Beware the dangers of dunes and escalator!

We flew from Iquitos to Lima, where we spent an uneventful night in Miraflores, an upscale, coastal burrough of the city. Peru’s capital city spends more than half its year, usually April to November or so, banked in fog. Not charismatic fog, like San Francisco’s. Nor the moody, curl-up-and-read-a-book fog that I so enjoy living on the Central Coast. This is fog sans personality, relentless, cheerless, which renders the season and time of day moot. Herman Melville called Lima the “strangest, saddest city.” He, or perhaps another writer, also compared it to either the belly of a dead whale or being inside the belly of a whale. Either simile stands.

The most interesting scene the city afforded took place within minutes of embarking from the plane. An elderly man bolted down the terminal, weaving unsteadily through the herd of passengers also trying to escape the scene and collect their baggage as rapidly as possible. His wife tried to catch him, calling out to him in Spanish, and rolling her eyes at me in a universal language of disgust. We chuckled with her but her husband–who was as focused as a dog enjoying an ill-gained flight from the house–gained the escalator only to immediately tumble rather violently. A nearby man caught him, nearly falling himself in the process, and our own escalator chugged us away from the drama. I hope his wife caught up with him, and I hope when she does that she finds some means of leashing him to her side.

The following morning we took an early taxi to Cruz del Sur (the BMW of bus lines, and I will write a post exclusively dedicated to bus travel in Peru at some future fate) for a four-hour ride to Ica. Four hours of views of a whole lot of nothing. Colin compared the landscape to photographs of Mars, and I don’t think he’s very far off. It was flat, and when it wasn’t flat there still wasn’t anything that could be properly described as mountains or hill. And a monochrome color scheme that left us with little of interest to observe. We had the ocean to our right, just sort of sitting there. It didn’t announce itself the way oceans are supposed to do. Which is strange considering I’ve lived my entire life with the Pacific Ocean at my back door, so you’d think I’d have seen all of its moods.

Pardon my frankness, but Ica was kind of a shithole. The kind you immediately want to escape, which Peru_Blog Images_9worked out fine since we weren’t planning on staying. We hopped a 15-minute taxi to Huacachina–an oasis settled comfortably in a giant pile of glorious dunes. We booked a dorm in Desert Nights Hostel, inquired about sandboarding tours, were informed that one was taking place in 20 minutes, booked our seats, and readied our cameras. The only reason we’d stopped in Ica was to get to Huacachina. The only reason we’d traveled to Huacachina was to sandboard in the dunes. I’ve never been sanboarding, or skiing or snowboarding for that matter, before, and I like the notion of trying something for the first time in an utterly foreign place. More importantly, we knew we’d be spending a good percentage of the trip either sitting on a bus or trekking and sandboarding afforded some much-needed variety.

Our dune buggy driver was a maniac. Which I kind of liked. Back home, when someone behaves Peru_Blog Images_8recklessly, I tend to disapprove–especially if they happen to be driving a vehicle and I happen to be a passenger. But I tend to have more faith in foreign countries. I trust that a) this is the way things are done here b) my guide knows what they’re doing and c) the entire experience will make for a great story. I go to these countries to feel alive, to find some different and perhaps braver version of myself, an alternate Ashley who doesn’t have the opportunity, time, health insurance, or energy to be reckless at home. This guy sped through the dunes, cresting peaks, tumbling while the passengers behind us squealed and shrieked in fear and delight. I had my rollercoaster smile–sheer delight. The buggy stalled a couple of times and each time the driver, predictably, pulled a plastic bottle with some kind of blue liquid potion which he sprinkled on the engine, and we’d go flying off into the dunes, Colin and I’s faces being splattered withPeru_Blog Images_6 whatever concoction he’d just used to get us driving again (we were sitting in the front).

Our fellow passengers included a girl from Mexico and her boyfriend whose nationality I wasn’t clear on, a Brazilian girl who would not sanboard and her Peruvian boyfriend who would sandboard only a little and used his feet as breaks the entire way down, an Australian guy who was the only person beside Colin willing to try sandboarding standing up, and a guy from the Netherlands who persistently hitting on me, referring to me as “senorita” and generally being kind of an ass.

We started with a small dune. (So we were told, it didn’t look small from the top.) The driver knelt in Peru_Blog Images_7the sand and demonstrated the proper body position. We started sitting, with out hands splayed behind us to slow our descent.

The second time was when it got interesting. We were positioned on our stomachs, elbows tucked in, hands grasping the foot holds, legs up and wide (the feet could be dropped to break). And, most importantly: chin up. If you put your chin down, you’ll smash your face on the board during bumps. At least, this is what our driver mimed to me when I was preparing for the drop. I took heed.

Colin tried to sandboard the dunes standing up, which was mostly slow and jerky, requiring a great deal of hopping to gain momentum. The rest of us coasted down on our stomachs like penguins, with a great deal more speed. It took me awhile to sort out that if I collapsed my legs, I would lose control of the board. Keep your legs wide apart and your drop will be steadier. My last run was the fastest, resulting in a long, bumpy stop that left my legs bruised at the end.

We each got a half-dozen turns or so, and paused frequently for people to take photos. The Brazilian-Peruvian couple took more photos than anyone despite racking up a combined two runs down the dunes, prompting a miniature mental rant reflecting on the fact that the people who take the most photos, and especially absurd selfies, are generally those who take the least from an experience. This isn’t a slam on photographers specifically, but the culture of constant and thoughtless documentation of everything to the extent that you don’t really see or reflect on what’s immediately in front of you. I enjoyed the dunes. I appreciated the silence when the engines were finally turned off and the sun was making its own steep downward climb. Maybe the people who walked away with 500 duckface photos enjoyed their encounter with the dunes as much as I did. But I doubt it.



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