I have a best friend named Jillian. Her and I have been travel buddies basically since the day we met. About a year ago she started plans to spend eight months back packing South America, a dream she has had for years. She started telling me about it and looking at plane tickets and asked me to join her… My 22 year old self was screaming at me from the inside. GO, go do this, you love this, drop everything and leave… However because I’m an “adult” and had started my photography business, recently moved into a new place I decided it wasn’t the best time for me to drop everything and go. But, I told her if I could make it work, I would come visit her somewhere in South America, at some point during her travels.
Months later we realized that this dream could come true and the meeting destination would be Lima, Peru. Now I didn’t really know too much about Peru. I knew Machu Picchu was there and I knew it was a bit further down south, but not all the way down, and I knew that because it was our summer it would be their winter, and that Jillian was going to be there. That’s pretty much it. Sometimes it takes a lot less effort than you think to take yourself to a different part of the world. The WILL to do it, the plane ticket, the passport and well yes, money, to eat things and stay places, but really, that’s it. The only thing that I really needed to know was that I was meeting up with Jillian, one of my favorite people in the world to travel with. Having the perfect travel companions can truly make or break your trip. I say the secret to traveling well with someone is enjoying eating the same things. You’d be surprised at the end of the day how much time you spend discussing food, what your going to eat, when your going to eat, how, with who, how much money you’re willing to spend on food and where to find the best food and how to get there. Some people eat to live, we live to eat – and that is building block number one of a good travel buddy.
As I was saying, I met my best friend in Peru, six months into her South American adventure. It took three planes, several delays, twenty four hours of travel and one 5 five am taxi ride through Lima hoping and praying that this man would take me to the hostel where Jillian told me to go. Luckily, things worked out as they should, and I arrived at the hostel and checked in with the half awake desk man only to hear a shuffling of feet and a sleepy yet excited best friend greet me with the biggest bear hug I’ve had in awhile. I had arrived in Peru! I fished out pajamas and ear plugs, which are absolutely ESSENTIAL when traveling, climbed into the top bunk that had been waiting for me, and promptly passed out.
I awoke to the chatter of travelers catching up on culturally relevant internet musings, aka the latest Jimmy Fallon lip syncing episode, on the patio outside my window. I was completely groggy and warped and wondered what ungodly time it was. It was just after noon. Even that was hardly enough sleep because ultimately I hadn’t even arrived at the hostel until 5am. Nevertheless I dragged myself out of bed to join the gang for tea and toast. I quickly fell in step with the five traveling friends Jillian had picked up along the way and treated them to huge jars of peanut butter and Nutella that I had brought from the states. If you want to make friends easily always bring treats. And that’s the thing about traveling. It’s like this magical bubble where you can see people for exactly who they are and there is no pretense, you can just join a group and jump in and if you like those people then you continue to hang out, if you don’t you leave, and you don’t ever have to see them again. Obviously each one of these lovely individuals were pre-screened by jillian and lets be real, any friend of hers is a friend of mine, they were all amazing humans and I jumped right in to getting to know them. Honestly though, I’ve never really had a hard time getting along with anyone. An old neighbor who was like my grandfather always said I used to be so shy when I was little, always cautious and quiet, examining people from behind my mothers legs. I’m not exactly sure where and when my shy tendencies disappeared because now my brother says if I were to be captured by bandits who were planning to kill me I would come back alive three weeks later saying how we all became best friends, had this huge adventure, and I was going to their wedding next year… My brother is funny, but I thinks he’s right in a sense. I love people and getting to know them and of course having adventures. I just believe that life is too short to waste time doing something you don’t want to do, being someone you don’t want to be and worrying about what other people think. Sink or swim, do what you love and go full steam ahead.
We managed to leave the hostel to explore at about 3:30 in the afternoon. We still had a few hours of daylight and our primary objective was getting food and finding some of the local markets. Lima caught me a bit off guard. I’m not sure what I expected but I wasn’t exactly prepared for the hustle and bustle. Lima sit’s on the coast of Peru. It was long sleeve weather with only a slight chill to the air, I had honestly thought Peru was going to be a lot colder than it actually was, which in retrospect was a pleasant surprise. It was a cloudy day and the fog sat on the ocean. We left the neighborhood of Mira Flores and wandered into downtown. We followed a lush green hill top path that dipped and dove and created little gardens of bushes, palms and flowers, which gave way to the hill and cliffs that bumped into the ocean. We were navigating through a map our hostel gave us that wasn’t super precise but we did manage to find a funky sunglasses store and the markets of all the classic Peruvian wares. We wandered these artisan markets for hours until it was completely dark and I was beyond exhausted, physically from my travels and mentally from all the possibilities of trinkets, sweaters, blankets, hammock chairs, rugs and jewelry you could buy… but I knew I still had two and a half weeks ahead of me and had to carry everything with me if I bought anything now, so my prudent self said wait, don’t buy anything, just take it in, there will be more opportunities to purchase trinkets. I was right.
We reunited at the hostel with the rest of our group to discuss whether or not we should stay in Lima for another day or head out to a desert oasis town called Huacachina. I was only in Peru for two and a half weeks (or so I thought at the time) and I wanted to make the most of Peru and see as much as possible. Because of this mentality we decided to leave Lima and go to this desert oasis and take the earliest bus we can catch so that we still have daylight to try and find a place to stay. Of course all the hostels online were already full. But really what’s the point of going somewhere when everything is planned and easy, where is the adventure in that?
So on we went. Bye bye Lima 24 hours down and it’s been real. Onto the next. We arrived in Ica, the large town near Huacahina, at a bustling bus station. Being a group of six fully loaded back packers we drew a lot of attention from taxis to hostel companies but we did our best to ignore all of them while we tried to figure out how to get from the bus station to the desert oasis. We finally decided on two taxis to ferry us and our bags the 20 minute drive. We loaded up the taxis, knees to our ears, bags on our laps, filling this tiny car with people and things. A true definition of a clown car. We really were a bunch of clowns. Myself being a clown at heart, my heterosexual life partner Jillian, Nicole the laid back canadian with a fierce 90’s fashion sense, an amazing german man named Bjorn who was mostly deaf and taught us all sign language, Big H, aka Henry the tall drink of British water, and the one and only miss Georgi – if you’ve been following along on instagram you already know of her superb dry british wit and hatred of beautiful sunrises (don’t worry we will get to that story which happened one morning near the Colca Canyon). We made the most amazing group of travel companions, and little did we know we had one more to meet in the middle of the dunes.
A winding road took us out of the city and into the mouth of the dunes where a small town appeared. It had one small road around the outside and dropped us off on the corner. We set about on foot to find a hostel. Huacachina looks like to comes straight out of a movie. You can tell once you arrive that it used to be a grand vacation spot, perhaps in the 1930’s where wealthy people from Ica would take a day trip to spend at this colonial Spanish oasis. A true lagoon exists in the middle and a large colonnaded walk way circles the green water. It is marble tiled and lined with palm trees and benches, a true promenade with small shops, restaurants and grand pavilions. The hostel we found had a worn and faded splendor to it. You could tell, as with all the buildings there, that this used to be something grand. A huge tiled, but now cracked and dark entry way leading into a courtyard. A lovely pool who’s water looked slightly questionable and white washed walls that once you were close to you could see the cracks and the spider webs that raced across them. Jillian went to check out a room like suite which all six of us could share. Aside from having a slightly musty smell it was clean enough and the price fit our backpackers budget. We eagerly unloaded, changed into shorts as it was beautifully warm in our desert oasis, and headed out to find lunch.
A large patio accompanied our hostel that looked out onto the promenade and lagoon and we sat down and ordered the menu del dia which typically consisted of soup and a type of meat with rice and a few sparse vegetables. We sat, refueled, rested, and decided our plan of attack for the rest of the day. The word on the street was that when in Huacachina you pay the equivalent of ten US dollars to be taken on a twelve person mad max style dune buggy where they drive you out into the dunes, up to the tallest dunes, give you sand boards to slide down on your stomach, and to watch the sunset. Being hagglers we weren’t sure that this was going to be all they said it would. But the notion of racing across dunes in a open air buggy sounded too good to pass up. So we jumped in. Sometimes, most of the time, you just have to say yes. Our clown crew loaded into the buggy, belted up and after only two failed engine attempts, one skeptical looking sénior, some jumper cables, and our chain smoking driver got the engine to roar to life. We pulled out of the parking lot and joined the dirt road and line of other buggies with tourists waiting with revving engines to head into the dunes.
We reached the front of the line and it was like being in a MarioKart racing adventure, desert level style. Our driver raced us across dunes, weaving around other drivers, scaling dunes at half hazard angles, the wind and sand whipping our faces and we screamed like kids on a rollercoaster, thankful for seat belts and sunglasses. Our driver would race and mash the gas and then come to an abrupt stop sinking our seat belts deep into our chests. During these stops we would disembark, take pictures and slide down dunes on sand boards on our stomachs. I also handed out clown noses to my new friends and we did several series of pictures with noses, because you know, never leave home without your nose. The driver humored us a bit, took a group snap or too but would mostly stand and smoke another cigarette while we were busy being goofy and shutter happy. Once he finished his smoke it was clearly time to go. He would barely wait for us to strap in our seat belts before we were off again, full speed into the desert.
As the sun began to set our driver took us up to a tall remote dune with no other cars near by. We sat and watched the sky set on fire, light rays stretched across the sky and I swear the sands changed colors. Nicole and I made sand angels while the rest of the group sat on a ridge. I laid on my back looking at the sky and it hardly made sense to me how I came to be in this place, with this amazing group of people, in a far away land, feeling so at ease and at home. I always seem to feel much more comfortable on the road than in my home. There is so much more purpose in simply being than trying to live. When I travel my goal is to be there, to witness this world, to take in this moment. Nothing else matters, perspective is sharp and in focus, and the only bullshit that exists is what you have carried with you. And in those moments you can let it all go and watch the sky transform and the sun set. It’s like a weight is lifted off my body and I can finally breathe. I can see the world as it is, a magical weird place that we somehow happen to exist within, and share it with people who are drunk on sunsets and high on dunes. If my heart had arms and legs it was doing the biggest of happy dances inside my chest.
The purple haze of twilight soon took over and we over looked the oasis from the dunes. I thought to myself if this is the second day of my trip how can anything top this? Peru, you’ve peaked on day two! Where does the adventure go from here? We went back to our hostel and drank celebratory beers and watched a lone fire juggler entertain people at a restaurant.
The next day we relaxed. We took the day to sleep, lounge, read and explore. I caught up on some much needed journal time by the pool in the sunshine. In the afternoon we made plans to book an overnight bus from Ica to Arequipa, a mountain town that sits high in the Andes near several volcanic peaks. This would put us in closer proximity to the Colca Canyon and Cusco. While the hours of daylight dwindled we decided to take one last hike up the massive dune to watch the sunset. At this point we had added another traveler to our band, a skinny brit named Ben who was always on point with puns. He joined us on our hike up the dune and we watched the sun melt into the desert. The best part about climbing sand dunes is, one, doing it barefoot, and two descending. When on dunes you can literally run, jump, and leap your way down a hillside. You jump and your heels sink into the soft sand and it feels almost like flying in slow motion. It was the perfect way to end our time in Huacachina.
Please say tuned! There will be three more installments of my Peruvian adventure. Read along with me, or keep up with posts on instagram @sariblumphotography.
Thank you for reading. And now, the pictures.
And then from Lima to Huacachina!
Below is the open air hallway of our hostel.
Our skeptical dune buggy starter.
Families on the dunes.
Into the desert.
Clown Crew. Never leave home without your nose!
Thanks for looking.