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Sealions and Sandboarding

Huacachina, Peru


The Ballestas Islands were extremely impressive in spite of the grey foggy day which seemed set to ruin any hope of us seeing anything. After a short speedboat ride, skimming through the mist along soft silver waves, a series of islands began to emerge. As we got closer we could see that they were carpeted with millions of sea birds, who also filled the sky with amazing endless formations. The pelicans were huge with strange voices and clapping beaks and tiny Humbolt penguins hopped and clambered up the rocks. Gangs of squabbling sealions hung out under archways cut into rockfaces and our driver drove us within meters of everything. The squawks of the birds filled our ears and the the islands were topped with a generous white layer of "guano", which was pungent to say the least. We were told that every year this would be collected and exported as fertilizer. And I thought admin work was bad.

We spent the afternoon being shown around the National Park which was, rather strangely, a desert on the coast. In spite of some beautiful cliffs, this was a bit of a disappointment. By the end of the tour it had become a comedy sketch - the guide taking us from one barren expanse of sand to another and struggling to rouse anything close to interest from even the most dedicated members of the group. Typically the museum was in ruins - another victim, we were told, of the earthquake two years ago. It was shocking to see how little the area had recovered, even in it´s prime tourist spots. The final anticlimax was flamingos - or at least that is what we were assured they were. They were so far away they could easily have been grizzly bears for all I knew, nevertheless we amused ourselves by feigning enthusiasm with other members of the tour.

The next part of our journey took us further South into this desert region. Soon the gentle plains became huge mountainous dunes and we arrived in Ica just as the sun disappeared behind the largest of them. It was a spectacular but also slightly disconcerting site - we were here for the sandboarding and I had no idea the dunes would be so imposing. With this in mind we got some boards the next morning (and a tutor who seemed to just want someone to hang out with) and made our way to one of the smaller dunes to practice falling over and see if we could master the art of minimalising oral sand intake. We had signed up for a dune buggy ride and sandboarding later that afternoon and the idea was that we would do all this in private before we started making fools of ourselves in larger groups.

In fact it was fairly simple to stay up while flying down a sandy slope and although neither of us were able to turn, slow down or have any real control over where we were going, by the time the afternoon came we were confidently surfing down with the best of them.The slopes became increasingly large until we were basically sliding down a mountain of sand from top to bottom in a matter of seconds. We lay on our fronts and used our legs to steer or slow down (although no-one seemed to be interested in either) and shot off at ridiculous speeds, screaming into the distance and shrinking to specks as we reached the bottom.

We were driven around the dunes in a dune buggy and although I hadn´t anticipated this part of the experience to be of any great significance, it turned out to be the highlight. Because we had chosen a later excursion the sun had started setting as we were sandboarding and now, as we hurtled around the dunes, the low orange sun cast beautiful shadows across the immense landscape and we could see the lights of the towns which sit comfily nestled in between the dunes. These tranquil images, particularly that of the palm fringed oasis of Huacachina, were juxtaposed wonderfully with the manic roar of the dune buggy which bounced and skidded as it flew up and down the dunes. It was like being on a really fast, really dangerous rollercoaster - which is, I assure you, a good thing, particularly when you make it safely home to the hostel.

The near death experiences continued into the night - an earthquake disturbing the peace of early morning. True to form, I paid it no attention whatsoever. I was only interested in resting up for some more sandboarding and when I finally woke we rented two snowboards - a progressive step as these are larger, faster and have better control than the wooden boards they give you otherwise. We spent the afternoon climbing up the larger dunes and coasting down again. Josh tired quickly - which I suggested was surely a sign that he should stop getting up early - but I could not stop, I pushed myself to go higher and higher. I was completely addicted.

A sandboarding joke was doing the rounds which I liked because you can pretty much apply it to any sport or hobby. It goes:

What is the hardest part of sandboarding?
Telling your parents your gay.

If I was being pedantic I would point out that actually the hardest part is trudging up the steep sand slopes in the baking hot sun - as much as we enjoyed going down the dunes, summoning the energy to climb them was proving difficult and eventually I had exhausted even my deepest reserves. After two days we were bruised and aching for a new setting.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on June 17, 2009 from Huacachina, Peru
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Desert, Dunes, Sandboarding, Earthquake, Birds, Penguins and SealionsAndPelicans

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good-glad you did the Ballestas experience. You didn't mention the amazing smell from the fish factory in Pisco-or has it closed down? anchovies being made into fish sauce I think it was. Overwhelming pong!! Sandbuggy and sandboarding trip sounds amazing but as your mother am glad to have heard about it only after your safe return!

permalink written by  sue stamp on June 18, 2009


Yeah it was pretty bad actually. We just drove past it and made a few faces - the memory was quickly displaced by the islands... which had an even more offensive smell!

permalink written by  steve_stamp on June 20, 2009

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