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Saturday, 5 July 2008

Ica and Huacachina

3rd - 5th July 2008

Ica, 70km southeast of Pisco, is Peru´s chief wine centre. About 5km from Ica, round a palm fringed lake and amid amazing sand dunes is the oasis and summer resort of Huacachina. It’s green sulphur waters are said to be curative and thousands of visitors come to swim here.

By midday of the same day we arrived in Ica from Nazca, and hopped in a taxi to nearby Huacachina. After checking out the usual few hostels we settled on one set in the corner of the resort, backing onto one of the massive sand dunes. One of the main tourist attractions in Huacachina is to take a ride in a dune buggy and go sandboarding. To clinch the deal for the room, our hostel owner offered us a third off the room bill if we were to book the buggy/boarding package with them. We agreed and booked the tour for the following afternoon.

After a lazy afternoon around the pool, a real pleasure after two months in the Andes, we took a wander around the "resort", which was very much a resort and aimed directly at gringos and wealthy Peruvians. Prices were somewhat of a shock after real Peru, but we decided to go with it in a bid to have some fun as, well, tourists I guess! Having said this, the resort still featured the obligatory "Chifa", a Peruvian version of a cheap and cheerful Chinese restaurant. So of course we headed straight for it – Ady’s stomach is currently a much diminished version of it's former self and this was a good excuse to fill his boots!

In the morning we took a taxi into Ica, in search of a combi to take us to the wine region. It was almost lunchtime before we figured out how to get there, so we lunched on "almuerzo" and jumped into a collectivo to El Catador, one of the wine bodegas you can visit. We were introduced to a guide who immediately presented us with the biggest avocado ever, grown in one of the nearby allotments by one of the workers. He took us around the small estate and explained how they produced Pisco, their specialty drink, a little like grappa that is produced alongside wine. The highlight of course was the tastings; we were offered five different varieties of pisco, and one sweet desert wine. The undoctored pisco that goes into making a Pisco Sour cocktail is pretty revolting by itself, but we did buy a bottle of the wine and a bottle of pisco crema, a blend of pisco, cream and figs, giving rise to a tasty chocolatey flavor.

At 4pm we headed back to the hostel to await our white-knuckle, rollercoaster ride through the sand dunes. We boarded a 15 seater dune buggy, arranged through our hostel the day before. Not quite what we’d had in mind though - most of the buggies owned by other hostels were much smaller and designed for fewer people and as a result probably much faster. Better still, we really wanted to hire our own buggy and make havoc on the dunes ourselves, but maybe the authorities had restricted this as none were to be found. Anyway, as two individuals with a higher than average adrenaline threshold we were fairly unimpressed by the whole ride, and behaved like two very underwhelmed English people throughout, a stark contrast to the squeals of the girls behind. At this point I feel the need to add that anyone who has experienced riding on a motorbike, off-road with Ady, or in a 4x4 with Sam’s Uncle Andy would also be unimpressed!

Sandboarding was included as part of the tour. Not much fun for one poor soul with a post-Machu Picchu swollen ankle (still), until the guide showed how you can wax the board and go down on your belly, head first! Much more like it. Some of these dunes are colossal, several hundred feet and really quite steep. Still, Ady wished he was boarding on snow rather than sand and vowed for us to book that week skiing in NZ in August.

We spent our second and final evening in the tourist trap that was Huacachina enjoying our most expensive meal of the last three months. Still, the food was amazing. Tomorrow it’s back to reality and onwards to the coastal town of Paracas.

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