While thoughts of Peru often bring to mind the soaring heights of the mountains of the Andean plateau, the rugged and steep journey up the Inca Trail towards the sacred city of Machu Picchu, or the dense and humid Amazon rainforests on the eastern edge of the country, what few think of when contemplating Peru are the adventures that await the vagabond traveler in a part of the country known as the Land of Sand.
Situated just outside the Peruvian city of Ica, south of the capital Lima, lies a gem amidst an endless desert of wind and sand, the oasis village of Huacachina. With a landscape drawn directly from the tales of old, this oasis has stood as a beacon for desperate travelers for hundreds of years, with its crystal clear water drawing people like the seductive song of a Siren in a dry and barren land. Although this oasis has now been developed to cater to the needs of the wealthy Peruvian elite, the concomitant beauty and relief the water is still enough to bring a tear to the eye of even the most stout-hearted of adventurers.
The draw of this place, however, no longer lies in the life-giving waters of the oasis, but in the foreboding and unforgiving desert that surrounds it, as Peru, surprisingly enough, is home to some of the world’s tallest dunes; intimidating spectacles that now draw adventure travelers from across the globe to experience the thrill—and not to mention pain—of sandboarding.
As a man who has grown up surrounded by snow, the thought of strapping a board to my feet has always been accompanied by the understanding that this only makes sense when there is ample amounts of white and fluffy powder beneath my feet, softening the blow of my many misadventures on the hill. While the uninitiated adventure enthusiast may think the same comforts would be afforded my unfortunate body when attempting the same feat upon sand…they would be sorely mistaken.
Our day’s adventure began with us climbing into an extremely large, and not to mention powerful, dune buggy. These large sand craft looked as though they had been thrown together from the spare parts of other unfortunate machines, but, as it turned out, they were very good at what they were made to do.
The adventures of that day proceeded as our skilled drivers flew the buggies up and down the immense dunes, taking us on what can only be described as, the best roller coaster experience of my life. With each gut-wrenching trip down the steep edge of the dune, it was matched with the equally hair-raising experience of trying to climb the buggy up the face of the opposite dune, a feat that was often not successful.
As the buggy flew over the hot desert sands, wheels barely touching, it surely seemed that nothing could top that experience for excitement and satisfaction, but that’s when they pulled out the sandboards. While our drivers were merciful enough not to drive us up to Cerro Blanco, dubbed the Everest of the Desert, which, at 2,080 meters above sea level, it is said to be the highest in the world, the dune upon which I still seemed like the highest peaks of the nearby Andes.
What followed is a blur of screams and sand, as we first attempted riding the dune while lying flat on the board, an experience that left my heart racing, desperate for more.
The next step for those feeling empowered and invincible was to attempt the same feat while standing on the board. “How hard could that be?” I thought, “it’s just like snowboarding”. As it turned out, however, the experience was more like boarding in Jell-O, with every turn requiring substantial effort as the shifting ground constantly gave way under my feet.
While I am humble enough to say that all my attempts ended in failure, there were some impressive showings that day, as our Peruvian guide took it upon himself to show us all up; but while he certainly did show us that sandboarding is possible, the fact that his $100 watch still lies somewhere beneath the sands means that he probably won’t be so eager to boast his skills next time.