Once everyone had their fill of human remains from the Nazca desert cemetery, we rode our “buggy” deeper into the desert and toward the sand dunes of Cerro Blanco.
Here’s the video of fun our driver was having with us as he gave the buggy hell riding the dunes up and down:
Cerro Blanco was our last scheduled stop, after which we were to return back to Nazca. However, because the tour started more than an hour late, the journey toward the dunes was done when daylight was fading, and by the time we had our share of fun snowboarding down the dunes, it was dark and we had ahead of us almost an hour long journey back to town, but this time not only through the stormy winds, but also through near freezing nighttime temperatures.
Sandboarding was hell of a lot of fun, though. We already had sand everywhere – in our teeth, in our eyes, in our ears, as well as in all our clothes and inside our socks, so rolling around in sand was not gonna make it any worse than it already was. So we just went for it and enjoyed every minute of gliding down those endless sandy dunes:
But the ride back was rough as all hell. The wind was as relentless as ever and it was just overall brutally cold, so with the “buggy” providing absolutely no protection from the elements, the endless ride back through the pitch black desert as nobody could catch a break from violent shivering, was savage. I was a trembling wreck walking to the hotel after being dropped off, but at least at that time I knew that the hellish ride was over.
The harsh weather continued as we were getting hit by strong winds and sand kept blasting into our faces and every bodily orifice. The entire landscape we were passing through however kept me very appreciative of the experience.
I have never seen anything like this before. I kept thinking to myself – if NASA wanted to fake another moon landing or a Mars mission, they could film it here and nobody would believe it could have been filmed on Earth. In Peru. Absolutely mindblowing, moon-like scenery kept emerging from every dune, after every turn.
After passing several kilometers across unmarked desert (props to the driver), we reached the cemetery, which was essentially a large swath of the desert within the endless sands of which the Nazca culture buried their dead.
The graves were disturbed by treasure hunters who thought they would find gold or other valuables with the dead, as other ancient South American cultures used to do that, but the Nazcas did not. Consequently, the looters came off either empty handed, or with little of truly high value, forever changing the historical site they had ransacked.
It would appear that the Nazcas were creating mass graves, which would consist of the piled up dead who were then covered with sand, creating sand hills within which the corpses of the deceased were meant to dwell. The living, having had the strong beliefs in the afterlife, buried their dead along with pottery filled with food, so they have something to eat on their journey into the outer world.
As a result, the sun bleached bones are often mixed up with blackened corncobs, clay pots, even ropes. The whole area has a very surreal feel to it. Some of the skulls still have the original hair attached to them. Many are remarkably well preserved by the dry, dusty climate.
Our tour guide told us the cemetery had been lost under the sands of the Nazca Desert until 1920, when it was rediscovered by tomb raiders. The ransacking left many of the bones and skulls unearthed, offering one a unique opportunity to find themselves surrounded by a sea of bone matter, but the ransacking caused that peace of the ones buried there has been disturbed.
Our driver snapped a picture of me sitting in the buggy, while other tour-goers still wandered among the bones of the dead:
Unless you visit Nazca or its surroundings between January and March, the weather you will encounter will be sunny and hot, with no clouds to obscure the sun during the day, but bone chilling cold at night.
You can tell by the entire surroundings that this place is baked by the unobstructed sun a lot, and by just visiting outside of the brief rainy season, it’ll all make sense why. Nazca is for all intents and purposes a desert with everything that makes a place a desert.
At 2pm when the Edunas tour was scheduled to start it was an unbearably frying day. At 3 something pm when it factually started, the day was still unbearably frying. Taking a bit of an air in an open “buggy” during the ride to and from the aqueducts was a welcome refresher. But things quickly changed after we started the passage across the vast desert field separating Nazca from the Adobe Pyramids at Cahuachi – ceremonial center of the Nazca culture.
A few minutes into the ride, we were hit by a savage sand storm. The wind came out of nowhere and hit us with so much force, every single one of us had sand in every single orifice and pore. Our driver told us he’s been doing these tours for years, but has never experienced anything like that before. He however encouraged us by saying that the storm will likely pass in maybe 10 or 20 minutes and everything will go back to normal. That actually never happened.
We arrived at the Pyramid, where we were getting relentlessly hammered by the wind so strong we could barely hold our footing. A guide was trying to tell us the history of the pyramid, but no one could hear a word of what he was saying, plus standing in this wind that relentlessly blows sand into you and shows you not a bit of mercy was no fun at all. I remember catching something about only 5% of the entirety of the complex having been uncovered so far. Yet the uncovered part was already expansive.
Being an active archeological site, the visitor walkways were marked with white stones and signs everywhere reminded us all to not wander off marked walkways. Meanwhile, the storm kept pounding the living crap out of us, and whereas our vehicle was an open “buggy“, we had absolutely nowhere to hide from it.
The road to the pyramid consisted of about 20 kilometers of an unpaved desert crossing. The storm encompassed the entire desert, so we were within it during the entire crossing, the visit to the pyramid and basically the entire time henceforth.
All those scenes you see in movies about people layng on the ground and covering up with specialty blankets to wait sand storms out, before they emerge from two feet of sand on top of them – that’s what we should have done, but instead kept going.
You could not keep your eyes open because sand was getting blown into them. Your regular shades are worthless during a sand storm. No matter how tightly you kept your lips together, you could always taste the crunch on your mouth as sand got in there anyway. When I reached into my ear to clean off the collected sand from the ear canal, I was surprised by the thick layer that accumulated in there in minutes. The clothes – I stopped worrying about those very quickly. I could feel sand between my toes as it snuck its way through my hiking boots into the thick sheep wool socks.
It was simply brutal and I got to say I got more than I bargained for from the tour. How awesome is that? Sure I got the absolute living crap beat out of me, but the whole time I was thinking to myself – holy s%$t, I’m riding a massive sand storm in Nazca, Peru.
Money could not buy that experience. I’m in the real desert and the desert sure lets me know she’s indeed real. No joke, this was some serious sand storm and we spent hours in it without any protection, including an hour after dark, when the temperature dropped to near freezing. Talk about adventure in every sense of the word. This I will surely never forget. I’m not even sure the word “relentless” does it justice.
Check out the video that provides a better perspective of what the storm was like. We stopped because we thought the storm would pass. It didn’t. So we rode through it. It would not have been easy getting that on camera:
Huacachina is the only desert oasis in South America. It is located about 5 kilometers from the city of Ica in Peru. Found in the middle of the coastal desert, the oasis has a lagoon of greenish colors whose origin, it is believed, is caused by the outcrop of groundwater that ended up giving life to the beautiful vegetation that surrounds it.
Like many of the rivers and lakes of Peru, the Huacachina also has part of its charm in a legend. It is said a princess of the Inca lineage lived in that place. Her name was Huacca China and she possessed incredible beauty, as well as a voice so beautiful that her songs melted the hearts of men in such a way that no one could hold back tears.
The legend says that on one occasion when the princess was alone a hunter saw her, was enchanted with her and began to chase her. The princess ran but her costume began to tear and fell off, turning into the sheet of sand that forms the desert around Huacachina. After that, the princess dropped a mirror that she always carried with her and that turned into the lagoon. The princess, the legend maintains, became a mermaid and the inhabitants of Ica tell that even today, that siren keeps appearing on moonlit nights where its song can be heard.
When I got to Huacachina it was already late afternoon and the entire place was flooded with tourists. I have no idea if it’s busy like that all the time, but the overly touristy feel of the place made me rethink and backtrack on the idea I had before taking the trip, that I would stay over for a night.
It seemed to me that the entirely of buildings erected around Huacachina are either a restaurant, a souvenir shop, or a hotel. In other words, albeit alluring, Huacachina is a tourist trap.
The lagoon is small enough to easily walk around on foot, although not the entire circumference is paved. If you want to go around all of it, you’ll get your feet sandy. It’s probably best to take you shoes off and walk on the sand barefoot, because your feet will be buried in it with each step.
The sandy slopes surrounding Huacachuna were full of tourists who either flew kites, glided down on sandboards, or just relaxed on the warm sand. I walked up a sandy slope to snap a few pics of the lagoon, but did not stick around too much. There was simply too much going on with kids running amok, kite lines hitting you in the face, random youths sliding down the sand, making it fall on you and get into your every orifice, so even though the views were spectacular, the place was simply too busy for my liking.
Before leaving, I also climbed a small hill of sand with a cross on top of it. The hill is on the side of the road at the beginning of Huacachina coming from Ica. I think that may actually be the only access road to the lagoon.
I’m glad I finished the day with the trip to Huacachina – it’s a great place, definitely worth a visit, but to make any more of it than just pay it a visit for a couple of hours was not worth it for me, because it’s just too overrun with tourists for my taste.