Finally pulling out of Arequipa, I headed to Ica on a night bus (and it had wi-fi! Are you listening Greyhound?). From Ica I then flagged down a taxi and reached my final destination of Huacachina, a literal oasis in the desert. There is a little lagoon and palm trees and sand dunes and everything I felt like I was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. At any moment Yosemite Sam was going to come strolling up the street with his six-shooters. I chose a hostel that was fairly cheap but had a busy cafe out front serving proper bacon, which was what sold me in the end. Never judge a hostel by its bacon. My room was full of teenage Brits on their gap year- nice enough blokes, but not exactly my peer group. The one guy kept complaining he couldn’t fit his new purchases in his bag because he had brought too many condoms. Poor little fella- though I guess you have to appreciate the optimism.
I wandered around the oasis for a while, a full lap of the place took all of 15 minutes and then went in search of my friend Marylin who I had met in Arequipa. I found her easily in the small settlement and she told me she was going on a dune buggy tour the next day which included sandboarding down the giant dunes. While it did sound like fun, my board and hill skills were limited to an ill-advised attempt to learn snowboarding over 10 years ago. I promised her I would think about it and after a long phone call to my bank where I once again had to explain to them that I was in fact actually in Peru and not being defrauded of my life savings, I made an early night of it and headed to bed. The room was surprisingly cool considering the heat outside, thanks to a small open skylight in the vaulted ceiling. It was because of this that I did’t really think anything of it when I woke several times throughout the night to serious itching; I thought there must have been mosquitos invading through the hole above. Nope. I woke up to dozens of bites all over my upper body and bed bugs visibly fat with my blood crawling in the sheets. Ew ew ew ew ew.
I immediately went to the front desk and asked to get the money back I had paid upfront for my second night; the desk clerk was initially reluctant to give me money back, saying they didn’t do refunds. I then presented several of the insect invaders from my bed to her on a business card and then she immediately gave me a refund for both nights. Another woman who worked there walked up and had the temerity to suggest that I might have brought the beasties in with me. I chose not to immediately smack her and simply left the place and walked across to where Marylin was staying. Needing something to distract me from the itching, I decided to go on the dune buggy tour after all and that afternoon we headed out to the endless dunescape on these monstrous multipassanger dune buggies that looked rather insectoid themselves.
Having been warned that some of the drivers could be a little crazy, I was confident that my quading and motorcycle background would give me a strong stomach for the adventure- I definitely underestimated the cojones on these guys. Barreling long at breakneck speed, we would approach the downward slope of a dune at such an angle that you couldn’t see the bottom before going over the edge. Our buggy got to hear a few of my most choice swearwords on the way down, to be sure. When it came to the sandboarding, I made no attempt to use the foot straps on the board they provided and instead went down my first dune toboggan-style, after explaining to a few people from Europe what a toboggan was. Most people who tried to go down the hill standing on the board fell down almost immediately and eventually switched over to my style. On the second dune the guide convinced me to try it head-first, since I had somehow become the ringleader in our little motley crew. More swear words, but damn was it fun once I realized I wasn’t facing imminent death.
We cruised back to Huacachina as the sun set among the dunes and I had yet another early night, since I had promised Marylin to go with her on her 3am(!) bus back to Lima. While packing I managed to leave behind one of my only two pairs of pants and a sleeping bag liner. My bag gets lighter by the day. I then almost missed the bus because I couldn’t find my passport when I got to the ticket counter. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- I am NOT a morning person.