After grabbing breakfast and finishing up with some packing, we headed out for the Cruz Del Sur terminal to catch our 11:00 bus to Ica (That really left around 11:20). Ica is pronounced like eek-uh.
The Cruz Del Sur buses are really very nice… the seats are big and plush, they have nice footrests, there is a restroom on board (though they stress you can only use it for no. 1, lol), they provided a snack, and movies played onboard. The movies cracked me up because they were English language movies, played with audio dubbing in Spanish, with English subtitles. The four hour ride south on the Pan-American highway along the coast was much more pleasant than our jaunt up north in the van a few days prior. Maybe I'm getting old, but I'll admit… it was nice.
On the drive down we had a nice view of the ocean on our right and sand dunes to our left. There are many broken down buildings and small towns along the way. It looks a lot like places we've seen in India and South African townships, only less dense, but very impoverished. This is the most impoverished area that Jim's ever seen and I don't think he was expecting it. I can't say I was expecting to find it in such a state here, but I'm sorry to say that I've seen worse. There are even small rickshaw-like vehicles in the smaller towns (we didn't see them in Lima/Miraflores but we did see them on the way to Caral the other day)… I'm not sure what they're called here. (edit: Jessie says they're just called 'mototaxis'.)
When we arrived at our bus terminal we caught a small taxi-like thing that was again like something you'd see in India, and it was a short 7 minute drive to our hotel from there.
Ica is a city in the desert. We are staying specifically at an oasis (literally) in the middle of the desert next to the city called Huacachina. It's a cute little area with the oasis (lake?) in the center with hotels, restaurants, palm trees, and buildings surrounding that… all encompassed by massively large sand dunes. At least, they look massive to me, the biggest I've seen… but seeing as the only sand dunes I've been to before are the great sand dunes in southern Colorado, these may very well be shrimpy, who knows. :) All I know is that an oasis is something that I read about in story books as a kid… but in some ways didn't really believed they existed until I got here. It just hit me that, wow… this is a real oasis. That probably seems silly but it's true. The others felt the same way. I'm glad we came.
The hotel is very nice for the area (makes you feel a little guilty), yet only costs about $60US per night. The rooms are clean but simple, with a single pillow for each person, a single night stand with a lamp, a small lock box, one towel per person, and some small soaps by the sink. There are two small framed pictures on the wall, smaller than 8x10s. Since we are in the desert the weather allows for outdoor walking areas motel-style that surround a pool area complete with its own little restaurant and bar.
After leaving our things in our rooms we went down to chat by the pool and eat dinner for a while. (It is Christmas Eve so the menu was rather limited… I had a Peruvian take on a hamburger that included bananas, it was interesting.) (Jim addition: I had a shredded chicken club sandwich that was quite tasty - though, they seem to like to strip bread of its crust in this region -- this saddens me, as I rather enjoy crust.) Erik, Steph, and Jessie went to go chill in their room after that while Jim and I went to climb the giant dune behind the hotel at sunset/dusk. The sand felt so good on my bare feet. Dusk was a great time to go because the sand still had some warmth to it, but the air was a pleasant temperature and there was a breeze so we weren't too hot. I'm sure my legs will just be even more sore tomorrow (they hadn't really recovered yet and felt like jello when we got to the top) but the view was totally worth it. It was spectacular. Hopefully Jim will post some pictures because words cannot do it justice. You could see all of Huacachina (the oasis area) below, and to the other side of the dune you could see the Ica city lights.
Maybe some day we will come back here. You can ride these monstrous dune buggies (they seat something like 10 people) around the dunes… but Jim won't let me do it because he's worried about me being pregnant and he doesn't want to push his back since he has bad discs. He's probably right. It looks like tons of fun though. You can also go sledding/skiing/sandboarding down the dunes. For now, walking on the dunes will have to be enough. It was still really cool.
When we got back Steph, Jessie, Jim and I went walking around the little town. (Erik was starting to feel not-so-hot again so he went to bed early just in case.) We found a shop that sold little gas station style ice cream (but Peruvian brands, different than home) out of a cooler… they were delicious. We ate them while sitting in the dark on a wall surrounding the oasis water and just chatted about how Peru is much more of a developing nation (not as developed) as we were expecting. Just goes to show you to never have preconceived notions. I can handle it and it's fine, it's just not what I thought it was going to be. But that's why you travel, you know… the more you know, the more you know you don't know. That's one of the most important things that I learned on Semester at Sea and it's something that I've learned over and again.
Apparently there is wine country around here, so tomorrow we are going on a wine tour. Peruvian wine was the no. 1 requested item from my family when I asked them what they wanted… so even though I can't have any, my hope is to have Jim and the others taste out some good stuff for us so I can have it shipped back home. After that we'll see what we can fit in before we have to catch our bus back to Lima at 5pm. I would like to have more time here, but since Jessie couldn't join us until today and we want to be sure to have enough time for Machu Picchu, Jim and I have to get back. Erik, Steph, and Jessie are staying here for three nights then heading back to Lima (I thought they were going to go to a beach house in Asia, Peru [a town] but they're not). Steph and Erik did not want to join us to Machu Picchu so Jim and I are doing that part on our own. So tomorrow, we will part ways.