Conquering the land of sand

Trip Start Feb 22, 2007
Trip End Aug 22, 2007

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Sunday, April 15, 2007


Before we get into our latest active adventure, how about some culture?   While in Lima, we stumbled upon the impressive Changing of the Guard ceremony in the Main Plaza.  You can watch video the here... 

After that bit of culture... onto Huacachina.  I liked Huacachina.  Except for the sandboarding part.

Now that we are in Peru, and judging from the drab and dusty Lima landscape, I thought we had left behind days at the beach (my personal favourite) that we enjoyed on Ecuador's coast.  On our bus ride to Peru, we heard about a place where you can use snowboards on sand.  Steve was immediately in and I thought it sounded intriguing and impossible to hurt yourself on sand, although it is a pain in the butt (literally).

Imagine my pleasant surprise when we showed up at our hostel.  It was an oasis in the desert, complete with pool and lounge chairs, surrounded by mountains of sand. 

This is Huacachina, a tiny speck of a town completely surrounded and overshadowed by the massive sand dunes that surround it.  There is a constant stream of tourists, and for good reason.  It would probably get curious visitors regardless because of its proximity to the famous mysterious Nazca Lines.  But then some genius thought of the sandboarding, which is packaged with adventurous dune buggy rides, and it becomes a "must do" in the travel books.

I've been to sand dunes before, but it was nothing like this ride.  From the road, we approached the sand dunes ahead with full speed.  Soon, we could see the town no longer and we were completely surrounded by mountains of sand.  We stormed up steep climbs and plummented over the side in a freefall, flying into the air and hitting the sand again with a thud.  It was like a rollercoaster - one that had no set course and where you needed sunglasses for to keep the sand out of your eyes.

 I loved this part and would have liked to just do this, but this excursion included sandboarding.  Being Canadian, I'm ashamed to admit that I've never tried snowboarding.  I've skied (the last time was probably 10 years ago).  After strapping myself to the board and looking down at what was supposed to be the "practice hill", I decided to take the less sophisticated approach of lying on my stomach on the board.  This turned out to be a very quick and less controlled way to get down the hill.  Steve attempted one practice hill standing on the board but eventually settled for the easier approach of going down the hill headfirst.

After seeing the "real" hill, I decided there was no way I was going down that thing on my stomach.  Too much speed for me, and I'd already heard about people getting sandburns on the legs and arms.  Call me "pollo" (spanish word for chicken) but I'm sure that's not the only thing that I'll bail out on during this trip. 

Here's a picture of Steve going down headfirst.  He is that little tiny dot in the middle of the hill.  Luckily, no injuries to report, either for Steve or any other sandboarders in his path (a miracle considering his first and only skiing experience in Newfoundland ten years ago, where he bombed straight down the hill and narrowly missed other skiiers on the way down).

Luckily we got more dunebuggy riding and even watched the sunset behind a mountain of sand.  (cue the "ahhh"s)

I was unhappy to find out later that I had, in fact, managed to get big purple bruises on my thighs where they were hitting the curved end of the board on the bumpy way down.  (They reminded me of a tinier version of Katherine's famous waterskiing bruises).  And of course, sand has a lasting legacy.  How do you get rid of it?  You can shake your clothes, empty your shoes and scrub your skin as hard as you can, but sand is a survivor.  We'll no doubt remember this stop on our journey for as long as sand continues to fall from our clothes and our backpacks.

Needless to say, Steve wanted Round 2 but he went solo.  I chose the cheaper and infinitely more appealing option of reading poolside, arguably my favourite vacation activity EVER.  I could have stayed here for many more days, but I think our stay finished after Steve's second sandboarding attempt.... over to Steve.  


I told Sara to think of her blog as an undercard to a prize fight, something Butterbean or two  unknowns from Mexico would participate in. While mine on the other hand, cue Rocky theme song...

Adding to Saraīs note on Limaīs culture: we visited the Monastery of San Francisco, which houses an impressive collection of colonial art. The best being a painting of The Last Supper. One difference though -- don't worry, I'm not going to unleash a Dan Brown-esqe conspiracy theory -- in the painting, Jesus is enjoying a delicious plate of "cuy," which you may remember as the guinea pig I devoured a few blogs ago. Word is he didn't share any with Judas, and we all know what happened next. 

Moving on to Huacachina (wok-ah-chee-na). Sara already touched upon how I was the second-coming of Chevy Chase on the Newfoundland ski slopes. Well, it's fair to say I continued the National Lampoon's tradition while sand-boarding.

First of all, as Sara also mentioned, I was way too clumsy to actually stand all the way down, so I resorted to going head-first at top speed. This was fine on the first day, but I just had to go again.

After sliding down the hill 4 or 5 times on day two, a bunch of us asked the guide for a bigger hill. And boy did he deliver. The catch: we have to walk all the way up this hill since itīs too steep for the dune buggies.

I reluctantly do this, knowing itīll be well worth it,  but while Iīm slouched over, gasping for breath, preparing myself for the thrill ride of my life, the guide drops this bombshell, "Oh, no estomago, muy peligroso," or Ļit's too dangerous to ride on your stomach, you have to go standing up.Ļ

Which, by the looks of it, is sound advice, but like I said, I'm a clutz and there's no way I busted my ass up that hill to essentially fall all the way down it. So, with God perched on one shoulder, the Devil on the other (my mom played the part of God, "Steven, don't be so damn stupid," while I played the part of the devil, "Come on, how sweet will this be,") I decide to go for it while the guide isn't looking.

"So far so good, ok, I'm going to live, ooh, wait a minute, wait a minute," now drastically picking up speed on the giant sand dune. I start dragging my feet, that doesn't quite do it, so I spread my arms into the sand. This slows me down a bit, but unfortunately has the side-effect of giving me the vision of Kirby Puckett (he's dead, but I figured the groping allegations make him fair game).

So, sand is flying up into my face and I can't see a thing, but I do hear the guide. "Cuidado, cuidado" (careful, careful), right before I manage to see what he's screaming about. I'm heading right for an English girl who's stationary on her board near the bottom of the hill. This is going to be bad. 

I immediately decide the best course of action is to bail, so I go rolling head-over-heals while my board continues on its destructive path. The girl just manages to jump over my board, only catching a bit of it, and she lives (a scenario that would've played out much differently had I stayed on). 

And as you may have assumed, this story ends like any Jane Austen novel. The English girl thanks me for saving her life and rewards this Mr. Darcy with some sweet-lovin'. Ahh, actually, I think she called me a "wanker," among other expletives.

After I was done apologizing, I built a castle with all the sand I found in my ass, and Sara and I were off to Nazca, home of the famous Nazca Lines.

Because I forgot most of what I learned about The Nazca Lines, Iīm pulling a Rishi Lal and giving you the Wikipedia version, so some facts may be wrong.

Basically, theyīre giant drawings in the desert that were drawn between 200 BC and 700 AD. There are hundreds of individual figures, ranging in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, and lizards (stolen directly from Wikipedia).

Early one morning, Sara and I climbed into a small 5-seater plane for our 45-minute aerial tour of these lines. When the pilot turned around to face us I was hoping heīd pull up his aviators to reveal he was none other than Jerry Louis. Sadly, he was not, but after what could now be almost 2000 years, itīs remarkable that we didnīt need our Colombian guide to reach into his magical sock to enhance these drawings. Theyīre still all amazingly clear.

Theories on why these lines were drawn by the ancient Nazcans range from: 1) used as an astronomical calendar 2) a map of water sources 3) The Cruise/Travolta Theory: they were alien landing strips, and probably the most accepted theory:

4) All the shapes have significance in the Incan culture (condor, monkey, etc.), so the people carved them in the desert as a way to honour their gods. We were actually shown a video where shamans drank a potion and thought they were flying like a condor (allowing them to see the lines they carved). So while I didnīt get high, it's a sure bet these people did.


Next up, more drug-free adventures. This is after all, a family blog. 

Up nezt: The Colca Canyon, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. 



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