The kids had a great afternoon in Paracas splashing in our hotel pool, trying out the as of yet untested underwater capabilities of their GoPro camera. They were completely oblivious to the fact that by local standards they looked like a couple of weirdos swimming in the southern hemisphere’s earliest days of spring. When they exited the water they looked just like all those pruny people you might have seen back in Canada, who plunge into Muskoka lakes in the second week of May strangely happy to have been immersed into the bracing qualities of near frozen water.
After some happy splashing and a quick pack up, we scrambled back aboard another Peru Hop bus at about 4pm and roared off to the nearby desert oasis of Huacachina. It claims to be the largest oasis in the Americas and despite the hyper touristy feel of the place it was a fascinating little community, really just a small slice of exotic vegetation surrounded by enormous sand dunes. The town consisted of about a dozen streets all laced around a pool of placid but turbid looking water that I estimated to be about 10 meters at its widest. This modest body of water was what had drawn people to its uniquely vegetated shores for hundreds of years and now allowed a thriving little tourist town to exist in a vast landscape consisting of a seemingly endless expanse of magnificently tall piles of fine grained sand. The height of the dunes exceeded anything we might call a mountain in Ontario. We would not have been surprised to find out the Tatooine scenes from Star Wars had been filmed there as we felt transported to some new and distant planet.
As for the human inhabitants, what we noticed as soon as our bus rumbled into town was the roaring dune buggies that skidded down all of the streets. These were Mad Max type machines, hugely zuupped-up with giant V8 engines. The drivers, though lacking the necklaces of teeth and armoured clothing favoured in the 70s film classic, did appear to share a post apocalyptic approach to advancing their vehicles through 3 dimensional space. Primarily they wanted to get the things airborne as much as possible. This was essentially why we had come to Huacachina. Long ago, when researching our trip to Peru we had seen this particular attraction and had casually mentioned it to our 10 year old son as a possibility. From that moment on and almost like a daily ritual he reminded us of his desire to take part in what, from his perspective, might just be a life altering event. As a result, there was no way we were going to be able to leave the country without first having ourselves heaved up giant sand dunes at startling speeds.
As it turns out, we had a blast. Our driver made it known that he accepted tips and this motivated him to abide by a “give them their money’s worth” approach to his work. He made our 9 passenger, open air sand machine perform aerobatics I would have thought impossible for a vehicle weighing several tonnes. With no roads to constrict movement, no pesky regulations to temper speed and a desire to truly terrify his passengers, our driver took full advantage of a menu of fear inducing antics. His favourite was going full blast up an almost vertical dune where the horizon pointed to the sun and then blasted over the precipice, landing hard, and bouncing crazily side to side, slowly regaining control but gaining speed on the downward, seventy degree slope. Not for the faint of heart.
Gabe LOVED it. He yelled for more speed, more thrills and more near rolls. The fact that he also got to see the looks of horror on his parent’s faces doing something they would have forbade him to even think about doing on his own, only added to his enjoyment. Once the vehicle finally came to rest at the summit of one of the larger dunes we were able to extract ourselves from the deep seats and attempt to smooth down some of our more agitated strands of hair, which in Gabe’s case was in vain as his fine hair had acquired semi permanent spiked quality from being blown back by massive volumes of desert air.
Our driver directed us to a rear compartment and extracted a number of boogie boards. Here he pointed to the edge of the dune and made a “go down” hand gesture. My word, the man had clearly inhaled too much buggy exhaust to properly assess the undesirability of his instructions. But Gabe clued in right away and grabbed his board eager to satisfy his ever growing need for speed. Once he realized this was a face first, belly down, no brake adventure, he couldn’t wait to have his first run. When we looked down over the vast vista our height afforded the thought of hurtling down the steep incline seemed a touch exuberant for my taste, afflicted as I am for such things as retaining the integrity of my skull and the tensile strength of my limbs. Actually the sand boarding was really less fear inducing than most of the toboggan runs we experienced at Toronto’s Riverdale park but while these desert slopes were much higher and steeper, the abrasive quality of the sand conspired to keep the speed in check. Our guide actually said that Canadians are always the biggest daredevils out on the dunes, likely because of our early and steady diet of snow speeding sports. After a half dozen big slides and an equally excitable ride back to the edge of town, the day provided one last gift, the glowing orb of the setting sun, glistening off of the sable coloured sand casting long shadows and rapidly descending behind the giant dunes ending what was a fine, fine day.