Today was my first real day off. I definitely needed the rest, the time to let down and relax. So, what I did was this.
I woke up at 4:00 am and left the house around 5:00 with Carlos. We walked in the silence of the morning to the Avenida Peru, the main street running through our area, where we boarded a bus headed out of town. Our plan for the day was to get out of Lima. We wanted to make it to Huacachina, a desert oasis about three hours outside of town.
That's where our adventure began. About fifteen minutes into that bus ride, as I was falling asleep standing up, someone shouted, "Fuego!" The bus was on fire. I could see the smoke coming up from one side and in through a window. One young man, in his hurried panic, jumped out of the bus through that same window.
It turned out that the fire wasn't that big, and that it was a common occurrence for that bus. Nonetheless, we got back on once the fire was put out, and laughed about the guy that had been dumb enough to jump out over the fire.
Five minutes later, it caught fire again.
We got our money back that time.
From there, we took a series of comvees until we were quite aways out of Lima, and quite lost. Carlos didn't let on though.
We ended up driving through the countryside for some way, passing chicken farms on the coast that resembled a Peruvian version of the turkey farm around the corner from my childhood home, and cotton fields that reminded me of driving south on the 41 towards Pismo. Cliffs and view that challenged those of Highway 1. Vineyards and cornfields everywhere.
We ended up meeting a little old man on his way to Ica, the city where we needed to get to in order to go to Huacachina. I didn't catch the viejito's name, but he wore a black felt hat and a huge smile. He carried two stringed instruments with him, and talked in a heavy Castilian accent. His friendliness reminded me of my grandpa and how he was always willing to engage and help a stranger. He was more than happy to share taxis and busses with us the rest of the way. And the truth is, if it wasn't for him, we may have never made it.
Once we arrived in Ica and thanked the little old man, we took a moto-taxi, a three-wheeled motorcycle with a covered back bench-seat, and arrived in Huacachina around 11:30.
Once in Huacachina, a place famous for it's dune buggies and sandboarding, we took the first tour we could find. It wasn't long before we were racing over the dunes, holding on for dear life. Carlos's expressions were absolutely priceless. For a guy that was pretty calm when the bus caught fire, he was pretty uncomfortable fishtailing through the sand.
At the top of one of the dunes I got the chance to get my snowboarding fix for the month, something to hold me over until March. The tour guide wasn't too eager to let me go down standing up, but I talked him into it on one of the shorter slopes. Tons of fun.
We shared our tour with a man who had moved to Peru from Berkeley, California. He was very interested in hearing about how old California was doing, and went on and on about how he got out just in time. He didn't have too many nice things to say about my home, but to be honest, more than anything, that made me miss home all the more.
After the tour, Carlos and I grabbed a quick lunch by the lagoon and realized that we were too tired to hit the beach today. I reminded him that we are going to the beach tomorrow with the treasure hunt, and soon our minds were made up to head home.
The trip home was much less eventful. I fell asleep for the first hour or so. When I woke up, I heard English. Three Canadians had boarded the bus and were trying to figure out why the 7up they had bought tasted like fruit juice. It may have had something to do with the fact that whoever had sold it to them had "recycled" the bottle and filled it with fruit juice. When they started asking each other questions about how much they had been charged for the bus fare, I jumped in. The best part was, they were all shocked that I spoke English. Their tickets all said 10 soles, but they had each been charged 15. I asked Carlos to take a look at it. He confronted the conductor, but it turns out that what he did was legal, sort of like the tax collectors in the New Testament. So that's how I explained it. I told them it was a tax, and left it at that.
Anyway, it turned out that they had been in South America for about a month, mostly between Ecuador and Peru. They were on their way back towards Lima from Cusco and Huacachina. They had recently run into a streak of bad luck, including a fishing trip that took them into restricted military areas and resulted in their cameras being confiscated. So, we helped them find their stop, and sent them on their way.
Now, just after 9:00, I'm back at the apartment. Carlos had to run over to Santa Rosa tonight. We're both looking forward to the big treasure hunt tomorrow. But today was a great way to get away, relax, and spend some time enjoying ourselves.