Gary and Sarah Girotti/Jones|
¡Hola South America!
South Western Peru - Ica!!
After spending most of the past 2 months in the mountains, it was time for us to get to the beach. We booked a flight back to Lima and planned on heading south along the coast to the first beach town that sounded nice. Little did we know that all of south-western Peru is beach. Well, desert to be exact. As soon as you leave Lima on the Panamerican Highway, there is nothing but dunes and sand on one side and ocean on the other. For added effect there is the constant circling of Condors overhead. As we bussed south all I could thing was, ‘I hope this bus doesn’t break down.’ Visions of Chevy Chase wandering the desert in National Lampoon`s Vacation came to mind.
Lucky for us-we finally found our type of bus company. If you are in Peru and want some more comfort than the usual ‘pack em-tight’ bus companies, try Ormeña Royal Class. They are a bit more expensive, but the busses are awesome (better than coach class on Continental...like that`s a far reach!) Two floors, clean, AC, food & drink, and the seats recline to comfortable sleeping levels. If you are extra lucky (or happen to be the last to book seats) you may even find out our secret compartment--we had our own room on the first floor (the only first floor seats), complete with TV, sitting area, and bathrooms. Now that`s living!
We decide to stop in the town of Ica, which is about 300Km south of Lima and about 40 Km inland from the ocean. It’s not the beach but there is plenty of sand, and it is in the wine region...who could resist that? It´s really not the wine region, though, as much as the Pisco region. Pisco is a Peruvian drink (moonshine) make from distilled grapes. It kind of taste like Grappa, but stronger!!
The Villa we stayed in had a it`s own Pisco label, which was made on the grounds. Papa Girotti, you would love this place! It was just like the garage was in October--same smell, same purpose--but bigger and all gravity-fed (no walking around in circles for hours). At the upper level is a huge press which flows into a large vat with a series of strainers at one end. From there it flows into a fementing tank, and then into to the biggest distillery we`ve ever seen (visions of swimming danced in our heads...). The funny old owner offered a drink right from the still, still warm. Smmmooottthhhh! Doctor, I think we have 3rd degree burns on our throats! We also were given Pisco Sours at dinner. This is a little nicer drink of Pisco cut with lemon juice and whipped egg whites.
We had the run of the place since we were the only guests, and spent most of our time either lounging by the pool or walking into town to assure ourselves that the world was still standing. A few days of isolation and we thought we`d better find some social interaction...
Close your eyes...travel back to the time when you could admit you watched Bugs Bunny. Remember the one when he was walking through the desert, half dead, and all of a sudden an oasis appeared out of nowhere, complete with cute little girl bunnies in hula skirts? And we thought that was all fantasy...
We were told of a place just a few Km outside Ica called Huacachina that could pass for Bugs’ set. We let out for the place but hesitant...the taxi driver tore through the desert road, sand dunes rising high for miles around us. Was he a Mr. X operative, having stalked us all the way from Cambodia to Peru? We didn`t even bring an emergency supply of water to fortify us after he dumps us in the middle of this sandy wasteland!
After driving for about 10 minutes we rounded a corner and arose a remarkable sight: trees, clustered tightly around a small oasis, ringed with small homes and shops. We`ve been saved! On a tip from a fellow Inca Trail masochist, we headed to the world-renown (well, backpacker world, anyway) Hostal Arenas.
What a place! Young travellers strewn all around the pool or chatting at the bar, swapping war stories and travelling tips. (A sidenote here: the best story that we`ve heard over four months has to be the prison visit in Lima...thanks Fred! For the curious, suffices to say that if you`re crazy enough or have met an insane Canadian in your travels, it is possible to visit the prisoners doing time in Lima...without the benefit of security glass or guards. Good times, good times).
Our great accomplishment while in Huacachina was to try our hand at sandboarding, which is roughly equivilant to snowboarding without the snow...or the chairlift. Like lambs to slaughter, around 5:00 each night we grabbed sandboards and staggered up the sand dunes in time to watch the sun fall over the desert. Not an easy feat, mind you...the walk up was about 30 minutes of two steps forward, one step back, as we sunk deep into the sand. Go figure, the chairlift only operates during the high season. We made practice runs down the backside of the dune, about 10 meters of gently sloping sand. No problem...as a matter of fact, our boards weren`t nearly fast enough, so we lubed them up with the liquid wax provided, confident that we could now cruise down the dune with ease.
After sunset, we stood at the precipice, staring down (and down, and down) the 500 meters of steep dune in front of us. We gave scores for the best wipeouts to those who went before us, and then pushed off the crest of the dune...and promptly FLEW straight down...because there`s really no way to control these things! The most effective means of slowing down is to throw yourself face first into the sand, resulting, of course, in sand in some uncomfortable places. What a trip! We all arrived at the bottom in one piece (and Sarah remarkably not on her way to a hospital, as is customary when snowboarding). Time for some PISCO!
The hostel put forth a great barbeque after the evening sandboarding, only 10 soles (about $3) for all you can eat and drink. What a grand idea...until it became clear that in order to eat you HAD to take part in the Pisco imbibing. One shot, one piece of chicken, and pity the poor soul who tried to sneak around Chef. Chef was not one to be outdone, however, and cheerfully joined everyone by matching us shot for shot. His drunken shouts of "PEEEES-COOOOO! CHEEEE-KEN!" (oh there I go giggling again, just thinking of it!) resounded throughout the hostel until the last off the pisco (and chicken) disappeared.