The Andes split Peru like the spine of a great Hemmingway novel, it’s western arm scattered with great Incan ruins, ancient citadels, concrete metropolis’ and its northern beach party towns. To the east lie the vast entrails of the amazon jungle and snow-capped peaks some 7km high. Peru can not be surmised in one adjective, it is a thesaurus of hyperbole and a true representation of the beauty, history and tales to be unearthed on this great continent.
I arrived in Lima in the wake of two English girls imprisoned for smuggling heroin into Ibiza, at the notorious Ancon jail . I pondered going to visit them, I ponder a lot of things I am absolutely never going to do.
Because Lima is a starting point for most South American travellers you will find most hostels densely populated with lonesome souls, it took me all of ten minutes to meet Joe from South London. He had a friend that owned a burger place in the Barranco district, on an hour walk south we headed.
Sights are few and far between in Lima but the city itself is an experience to behold, from the pretty Parque Kennedy we passed the art sellers and street performers down over the highway and into more of what I expected of Latin living. Children played on rooftops, every open window punctuated the air with spices as the heavy pollution of central Lima wilted and faded. Me and Joe drank cold beers and ate alpaca burgers at five soles a pop until the burden of sixteen hours travel began to weigh heavy on my shoulders.
After a morning exploring the Palacial Square and Limas indoor markets (a morning is more than enough time for these drab expeditions), it was time to make some friends. Joe had left for Ecuador and I had booked on a bus the next morning to Huacachina five hours south of Lima. Hostel bars are essential for a solo traveller, large communal areas allow for even the most introverted of characters to join in ping-pong tournaments, drinking games or just a cigarette with a stranger. That night i headed into the night with an almost United Nations of men.
Five americans, two Belgians, Pedram a serious but very softly spoken and friendly Iranian/American, and Andre a tall South African with the wit and charm to match his 6’4″ blonde holiday camp instructor persona, we shunned the advances of men offering us ‘second floor party with ‘many many girls’ and settled in the Old Pub just off the main square by Parque Kennedy.
A pub teeming with fifty something males from the northern working towns of england and pretty, scantily clad peruvian girls. It didn’t take us long to realise that we were in amongst the whores. This added a new dynamic to the already raucous bravado being dispensed, several of our European counterparts departed wearily (of the of the day, or the abject masculinity I do not know), me and the three american guys headed off to their downtown apartment to await the arrival of another of theirs. As a gift to their impending friend, they had picked up two bottles of whiskey and two prostitutes from the Old Pub at a very reasonable price. Sat around a large glass table, in an apartment that probably cost my entire travel budget i retreated into myself, laughing internally at being on only day two and already finding myself whiskey drunk in Peru teaching dice games to hookers that spoke absolutely no English. Around 4am i headed out into the brisk Peruvian night, knowing only that my hostel was north.
I took a 5.30am taxi to the bus station and caught my bus to Ica with ten minutes to spare.
You will not read about Huacachina in any guide books, I only found out about it from two Scandinavian girls in my dorm room in Lima. A postcard looking mirage of a place, half an hour from Ica.
Sitting in a depression in the mass expanse of sand dunes just off the coast you can count the ‘sights’ around the body of water on two hands, five hostels and five bar/restaurants.
I had booked into Bannanas, four wooden shack dormitories, a circular bar and a palm tree laden swimming pool. It was to be my home for the next week, and the place I would meet friends that i will keep forever. Andre the South African arrived later in the day with Polish Tomas and Swiss Andreas, we would stay a foursome until southern Argentina. There is nothing to do in Huacachina except drink, sandboard the dunes and drink some more. Heaven.
The dunes are a hell of a time, picked up from the hostel the dune buggies race at breakneck speed from sandy peak to sandy peak for half of the day, some truly breathtaking sights from the top are followed by daring flights down at speed on the altered snowboards.
My debauchery from Lima continued into that night, us four along with two girls from Brighton and Chelsea a very pretty blonde girl from Australia headed for Huacafuckinchinas, the only late night bar on the water. We danced and drank Cuba Libres until closing time, stumbling out, two more English girls in tow, Andre saw the small row boats tied up in the middle of the water as an oppertunity too good to turn down, me and the two English girls did not disagree. Down to our necessities we swam the cold fifty or so metres to the boats, untied them and raced in a very non discreet way. The sleepy silence of the night set alight with screams of joy and drunkenness. As we returned to shore we were greeted by ten or so very angry local natives, the owners of our wooden steeds it would seem. The bouncers we had befriended in Huacafuckingchinas were all that stood between us and the baying mob. “TRANQUILLO, TRANQUILLO” came from our Peruvian wall of arms, i offered money which toned down the aggression a little so a little more and a little more i offered until i had probably paid their weeks earnings in a matter of minutes. We picked up our soaked clothes and shot off into the night giggling and a little afraid, glancing back at the arbitrary dispersal of boats across the lake. We changed clothes and went in search of something to do, the gathering of local youths in their cars that we had been warned to avoid became our new best friends, we drank bottles of Pisco on the hoods of their cars well into the early hours.
Me and Andre were awoken the next morning by Tiffany and Sophia, him face down on a sun lounger and me by the side of the pool reminiscent of some sort of Fear and Loathing masterpiece, we had forgotten about that fucking boat trip we had booked to go on at 7am.
A half day excursion to see several of the famous Nazca lines by boat is about the only activity to be had from Huacachina, the boats departing from a small fishing village head out ten miles of off shore to the Island de Balestas. A poor mans/travellers budget Galapagos islands, the boats steady at the coves of the Paracas islands for everyone to watch the seals, sea lions and penguins bask in the aggressive pacific ocean waters. A million birds in mating season were the final show, an impressive one I might add, before we headed back to shore past one of the Nazca lines, an unimaginably large carving into the basalt cliffs.
I spent the rest of the week with our group at Bananas drinking cheap strawberry cocktails, watching strange game shows on the small tv next to the Bodega selling one soles empanadas and perfecting my downslope on the dunes.
As my three blonde compadres headed for Cusco (I had clumsily booked my time in cusco before i left England so couldn’t join them at that time), me and Tiffany headed to the very small bus station in Ica and caught a twenty-five hour bus north to Mancora, may the party continue…