Greetings from Huacachina – an oasis of 113 inhabitants in the southern Peruvian desert! I am currently reclining on a lumpy little sofa in my hostel, recovering from an evening of several pisco sours, numerous rounds of bilingual shit-head and one very intense marriage proposal (more on that later…). Before we get there, however, I’ll rewind to my last week in Ecuador, as it was rather a good’un!
White water rafting. Tena is considered Ecuador’s rafting hotspot, so it wouldn’t have been right to have left without giving it a whirl (whirl being the operative word – turns out that getting thrown down a series of rapids in a large dingy is pretty dizzying!) After negotiating a decent discount through Misael and co, Michaela, Ben and I hopped in the back of a truck with the raft and several kayaks strapped precariously to the roof. We chugged down to the Napo River, possibly a little faster than was wise given said cargo, but made it to the launch point in one piece. We were greeted by our instructor, and were soon on the river, paddling and ducking inside the vessel on command. It was MENTAL – we all got regularly thrown into the water before getting hauled back into the boat by whoever had managed to stay in it, only to face a new set of rapids and get chucked straight out again. At one point, instructor Andy decided to flip the boat completely and I found myself under the boat itself, my brain struggling to catch up with the reality of my situation. I finally surfaced, gasping for air and laughing hysterically at the same time (I have learnt that this seems to be my standard reaction to high-adrenaline situations – see skydive post), so much so that my strength was sapped from my body and I was literally paralysed with laughter. I remained sort of flopped on the side of the boat, my legs flapping weakly in the water like some demented, freshly-caught fish. We eventually made it back to Tena some hours later, buzzing, breathless and a little burnt – what a total hoot!
Baños and back to Quito. After two wonderful weeks in Uchuculin, I bid a sad farewell to Ben and Michaela, and to the community who had taught me so much and shown me such warmth and kindness – I will carry the memory of these wonderful people with me far into the future, of that I am sure. They waved me off at the bus stop, and I pressed on southwards to Baños, a great little town nestled in the lush Ecuadorian hillside. I only stayed there one night, but had more than enough time to jump on a chiva bus and get up close to some of the region’s stunning waterfalls – really quite jaw-dropping in their majesty and power. I returned to the town and headed down the road to try out the famous thermal baths from which Baños takes its name. These were unfortunately a little disappointing – one pool was heated to 50°, so hot I couldn’t get in it! Another pool was more enterable, but so rammed with people that there was barely room to squeeze in amongst all the bodies. Nirvana it was not I’m afraid, Mum! Glad I scoped it out anyway though. Come morning I took a short hike up the hillside to get a great view of the town, before getting on a bus bound for Quito. I had just enough time to pop down to the equator at Mitad del Mundo (a bit touristy but worth a look) before waking up a loco o’clock for the flight to Lima. Phew!
From Lima to Huacachina. The whole of Friday was spent in the air/on the road: I arrived in Lima at 8am, where I caught a rip-off but licensed taxi to the bus station, which took me on one of the most depressing drives of my life. I have since been told that I judged Lima too harshly and only saw the nastier part, but MY GOD it was grim. The half-built/half-demolished buildings were enveloped in a blanket of grey, drivers jolted menacingly at each other, fumes billowed from the exhaust pipes of ancient, un-roadworthy trucks. Bridges sported billboards of scantily-clad, excessively well-endowed young models, presumably to offer drivers something slightly less depressing to look at than their otherwise dismal surroundings. Everybody we passed looked deeply morose. Perhaps it was sleep deprivation or disorientation that roused such a strong negative reaction in me, but I was very much struck by the tragedy of it all. All cities have their less pleasant areas of course, so perhaps I should give Lima a break. It’s important to record the less wonderful experiences alongside the positive ones though, I think. ANYway, I finally caught my bus to Ica, where I got a security guard to flag me down a reliable taxi to take me down the road to Huacachina. By this point I was exhausted – it was 9pm, I hadn’t slept properly in almost 24 hours and I was starving. So imagine my delight when my taxi driver, after rechristening me ‘Kata’ (all Catalinas are called ‘Kata’ for short in his native Colombia, apparently) whacked on the radio, sending reggaeton blasting through the car, all the while yelling “DANCE, KATA, DANCE!!!” and rocking about wildly in his seat. On acknowledging my reluctance, he said he’d change it to something I might like more, and Backstreet Boys’ ‘Everybody’ promptly burst out of the speakers. So Backstreet was back that night, but it was most certainly not ‘all right’ – my head hung and pounded all the way to Huacachina. In retrospect it was utterly hilarious, but in that moment my sense of humour deserted me somewhat – I managed a friendly parting exchange with my exuberant driver before checking into the hostel and falling asleep almost instantly.
Sand-boarding. After a good sleep and decent brekkie, I was much restored and ready for a day in the oasis. I jumped on a dune buggy with fellow hostel-stayers Sofia (Argentina), Inés (Spain) and Ruth (Mexico) and we headed off into the sand. The desert is stunningly beautiful, whipped into silky ripples by the wind, rolling away far into the distance. The buggy took us roller-coaster-styly over the dunes, making us shriek with glee at every dip and skid. The driver stopped at a few points so that we could dismount, lie flat on the sand boards that had been brought for us and be pushed down-hill at great speed. My adrenaline-triggered hysterical laughing kicked in, and I giggled my way down every slope, each time trying to go further than the last. Before returning to the oasis to shower off the sand in which we were all completely caked, we stopped to watch the beautiful desert sunset – glorious.
Pisco-induced madness. The hostel greeted us from our sand-boarding escapades with a tray of complimentary pisco sours – the official Peruvian tipple. Tastes a lot like tequila, which might explain how much it went to my head in a very short space of time. Much of the evening was spent teaching a group of the other hostellers how to play shit-head, which I’m amazed was achieved given the amount of pisco involved and my messy hybrid English/Spanish explanations. We then rocked up to Huacachina’s only club, where I received a very heart-felt marriage proposal from a Peruvian bloke (“My life is not complete without you, Catalina! Do not break me with your rejection, I am your servant and protector for ever, Catalina!” etc etc). Just when I thought the hilarity could not increase, from behind me a voice bellowed “Kataaaaaaa!!!”, and my insane reggaeton/Backstreet-loving taxi driver lumbered drunkenly across the dance floor towards me. The rest is a blur of dancing, singing and toasting anything and everything under the sun. Not sure where my would-be fiancé went, but judging by the lack of ring on my finger this morning, I am assuming that I said no and that he sensibly gave up the ghost. Needless to say, today I am not at my perkiest. My Slovak room-mate Vlad and I have spent the day eating ice cream by the lagoon, speaking only to curse the inventor of the pisco sour. Bloody good night though 😉
Onwards to Arequipa tonight – more photos from the past week will be up soon!
Thinking of everyone back home, love you ever so much! x x x x x