The last week was crazy for me, trying to wrap up all my outstanding work before vacation (I was still frantically trying to get last emails out while my plane was sitting on the tarmac as I was off to vacation) – which is why I didn’t blog about how psyched I was about my vacation. But here I am, having the time of my life – in PERU!
So yeah, remember that new year’s resolution to visit four new countries this year? I pretty much killed that one. In order: The Bahamas, Switzerland, France, St. Maarten, Japan, and now Peru. Six new countries, plus two new continents (Asia and South America), plus visits to Mexico, Denmark, Belgium, and Poland (though I’ve been to each of them before). It’s been a busy year for me travel-wise!
This particular adventure kicked off at lunchtime on Friday, when I headed for the BoltBus that would take me from NYC to DC, where my flight was. (I had originally planned to leave from my client in Charlottesville, VA for DC on Thursday night, but I ended up needing to attend a meeting in New Jersey on Thursday, so I had to get myself from NYC to DC for the flight). The bus was leaving from Port Authority, which is about a mile from my apartment, and I planned to take a cab instead of the subway, so I thought leaving at 1pm would give me plenty of time before my 1:30pm bus… until I discovered that Midtown West was completely gridlocked. My driver was nice enough to agree with me that it would probably be faster for me to walk than stay in the cab, so my vacation kicked off with a half mile jog down 9th Avenue, suitcase in tow. I got to my gate in Port Authority at 1:29 and was the last one on the bus! I was just thanking my lucky stars that I had swapped out my regular briefcase-style laptop bag for a backpack, or I never would have made it.
The stress continued when I checked my GPS partway through the bus ride and saw tons of traffic ahead. I had put 3 hours in between my bus trip and my flight, which I thought would be more than sufficient… but I thought wrong. Chatting online with my friend Meg, though, she wisely pointed out that there was no point in worrying; the bus was going to get there whenever it got there, and there was nothing I could do either way. As it turned out, the bus driver took multiple alternate routes, so despite all the Friday rush hour traffic, we arrived only 25 minutes late! Not bad at all.
The next delay came when I got to the airport. Our first officer had apparently stood up too quickly in the cockpit … and given himself a concussion. Furthermore, since DCA isn’t a base for American Airlines, they were having trouble finding a spare FO and had no idea when we’d get to leave. WHAT?! Again, I had a four hour connection in Miami that should have been more than sufficient – but not with an indefinite delay! This time, though, I went with the flow. Realizing that American Airlines would compensate me heavily if I didn’t get to Peru until the following evening, I simply thought about what steps would be involved in changing my bus ticket and hotel reservations if it came to that – and then stopped fretting. Again, I was rewarded for my patience – the flight did eventually go out, and I landed with 20 minutes to dash to my gate. Used to this sprinting-with-suitcase by now, it was no problemo – though I did arrive at my flight pretty sweaty. No matter; sleepy time for me on this overnight flight.
Arriving at 7am on Saturday morning, I was just in time for the final leg of my journey at 8:30am – taking a bus from Lima to Ica. Now, I had always considered the Bolt Bus to be pretty nice (at least compared to a Greyhound or other regular bus), but it was nothing like the luxury of Peruvian bus travel! I had signed up for the first row of the double decker bus, which gave me stunning views of the Peruvian countryside whenever I wasn’t reading or watching the onboard movie. Unlike American buses where the only staff is the driver, the Peruvian bus had two stewardesses on board who served us sandwiches and drinks – gratis. The 5 hour bus ride went by very quickly, and wasn’t burdensome at all. And the price for this service? $12. I paid for my no-frills ticket from NYC to DC!
It turned out that just about everything in Peru was dirt cheap. Arriving in Ica, I took a 15 minute cab ride to the little oasis of Huacachina – for $1. My 3 star hotel in Huacachina was bare bones, but clean and simple – for just $28. And when I went to get lunch, I got this delicious “tropical salad” (fried chicken with fruits and veggies) and sparkling water – for $4. Man, I could live here forever! 🙂
After lunch and some lounging by the pool, it was 4pm – and time for my sunset desert tour. I joined other tourists (most of whom seemed to be Peruvian – apparently this is the hot spot for those in the know) in piling into a dune buggy, and then our driver took off. Gunning the engine, he took us up and down the sand dunes as we all screamed at the top of our lungs – this was like being on a rollercoaster with no track! My stomach dropped a few times on the steep dips, and I was definitely glad I was securely belted in when we’d go careening left or right to turn up or down another dune. So much fun!
The challenge is that when you get to the bottom, there are no man-made lifts to take you back up – you have to walk! If you’ve ever walked on a beach in loose sand, you know it’s pretty tough; now imagine doing that but uphill, on a slope that’s more like a mountain! I was breathing pretty heavily every time I’d make the ascent, and I ended up being relieved that I hadn’t signed up for the ascent of Cerro Blanco (the largest sand dune in the world)! Luckily, we had the buggy to take us back up every few times and drive us to a new location.
While the walk up the dunes sounds tough, being at the top was no picnic either – these were pretty steep and scary! I tried doing it like the pros and standing up on my board (though only on a really small hill), but for the most part, I laid flat on my stomach and rode it down like a sled. It was still terrifying! Check out this view from the top of one of the dunes (and my fellow sandboarders wayyyyyy down below – there are three in the pic, if you can spot the tiny dots):
Next step was to get the sand off me – NOT an easy proposition. To give you an idea of how sandy I got, each time I would get to the top of a dune, I would take my sneakers off to dump all the sand out, because my shoes got SO filled with sand that there wasn’t room for my feet and they felt super tight and painful! I definitely left sand all over the floor of the shower, and I have a feeling that I’m also bringing plenty more sand home with me.
After a long day of traveling, I was pretty wiped out, so rather than check out the Huacachian nightlife (my sand buggy driver told me there was a pretty cool “discotheque”, haha!), I settled for a grilled veggie sandwich and a massive beer – $6. And then headed to bed super early at 8pm! Don’t judge; I had a long travel day 🙂
It was glorious to wake up without any kind of alarm, but I did that at 7:15am. After breakfast at the hotel (included with the $28 price of the room), I spent an hour lying around the pool reading a magazine. I may have brought just a wee bit of leisure reading to catch up on this trip…
After finishing my first magazine by the pool, I considered going to the food festival I heard was going on in Ica… but decided that I wasn’t that hungry, and relaxing was more important. So I headed off for a massage. Given that I was at a resort town (ooh, oasis in the Peruvian desert – fancy!), you may be picturing some kind of super luxury spa massage. Um, nope, definitely not the case. The room was pretty bare bones (though perfectly comfortable), but for the dirt cheap price (um, $12 for an hour?! Awesome!), I wasn’t complaining.
This massage was not for the squeamish, though. The masseuse had instructed me to remove all my clothes and lie on the table, but after a questionable experience with my first Thai massage, I’ve learned to keep my undies on when I think things might get a bit questionable. In this case, I wasn’t at all worried for my safety; more just didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness of declining a happy ending. I had worried about that once before and not had a problem… but this time, I actually think I may have been made an offer…
The massage started with something that was a bit odd (though not at all sensual and probably not inappropriate): Cesar put his hand on my (completely covered by underwear and a towel) crotch and used that as a lever to shake my whole body while he then used his other hand to press on various points (tummy, clavicle, forehead) as he shook. Odd, and probably a bit personal for some people, but it felt pretty clinical and I chalked it up to cultural differences. However, later when it came time for some inner thigh massage, Cesar was not shy at all, making me second guess the whole shaking thing. Yikes! The massage ended with Cesar kissing me lightly on the forehead, telling me that my time was done, but that he was happy to “keep going.” Combined with the kiss, I knew what that meant, and hastily told him that I was all set! He didn’t seem offended, and I was soon left to put my clothes on, pay him, and skedaddle. The massage had turned out to be 75 minutes – and as always, I was stunned by the price – it cost just $12! Man, at that price, I kind of wished I were staying in Huacachina so I could start every day with a massage.
But now I was headed out of Huacachina and off to Paracas. I was glad I had such a nice time in Huacachina, but judging by the air conditioned car service from the fancy hotel where I’d spend the rest of my week, I had a feeling things were about to be a lot different for the rest of my trip…