Sandboarding and dunebuggying in Huacachina, Peru

Monday August 17, 2015, day 1 of the next leg of my Dragoman tour. I find myself in the southwest of Peru in the village of Huacachina. Located in the Ica Province near the city of Ica, this village is built around a small natural lake in the desert that is now a resort for adventure seekers. It was here I was about to experience my first taste of dune buggying and sandboarding. 
Huacachina is surrounded by sand dunes that stretch hundreds of metres high. I felt like I’d been transported into the deserts of the Middle East. There is a natural lake here in Huacachina, surrounded by palm trees. Legend tells of a native princess who was apprehended at her bath by a young hunter. When she eventually fled, she left the pool of water she had been bathing in to become the lagoon. The dunes surrounding the lagoon are the folds of her mantle trailing behind her as she ran.
 
Just after 4pm, my fellow Dragolanders and I were sat inside one of two dune buggies. Each buggy can seat 12 people. Strapped in tight, we were soon on our way, up and over the sand dunes for an exhilarating ride. 

 
I can only liken the experience to being on a roller coaster, but much more wild with superb scenery.

The buggy sped up and down the sand dunes, twisting and turning right and left to reveal the city of Ica below, surrounded by desert mountains and more endless sand dunes. Our photo stop spots were stunning. 

My first sand boarding run was both nerve wracking and exhilarating. The sand dune we were about to conquer was both high and steep, and for a brief moment my fear of heights kicked in. With the Go Pro attached to my head and my head band protecting my face, I was lying face down on my board, staring down the sand dune with the sand inches away from my face. 

 
Holding onto the straps with both hands, elbows in, legs as wide as possible, and don’t forget to use your feet if you want to brake or slow down, my guide soon gave me a push and I was on my way. I have to admit my first sand boarding run was nerve wracking. I was flying down the sand dune at break neck speed, and I could feel every little bump on the way down. I used my feet a lot, dragging them behind me to slow my speed. But by my second run at a higher and steeper sand dune, I was all about going as fast and as far as possible, in an attempt to be the person who sand boarded the furtherest. We had three sand boarding runs. I won the second run.  

 Our buggy took us for another wild ride across the sand dunes as the sky turned a crimson pink after sunset, before taking us to our camping spot for the evening. 

Surrounded by sand dunes, our hosts had prepared a BBQ camp fire for us to sit around where they cooked us a BBQ meal. 

 
The crescent moon eventually sunk behind a sand dune to reveal the starry night sky and the Milky Way.

With bedtime approaching, I took my sleeping bag and camp mat, and trudged up a steep sand dune to find a flat sandy surface to sleep. With no one else nearby, I rolled out my sleeping bag and crawled in for a night in the desert. Lying on my back, the view of the sky above and all the stars was magical. 

Sunrise at my camping spot

 

Limoncocha – Into the Amazon Jungle, Ecuador

As the first leg of my Dragoman tour ends, one of the highlights between Quito and Lima was the trip into the Amazon Jungle on Thursday July 30, 2015. In the town of Coca, Ecuador, we boarded a dug out, motorised canoe for a ninety minute journey down the Napo River, with the sun setting under a full moon.

 
Limoncocha, a biological reserve located on the Napo River, is a Kichwa community, protected by the Ecuadorian government. The remote jungle lodge here in this community was our base for the next three nights and two days. (www.limoncochactic.com).

 We spent two memorable days here in the Amazon, hiking the trails with our local guides, who taught us about the local flora, fauna and how to survive by using the jungle’s natural medicines and foods. We also saw some jungle animals too!

One evening, we set off on another motorised canoe to go piraña fishing. As the canoe came to a standstill on the Napo river, our group had a go at trying to snare a local piraña while admiring another stunning sunset and the local jungle birds including the kingfisher.   As darkness fell, the glow worms and fireflies treated us to a light show as we journeyed along the river in search of a black caiman, an aquatic reptile that relates to alligators and crocodiles. At night, their eyes glow red. We were in luck, we spotted one half hidden under the surface of the water. 

 

One of the best things we did in the Amazon during one hike was swing from the vines of a 500 to 700 year old tree. 

One of our guides at Limoncocha was Adonis, a single father to six year old Noah.  

 I spoke with Adonis about the changes he has seen occur in his community when the missionaries and the oil companies first arrived. Although the Missionaries thought they were helping, they tried to change the traditional ways of the indigenous people, including ridding the community of their local Shaman. When they left, the local indigenous Amazons felt ashamed of their culture. But now, they have regained their pride and understand embracing traditional ways like producing art and crafts will not only benefit the local community, but teach people who come to visit the Amazon and Limoncocha about their culture and traditions. 

As a child, Adonis’ father used to work for the oil companies as an engineer, with Texaco being the first oil company to drill in the area in 1968. In the old days, his father used to line the oil pipes with plastic to prevent chemical seepage into the soil. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen anymore. “The people of the Amazon live from the river. As children, you could once drink from the river, but you can’t anymore”. 

All the waste from the oil, which looked like tar, was used on the roads to settle the dust. As children, Adonis and his friends used to play on these roads. Adonis’s parents, along with many of the elders in the community have since died from cancer, perhaps as a result of the oil poisoning. 

The Amazon’s survival is still under great threat with 10,000 square hectares a day being destroyed to logging, oil and agriculture (such as crops and cattle), with big name companies like McDonalds exploiting it’s natural resources. 

 The hospitality of the local people of Limoncocha was superb. The food was delicious and we had all our meals cooked for us. We were treated to an evening of local music, singing and dancing, and all of us were given a glimpse into the culture and traditions of the people and the jungle. It’s definitively a place I want to return to and learn more about.

Thank you to the people of Limoncocha for an amazing time!