“Es mejor sin zapatos”: Sandboarding in Huacachina

September 12th through the 14th, Sophie, Tim, and I took a much needed weekend getaway. As new and exciting as Lima is, I definitely miss fresh air and the sunshine that’s hidden by the constant cloud cover that hangs above the city. So the three of us took a bus south of Lima and into Peru’s desert.

The juxtaposition of climate and geography in Peru is incredible. You have urban areas, desert, ocean, mountains, and jungle all right next to each other. Needless to say, to a girl used to growing up in the suburbs and cornfields of the midwest of the United States, the scenery on the bus ride was incredible.

The bus took us from Lima to a town called Ica, where we then took a taxi to the desert oasis of Huacachina, a tiny but popular tourist spot built up around a natural lagoon. One of the things I love about traveling around Peru is that it forces me to practice my Spanish. I had a great conversation with our taxi driver, Francisco, about his brother and family that live in the US. He then pulled over to the side of the road and told us to wait for just a minute; he had to talk to a friend. Sophie, Tim, and I waited in the car for a good ten minutes while our driver argued with this man over money that he owed. Only in Latin America…

Huacachina, Peru
Huacachina, Peru

Anyway we finally made it Huacachina (and made sure we paid our driver). The small town is beautiful, with a main “boardwalk” around the lagoon with shops and restaurants and hostels. Our hotel, El Huacachinero, was a little on the expensive side; 130 soles for a triple room (which comes out to a little over $15.00 per person), but it included use of the pool, hot water, and breakfast the next morning. (Note to future travelers: breakfast at hotels in Peru basically means coffee, tea, and bread. Also note that when hotels have hot water, everyone gets it. So when everyone tries to shower at the same time—say, 6:30 in the evening—all of that hot water is dispersed, and you’re lucky if your shower is lukewarm. So if at all possible, try showering at off-hours—like 4:30 the next morning…)

We spent our first afternoon in Huacachina playing on dune buggies and sandboarding in the desert. Dune buggies are open-air vehicles with large wheels and wide tires made for driving on the sand. The seat belt comes over your head and straps you in like a roller coaster so you don’t fall out while the driver speeds up, over, down, and around the steep dunes.

Strapped into the dune buggy and ready to go!
Strapped into the dune buggy and ready to go!

While bouncing around in the desert, we also went sandboarding. Sandboarding can be done two different ways. If you’ve had experience with snowboarding, you can fit yourself into boots that strap into a board and ride down the dune on your feet. If you don’t know how to snowboard, you lie down on the board on your chest, hold onto the straps, and slide down the dune head first. I went down on my chest, and made it to the bottom of the first dune breathless and exhilarated and weighed down by the pound of sand that had made its way into each of my shoes.

When we stopped at our second dune (bigger, steeper, MUCH more fun), I asked our guide if I had to wear my shoes. He shook his head and said, “No, no, es major sin zapatos.” Which means, “No, no, it’s better without shoes.” So I went down my second dune, feet light and free, and the guide was right; it was so much better without shoes.

As our sandboarding ended and we watched the sun set behind the dunes, I started thinking. My guide earlier that day was right; it is better without shoes. Sandboarding, and life, are better without the things that weigh you down. So take off your shoes, lose the unnecessary things in life, feel the sand between your toes, and have fun!

That night we had dinner, drinks, and played cards with a couple we met while sandboarding who were from Canada (and who, incidentally, did nothing to debunk the myth that Canadians are the nicest people on the planet). The next morning we did a boat tour of the Islas Ballestas, known also as the poor man’s Galapagos. We traveled to a town known as Nazca that evening and flew in a tiny plane over the Nazca lines the next morning. You can read all about those adventures in Sophie’s blog and Tim’s blog.

We got back into Lima on Monday night. Seeing my bed back at the Karikuy Bed and Breakfast was a welcome sight. Lima definitely feels like home, now. There’s still so much to learn and explore and see and understand; I’m struggling to figure out what I need to do and how I need to do it. But the struggle is definitely an exciting one.

Shannon Bixler

I'm Shannon--I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and went to school at St. Louis Univeristy. In the fall of 2007 I studied abroad in El Salvador, during which time I was able to travel to Belize and Nicaragua. I graduated in December of 2008 with majors in Political Science and International Studies and minors in Spanish and Women's Studies. Since then I've been living at home, working as a waitress, and trying to find a career that satisfies my love for travel, adventure, and adrenaline rushes. I'm so excited to be in Lima and to see and learn all that I can about Peru.

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