Carrying drunks, sandboarding & smelly islands

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Flag of Peru  , Ica,
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

With the buzz of the Nazca lines fresh in our minds, we drove towards the desert oasis of Huacachina. Official population is just under 200 so our two trucks would increase that number by some 20%. We drive out there, on a road in the middle of the desert until the road ends and an oasis jumps out at us. It's much bigger than you expect it to be. A massive lake in the middle and palm trees surrounding the outside. You almost expect to see some camels walking around being led by some desert people but instead you hear the throaty roars of dune buggy engines as they head out of town and into the desert taking visitors out for joy rides on the dunes. We found a hot dog stand somewhere and threw down a burger and a hot dog before strapping ourselves in and heading out of town.

There’s an innate sense of reckless abandon when you’re in a vehicle, driving through the desert, blazing your own path and doing it at breakneck speed. It’s even cooler doing it with a massive roll cage around you, assured in the knowledge that if we tip over and career down a sand dune, the worse we’ll get is covered in sand and end up upside down, no chance of the roof caving in and getting crushed. It’s a little like wrestling with one of those massive inflatable sumo suits on, you can just be stupid and the only thing that could bring you pain is injuring yourself.

Our experienced drivers flung the buggy up massive dunes and at stupidly weird angles, in an attempt to break the laws of physics. I don’t care how stoic you try to be, once they get going, you can’t help but grin from ear to ear. At a crest of a sand dune, we stopped, unloaded our sand boards and were flung down the first dune, one by one, like lemmings towards disaster. Watching your fellow sandboarders wipe out was as much fun as flying down the dune at speed yourself. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing more of the same, flying around the desert in the sand buggies, stopping another dune (each one higher than the next), some paraffin wax on the bottom of the board before sliding down at breakneck speed.

Although the Nikon did come out for a ride, it never left its bag. This place would be a graveyard for cameras and there was still the Galapagos Islands to go. Some basic risk management was done here and the downside was way too high. Taking pictures in the desert ends up always being a risk management decision for me. On one hand the view is always different to other pictures and the light in the afternoons and mornings are always spectacular. On the other hand, one grain of sand and you’re screwed, good luck finding a Nikon repair shop in South America that can fix your camera in the 2 hours that you have in a town. If I want desert shots, they’ll have to wait until the Sahara, much later on in our trip. But as you can see, we did get some pictures from somewhere - so a big thanks goes out to our friend Kerry, who thanks to her "aquapack" was the only one of us brave enough to pull her camera out in the desert. 

As the sun was going down, we made our way to camp where a fabulous barbeque was cooking and everyone gathered around the food to exchange stories, have a few drinks and inhale the smoky smells of cooking meat. It was the perfect end to a very cool afternoon.

With the weight of a small cow and a couple of chickens in my stomach, I was off to find a comfy spot by the fire and chill out. Over to one corner, Theo and James were discussing the consumption of Pisco Sours (the national drink of Peruvians) and it wasn’t long before a dare was issued. Something in the vicinity of 7 shots later (all in very quick succession), we were left to sort out a completely useless James. I normally take a, "You made your bed now lie in it" stance towards nursing drunks but James is a special guy who is always looking out for people so Ted and I listened to his drunken mutterings, discovered that he had NO use of his legs and had to carry him to his sleeping bag. We found him a spot to sleep, made sure he was drinking water and left his liver to process the night’s festivities. In movies, when you see a murderer easily dragging a corpse into and out of a car, scarcely breaking a sweat, don't believe it. A lifeless human body is an extremely awkward mass to move. I can thank my good buddy James for teaching me that lesson the hard way. With our coma patient tucked away, the rest of us we enjoyed a night sleeping under the stars. No tents. Just us, our sleeping bags and the open sky.

We left the sand dunes the same way we came in, in the buggies and at speed. The next stop was over to Islas Ballestas. Travel books have it touted as the Galapagos of Peru. What they don’t tell you is how badly the place smells. For once I’m glad that my pictures don’t have an olfactory component to them, thankfully it’s only visual. They have a great double smell act happening. Bird droppings on the islands (fertilizer used to be Peru’s main export) and fish canneries close by combine to sting the nostrils. We jumped on a boat and cruised around taking pictures of the wildlife from the islands. The place is teeming with wildlife and plenty of birds because the Humboldt current brings with it a lot of food. The birds are like me I guess, they go where the food is in greatest supply. We saw dolphins as we headed out, sea lions and plenty of birds. According to our guide, a couple of them were extremely rare but I didn’t even pretend to know a thing about birds.

Boat ride complete, we discussed accommodation for that night, which was to be a beach camp somewhere in the vicinity of Stinkland. We took a vote and before you could tally up the votes for the people who wanted to stay, we were on the truck and heading towards Lima. Smell you later, Islas Ballestas.

Join us on our next blog when we take our truck into the heart of Lima’s narrow streets during evening peak hour (just think, dark narrow streets plus crappy truck turning circle = bedlam) and we take in the sights and sounds of Peru’s capital.
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