After a 20 minute taxi from Ica, we arrived to the oasis of Huacachina. We had entered the desert and were surrounded by sand dunes towering over the small town. Unfortunately we arrived in the middle of a power cut for the whole town. We reconvened with Adam, who had taken a brief break from the wolfpack, and scouted out the only restaurant where there was power. Within five minutes a fellow Englishman, Andy, who we had now met several times appeared. We were joined by his girlfriend Kate and two German girls, Hanna and Katrin. Little did we know, we would spend the next two weeks together. Eventually the power came back, we had a small party in our room with Ed and Adam on guitar and the rest of us watching, chatting and drinking. The next day was a ‘tough’ day spent almost entirely at the pool, unfortunately Ed spent the day ill in bed (apparently not a hangover). Early evening, we began our trek up the highest and steepest sand dune near to the town. We realised we had probably made the wrong choice when on the sand dune on the opposite side of the town, we could see lots of people, whereas on ours, no more than about 20. After taking two steps forward and sliding one back for about 45 minutes we made it to the top and were rewarded with incredible views. In true British (and German) style we had packed carefully and enjoyed the sunset with rum and coke, a classic South American choice. After descending the sand dune in the dark, in no more than about two minutes we ventured out for the evening. Surprisingly, for a desert oasis, the night life in Huacachina wasn’t bad.
Our final day in Huacachina was without doubt, the most exciting. Ed´s hangover, I mean sickness bug, had disappeared and we had booked on to a sand dune buggy/sand boarding tour. I had befriended one of the locals and being in a group of 7 gave us a bit of leverage. For very little money at all, we were driven out into the desert at breakneck speed, we ascended and descended the dunes like on a roller coaster and stopped a few times to get the boards out. Generally, the biggest and steepest sand dunes were chosen for this. It quickly became apparent that although standing up was possible, it was much faster to lie down and descend face first…okay then, that sounds like the most sensible thing to do. Actually, it was fine and we all loved it although I have to admit the girls were faster, I put it down to less weight. After watching our last sunset in the desert, our short, yet incredible time in Huacachina was over and we had all booked on to a night bus.
Somehow Ed and I were upstairs in normal seats whereas everyone else was downstairs in beds! Anyway, despite this oversight from the others, Ed and I slept very well and we arrived into Arequipa early morning. We experienced the joys of travelling in a large group with a bit too much faffing around before finding a taxi and a decent hostel. Not that I wasn’t enjoying travelling with all of these people but I had always looked at the big groups standing in the street before with disdain, still, it definitely had its benefits too and we were in good company. The reason we had come to Arequipa was because it was the gateway to Colca Canyon which I am told, is the second biggest canyon in the world and over twice the size of the Grand Canyon. Guess that means I’ve now been to both canyons and waterfalls bigger than anything in the US…and who says America does things big? Before we set off on our trek it wouldn’t have been right to experience a night or two in Arequipa. The second night we decided the most sensible option would be to just not sleep and we had made some friends from Brazil so Ed, Adam and I had a quick night out, met the others back at the hostel at 3am and we all took the bus to Chivay.
After a 5-6 hour journey on which we slept almost completely, we arrived. Following some ‘umming and arring’ we set off on the right path and within minutes were staggered by the scale, the beauty and the gradient with which we were descending. It was hard walking, especially in the heat and after 4-5 hours we were relieved to see the Germans flirting, I mean talking, to some locals in a truck. We quickly caught up and jumped in the back. It probably saved us a couple of hours and after another 30 minutes walking we arrived to our home for the night. We had decided to camp and Hanna and Kati decided to join us. It definitely competes for the best camping spot I’ve ever been in. We were 50 metres from a river in the middle of a canyon. 30 metres down the hill we were treated to thermal baths, one being right next to the river and very hot, perfect to relax in after a days walking (and yes, with a beer). Darkness soon set in and we retired for the night, tomorrow meant another day of walking, firstly, more or less out of the canyon, then along one of the sides before descending back down into an oasis for the evening. The first day had been a hard one but great fun, with amazing views, good people and great conversation. They say a picture paints a thousand words so now you can stop reading and just look…for a moment.
With the second day the challenge continued, the first few hours all uphill as the heat got worse. We ate lunch at a mirador (view point) whilst listening to music and with an incredible view in every direction. With bellies full we began our descent towards the oasis of Sangalle, many hours later and after another tough descent dodging a recent land slide we arrived into another paradisical hostel. Complete with swimming pool, food and alcohol, we passed the afternoon relaxing in a completely surreal environment. The sunset we were treated to that night was unbelievable and one of the best I’ve come across. For some reason, Hanna and Kati chose to get a room that night, apparently our offer of a half broken tent with two smelly English chaps just wasn’t good enough for them!
Our final morning was the one we had all been dreading. We were in the depths of the canyon and had to walk straight out. The zig zag path was not for the faint hearted and we had decided the night before, that we would all set off at different times, as to arrive into Chivay around the same time. Kate and Andy set off at an ungodly hour which I don’t even know about, followed after by Hanna and Kati. Adam, Ed and I planned to leave at around 7am, but after a slow rise and a lazy pancake and coffee breakfast it was around 8am when we finally made a move. The gradient and the narrow path didn’t make for the best of conversation and we were soon on our own as we made our way up. My competitive spirit just about kept me up with Adam and after an hour or two we caught the girls who welcomed us with comments that can’t possibly be written down on here. We didn’t need to be fluent in German to know they weren’t very happy we had caught them! Ed was not far behind but sadly missed my gift and note of moral support. Eventually however, we all made it back to the town and caught a bus back to Arequipa. After three hard days trekking we were due a hot shower and a good night’s sleep. What we actually got was another night bus, this time to Cusco.
I originally planned to include the infamous Machu Picchu in this post, but I’ve now realised this one is plenty long enough already. We only had a couple more days as the seven of us before we set off in different directions. Kate and Andy would be heading south to Bolivia, Hanna and Katrin to Machu Picchu but with limited time, on a shorter tour than us. We enjoyed our last couple of days together in a picturesque tourist town, some of us got rather drunk and a lot of fun was had. The photo below is the last evidence of two amazing weeks of travel together. It was likely we would bump into most of the group again however Hanna was heading north back to Ecuador and then back to Germany. A final goodbye was shared with some a touch more emotional than others. After the success of our no sleep, night out preparation in Arequipa we decided to employ a similar tactic for Machu Picchu. Eventually 6am came round, after a quick coffee and clumsily packing our bags, Ed, Adam and I were the first to leave.