The city of Ica is only about an hour inland from Paracas. The drive in is the only time I can recall having desert on one side of the road and vineyards on the other, a fact that I should have paid more attention to at the time, but I’ll get to that later.
Ica is an incredibly bustling city of 100,000, with apparently extremely low unemployment due to not only the local vineyards, but also avocados and asparagus farms, and everything that else that goes with cities of that size. While the burgeoning prosperity is great for Ica, it doesn’t make for a particularly relaxing vacation environment, so after a quick lunch in the town square watching a socialist parade march by, we grab a tuk-tuk and head for the nearby oasis of Huacachina, which is a place unlike any other I’ve visited in my whole life.
If you see a photo of Huacachina, the big secret is that it’s not really remote at all. It’s maybe three miles to the center of Ica, and a mile past Ica’s outskirts. But with the giant dunes encircling it, you immediately forget that civilization is that close. All that remains of your universe is a dozen or so buildings huddled around a dingy lagoon.
At dinner we order a bottle of Peruvian wine. Three questions got answered in one sip: 1) Why have I never heard of Peruvian wine? 2) Why do they make so much grape brandy instead of wine? 3) Why is there a vineyard in the desert? Answer to all three: Peruvian wine is fucking terrible. I will grant you that’s a broad statement based on a sample size of one, but for the relative price and presentation you might have expected $15 quality, and we would have been happy with $5 quality, but what we got was basically fruit juice with paint thinner.
After dinner we head to some of the bars around the oasis. Our favorite is the wonderfully named Huacafuckingchina where we actually run into some ex-Chicagoans.
In the evening we go running up and down the dunes. We also befriend a dog that seems to hang out in the desert, but who doesn’t alert me to the fact that I’ve dropped a flip-flop.
The most exciting thing about the dunes is the prospect of actually skiing down them. Months prior, I had passed up the chance to go “volcano boarding” in Nicaragua, which you may recall was really sledding more so than snowboarding or skiing, and didn’t see that awesome. But a number of places in Huacachina offer modified snowboards for zipping down the dunes, and one shop, at least, had a few pairs of old skis and boots you could use. This is very exciting to me and I decide I will be back the next morning to go dune skiing.
It doesn’t happen. I end up crippled by, and prepare yourself for this, a hemorrhoid, or something like it. It lasts just long enough to keep me from skiing. Thankfully it resolves itself — I will not describe this process in detail — just in time for our 4 hour bus ride back to Lima. After touching on it in every Central American country I was in, as well as riding through half of Chile on it, this is my last segment on the Pan-American Highway.