Monday, November 22, 2010

The Oasis

I just did the sixth stupid thing on my list of adventures that can potentially kill me (driving a motorcycle, climbing a 6,000 meter mountain, biking down Death Road, rafting in level 4 rapids, and surfing). But before we get to that, let you me tell you about Huacachina. Huacachina is known as “the oasis” because although the town is in the middle of the desert, in its center is a gorgeous lagoon. Enormous sand dunes surround the town, lending an imposing presence to Huacachina and making one feel like she is in the Sahara Desert.

Nearby is the town of Paracas, famous for the Islas Ballestas. After waking up early at 6 AM, I was driven to Paracas and then placed on a motor boat. What is impressive about the small islands is how many thousands of birds they are home to. The stony islands are covered with all sorts of marine life, including pelicans, Humboldt penguins, and seals. Pelicans are truly extraordinary birds to observe. They are giant (2-3 feet tall) with huge beaks that can swallow fish whole. When they fly, they hover a foot above the water for minutes before soaring high into the air. It appears as if they are racing boats when they do that.

In the evening, I went sandboarding. To reach the peaks of the dunes, you have to take a dune buggy. The setting is surreal, as if Dali painted it. One believes that the sinuous curves carved by an imaginative god. Of course, it is also reminiscent of everyone’s favorite childhood Disney movie Aladdin.

Riding on a dune buggy is like being on a rollercoaster with no railings. The vehicle can move in every direction, up, down, sideways, over hills, and down into valleys of sand. We screamed with terror as our buggy whipped around jagged peaks or rolled down large dunes. Finally we reached a point where we could practice sandboarding. I ski, but sandboarding is completely different. Looking down at steep drop-offs while other novice sandboarders plummet into the sand, can be a little intimidating. As the guide grabbed my board to get me started I shrieked, “Not now!” “When?” he asked. “Más tarde” (“Later”), I responded. Actually, going down wasn’t that bad. The hard part was learning how to balance on the board. Unlike snow, sand is a) not as slippery and b) a lot heavier when it piles up on your board, making forward movement impossible.

When we reached the “black diamonds” of sandboarding, most of us went down on our stomachs. It was hilarious listening to the initial screams ensuing from both the males and females and the pause five seconds later as they realized that they were not in fact going to die. Our attempts to board down these dunes resulted in spills, wipe outs, and cries by our friends of “Ohhh!!! Did you see that? That must have hurt!”

The scariest part of the day was actually the return trip to Huacachina. By then, the sun had set and we couldn’t see anything. Our nocturnal adventure was intensified by all the bumps that the driver had managed to avoid during the day. We felt every one I don’t think our driver had heard the term “whiplash”). At the same time, the buggy tested its horsepower against the height of the dunes and unfortunately, it didn’t always win. Rolling backwards down hills you can’t see is a bit nerve-wracking, to say the least. While the others encouraged the buggy onward (“Go, go, go!”), I muttered my own form of encouragement (“Please go forward, please go forward”). We eventually made it out of the pitch black desert and back to Huacachina, in spite of our driver trying to scale the asphalt roads at the bottom as if they were sand dunes. What a day! It’s good to know that I don’t have to exercise to get my heart rate up!

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