the smell of stool wafting endlessly through the air that warped my perspective….
That being said, Paul and I (and our Norwegian pals) had two great nights in Huacachina. Eating at Huaca-Fucking-China, the restaurant where servers didn’t hesitate to deliver large helpings of profanity, dune buggy adventures at sunset, and sand-boarding face first through the soft hills.
If you have access to the Internet–which you do because you are reading a blog–you have probably heard of Nasca (or Nazca, but I saw the “s” spelling much more frequently in Peru). Nasca, a small town south of Ica, is named after the people who lived in this area prior to the Spanish colonization.
The Nasca created giant lines, animals, and plant drawings in the desert dirt. According to National Geographic, there are approximately 70 animal and plant figures, 300 geometric shapes, and 800+ straight lines. This is absolutely mind-blowing considering these lines are estimated to be 2,000 years old.
How were the Nasca able to create such ornate designs? Scientists don’t know how exactly, they do know they are geoglyphs: drawings made by removing the top layer of oxidized dirt, thus exposing fresher and differently-colored ground just below. The contrast between the two layers produces a remarkable piece. Because the desert receives so little rain, the lines have remained mostly intact since their construction.
And while a century of archaeologists have theorized as to why the Nasca lines were created (astronomy and planetary positioning, alien-created designs etc.), today it is theorized they were used in rituals for water and fertility.
Because the history of these mysterious lines was so intriguing, Paul and I knew we had to check them out. But the tour proved to be, in my opinion, somewhat more underwhelming than the archaeological research being conducted.
You see, the best way to view the Nasca lines is by plane. A very small plane. Paul was undergoing his second round of food poisoning (#dietculture) and was extremely tired and languid. I, though not sick, was hangry due to the mixed information we were receiving from our well-intentioned but hella disorganized hostel owner.
Our plane seats were arranged based on weight. The heaviest passengers received seats toward the front of the plane, while lighter passengers got the vomit-inducing seats in the back. That meant that before boarding, all passengers had to step on a dreadful scale. And even more dreadfully, if you weighed more than 95 kg (roughly 209 lbs), you had to pay for two seats–not cheap considering each was about 90 USD.
Well, thank goodness for food poisoning, folks! My bank was not broken that day.
Prior to this trip, Paul was a bit heavier than the plane’s upper limit. But weakened by two rounds of Go-Lightly-like watery BMs and 8 days of high-altitude trekking, Paul clocked in at 93 kgs!
But my frugal self was only thrilled for so long.
Paul was still heaviest on the plane, thereby receiving VIP treatment directly behind the pilot. I, on the other hand, was in the very back, sitting next to a beautifully dressed, perfectly glamorized Spanish woman. With my hair in backpacker knots, my clothes smelling vaguely of sweat, and my pockets filled with Huacachina sand, I was a toad next to her. But what happened next was volatile.
There were 6 passengers including Paul and myself: 3 rows of 2, affording all a window seat. We took off over a Mars-like, dusty flat expanse, the plane bumping along in the wind. The tour began–first in Spanish, and then in English. However, the pilots’ voices were immensely difficult to hear due to the choppy, muffled radio, so we never knew exactly what we were observing until the actual image came into view. Because of this, I could never prepare my body for the changing positions of the plane. I could only react, not anticipate, these sharp movements as the plane tilted widely to accommodate every passenger. In addition, because my seat was positioned in the rear of the plane, my body also shifted laterally along with the tail.
I became acutely aware of my stomach contents–which luckily was very little.
Conveniently, all seats came with a modestly-sized plastic bag. I pulled mine out, rapidly opening it onto my lap between snapping photos. I could feel the Instagram model beside me eyeing me, her jaw tightening, and her entire body shifting as far away from me as possible. Sweat beaded on my forehead. Anxiety and claustrophobia ran down my spine as bile traveled toward my esophagus. My back curled over the bag, and I began vomiting wildly.
Upon having nothing else within me, I trapped the bag shut as if I could capture the already dissipating bitterness of regurgitated stomach contents that wafted through the tiny cabin. My only blessing was that the rest of the passengers weren’t sympathy vomiters.
The half-hour tour seemed like it lasted a lifetime. But we descended and landed without issue. Paul stumbled out of his door and met me in the rear of the plane. “I almost threw up,” he said.
I held up my barf bag like Darla on Finding Nemo with the dead fish inside. So proud. “I win,” I said. And we slept the rest of the day.
Paracas is a coastal beach town south of Lima. In addition to being fairly quaint and relaxed, it is known for its tours to the Islas Ballestas. These islands are known as Peru’s “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” (Sidenote: Ecuador also has their own “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” Very creative.)
These rocky islands are home to thousands of boobies and other birds, as well as sea lions. Tourists can take speed boat tours to the islands, where there’s a likelihood of seeing a variety of wildlife.
Our tour, which took place only on the boat, lasted about two hours and ranged between extremely relaxing and humorous.
The first twenty minutes or so we listened to our tour guide, the boat gently rocking in the wavy ocean. But then, we began racing toward the islands themselves, and in doing so became drenched in salty ocean spray.
From my hair to my toes, even with a rain coat, pants and shoes, my body was dripping like I’d just exited a pool. And as we changed course and began returning to Paracas, I grabbed my camera around my neck and immediately felt like Gandalf warning Frodo about the one ring. “Keep it secret, keep it safe,” I thought, as I shoved it into the bottom of my backpack, under the seat and between my feet.
Thankfully, our technology survived the ocean assault on the boat, and I can show you these decent photos today.
-Syd & Paul