Where desert meets the sea

We’d encountered the Peru Hop pamphlets in various places and hadn’t really given their tour services much thought until we asked our hip looking hostel employee to recommend a guide company for the next leg of our trip. We had arrived back in Lima and wanted to check out the very popular coastal town of Paracas and the massive sand dunes surrounding the oasis of Huacachina before departing to Chile. She suggested we give the relatively new company a try as she had heard good things about their services. Well we are so glad we did. This clever organization offers affordable, guided entry to many of the country’s most visited places. The real appeal of their company is the flexibility and reliability of their buses, guides and routes. Patrons can stay one or many nights in any given place, decide if they wanted dormitory or private digs and chart their journey around the country day by day, staying longer in places that caught their fancy and racing through those that held little appeal. We really enjoyed the vibe of the mostly young travelers using their service and though in our mid-forties, for the first time during our trip Carolyn and I felt semi-hip.

After picking us up at 6am at our hostel, our fully booked bus broke out of the big city and within a few hours had us slipping into the small town of Paracas. The nearby bird sanctuary of Ballestas islands and rugged, sand dune coastline were a huge draw for international travelers and we were very excited about our first stop; the National Reserve – a place intended to protect examples of Peru’s coastal marine ecosystem. All of that seemed great so we were a little surprised to hear our guide say the area actually swarmed with swimmers and sunbathers in summer time, taking advantage of the lovely sand beach within the reserve area. The only way to reach the beach was to drive several kilometers in on various desert tracks and park vehicles in any place visitors pleased. All in all, these seemed like rather unmanaged and no doubt ecologically taxing allowances but in a country where core infrastructure is often underdeveloped the fact that the preserve existed at all was likely a sign of important progress for the cause of environmental protection. Our bus really did no favours to the ecology either, as it plowed its way up the desert track literally leaving anything that could be recognized as road and wove through the hardpan sand up and around dunes, finally disgorging passengers at the precipice of a sloped sandstone cliff. The wild, arid coast was on display in both directions and the landscape, though stark and largely lifeless, was wildly beautiful, exposing wind carved surfaces in sand and rock alike. I have limited experience with arid environments and absolutely none with deserts sitting abreast frothing, energetic oceans. The landscape was truly other worldly and unlike anything I had ever viewed and my delight with the uniqueness of the scenery was deep and induced a semi trance like appreciation. This was a completely unanticipated and pleasant reaction to the environment. I really had no idea such places existed. It was wonderful.

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