The Peruvian Experience: Huacachina

After our adventures in the distillery, we finally made it to Huacachina. Huacachina is a tiny village centred around a natural oasis in the middle of the desert. The lake at its centre looks like an emerald, and palm trees cluster around the edges of the water. The village itself is tiny – you can walk the entire circumference in about half an hour – and even though most of the walkways are paved, there is always a thin dusting of sand everywhere you look as the desert crawls back over the stones. Even the air tastes hot and dry here.

The village is something of a tourist trap. There are a lot of hostels there, and very few actual houses. Most of the other buildings appeared to be shops, hotels, bars and clubs, and as we were visiting in the off-season we became the centre of attention very quickly. At first, this didn’t seem too bad – it was much easier to haggle for stuff and we got some pretty good deals – but we soon found that being one of the few tourists in an empty resort had its downsides. Our guide arranged for us to stay (and eat) at a swimming pool for the afternoon. We stayed there for a couple of hours, but after a group of men started hanging around the girls’ toilets – which, incidentally, had no locks on the doors – we decided to make a quick exit.

Any dodgy loitering around the girls’ toilets was soon forgotten, however. One of the main attractions at Huacachina is the chance to try desert sports – mainly driving around in a dune buggy and having a go at sandboarding.

It was awesome.

The dunes in the Huacachina Desert are enormous – easily taller than fifty feet, and with the kinds of long, swooping curves that are just perfect for a dune buggy. Sometimes they had razor thin peaks and you would find yourself teetering over a ledge no thicker than the fold of a birthday card. The dunes looked so flimsy that it almost seemed as if the dune buggy would plough right through them, but they were surprisingly firm. We could swoop up and down the dunes with no problems at all, and despite the enormous drops, I wasn’t the slightest bit afraid.

Sandboarding, however, was another matter.

For the uninitiated, sandboarding is basically when you slide down a dune on a board. It sounds simple enough: we did it lying face down on the board, and – when the instructors weren’t looking – sitting on the boards in the same way that you would do for a toboggan. However, when your face is dangling over the edge of a fifty-foot sand dune, your friends are specks at its base and the only thing you can look at is the drop spilling out beneath you, it gets a lot more frightening. But once you’re sliding down the dunes with the wind in your hair and the sand rushing out behind you, the fear is completely forgotten.

The only downside is that the sand gets everywhere. Ten months later and I still haven’t got all the sand out of my trainers.

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