We set off to Paracas with Peru Hop bright and early on a Wednesday morning, and we were excited about the journey ahead. Peru Hop lets you hop on and hop off at the various destinations along the route, provides discounts on accommodation at each of the stops and phones to make the reservations on your behalf, books tours, offers hostel pick-ups and drop-offs, and overall makes life very easy indeed. It was a great way to meet other travellers, and we bumped into a lot of the same people along the way.
The Peru Hop ticket also includes stops at some attractions in between destinations. Between Lima and Paracas we went to see the Chincha slave tunnels. But unfortunately one of the main roads was washed away when a river in the area broke its banks, so the bus couldn’t get there. (The first of many such incidents that would occur throughout the trip – but that’s the chance you take when you choose to travel in the wet season!). Our guide, Fio, told us that slavery was legal in Peru back in the day, but “owners” had to pay an import tax on slaves from Africa that came to work on their farms. So one family who had a large sugarcane and cotton plantation decided to cheat the system by getting their slaves to build an underground tunnel from the house to the port so that more slaves could come in, and produce could go out, without having to pay the import tax. We had thought maybe it was a tunnel to help slaves escape. But nope!
The main attraction in Paracas is the Ballesta Islands, which all of the guide books tout as being the “poor-man’s Galapagos Islands”, and Pedro and I had booked a tour the following morning to see them. That left us to have free time in Paracas that afternoon, so we grabbed a bite at a cafe, walked along the beach, played some pool at the hostel, and chatted to a few people from the bus. I got chatting to the South African girls over drinks, and decided to hang out with them at the hostel while Pedro went for dinner with the others from the bus. They were an entertaining bunch, only about 19 or 20 years old, fresh-faced and fancy free. We drank pisco sours, did shots, slurped giant beers, and discussed the inappropriateness of reading clit lit in public. Before I knew it Pedro had returned from dinner, and I was struggling to sit up straight. I cleverly bought a bottle of water, and took myself to bed.
I woke up at about 2am dazed and confused. I had all my clothes on, and it was ridiculously hot. The bunk beds at the Kokopelli hostel were like sweat coffins: they weren’t lined up length-ways along the walls like in a normal dorm, but perpendicular to the wall, so that you had to crawl in. None of the ceiling mounted fans oscillated, so I wasn’t getting any fresh air, and I felt rotten. I skolled some of my water and tried to get back to sleep, but something wasn’t kosher. It wasn’t just a hang over. I had a literal gut feeling that I was going to be suffering through the next day.
I tossed and turned and when my alarm went off to get ready for the Ballesta Islands tour I told myself I could soldier on. I dragged myself out of bed, willed myself on, but it was soon apparent that I wouldn’t physically be able to do it. I get sea sick at the best of times. And so began three straight weeks of feeling like rubbish. I don’t know what set me off, maybe it was the egg-white in the pisco sours, maybe it was the dodgy cheese and avo sandwich I had for lunch. But I suffered. And Pedro was patient and caring and understanding, when all I really wanted to do was throw in the towel and go home.
Anyway! Pedro did the tour without me, and tried not to rub in the fact that it was epic. They saw sea lions, penguns, pelicans, potentially flamingos, and dolphins. Not gonna lie – I was pretty devo that I missed it. After they got back from the tour we jumped on the Peru Hop bus and started making the way to Huacachina. First we stopped off at the Paracas National Reserve. Beautiful red sandy beaches. We got told that a lot of people drown there, so we weren’t allowed to swim. But what I think was a dead sea lion carcass – almost made up for missing the boat trip. =P
Because we’d missed the Chincha slave tunnels we got to go into a small museum not far from the National Reserve. We learnt about the local indigenous culture, how they revered the dead and created special tombs for them after they were swaddled in blankets buried with offerings. We saw some of the earliest evidence of surgical procedures, where areas of the scull were removed while the patient was conscious, seemingly to alleviate pressure in the scull. But the creepiest exhibit showed how different family groups compressed their children’s sculls to deliberately deform them to physically demonstrate their social status. *shudders*
When we arrived in Huacachina we had time to check into the hostel, dump our bags, and then meet for the sandboarding excursion out on the sand dunes. Huacachina is a gorgeous oasis in the middle of the desert surrounded by humongous sand dunes, and sandboarding was definitely one of the highlights. A group of eight of us jumped in a dune buggy with a local driver, and we set off, zipping around the small town. I was a tad concerned because my seatbelt didn’t seem to click in properly, and I was sitting in the middle row on the right hand side with a gaping hole where a door would be on a normal car. Once we were out on the sand it was like being on a Mad Mouse roller coaster. I was screaming and hanging on for dear life. We would climb, climb, climb up a sand dune, and then because there was no door I could see what was up ahead and was terrified when I saw the ground drop away and the buggy feel like it was free falling down the other side of the dune. I love roller coasters and would honestly pay just for the dune buggy ride!
I was still feeling crook, so I was planning on just taking photos and not doing the sand boarding, but when I saw how easy the rest of the group did it I decided to harden up and just go for it. And it was exhilarating. A few people gave it a go standing up, but I stayed on my belly, as close to the ground as possible! We did nine runs in all, and while the first few were baby slopes by comparison, the last dune was 80m high, no lie. Maybe more! I’m cursing myself for not taking a photo because you’ll never believe me. Pedro went first, and he flew down. But just as quickly he disappeared from view, and something went flying into the air. Then Pete reappeared at the bottom and I breathed a sigh of relief. We thought he’d lost a boot, but it was his sunnies. So the poor bloke had to hike halfway back up the dune to retrieve them. I raced down with my new friend, Scottish Steve, and loved every second of it until he almost crashed into me and took me out. But definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done. And the scenery was phenomenal. If you ever get the chance, please take it!