It´s been a tumultous week. Lima, Peru has worn me down. leaving my body in a decrepid state. A few too many late nights in preparation for my birthday, followed by a few afternoons spent recovering and generally feeble attempts to explore the city. An enjoyable week without a doubt, one that provided a nice transition from all of the nature exploration that has occupied a majority of my first month on the road. There is a lot to go over, not a lot of time on my hands at the present moment, so I will do my best to hit the highlights.

First, I want to say thank you for all those who wished me well on my birthday. It was a great day, filled with beautiful weather and a tranquil atmosphere. Much to my dismay, shots of tequila can cause the same wicked hangover at 23 as they do at 22. That will be noted for future reference. I relaxed mostly, taking in the last minute sights from Lima before my departure the following day. Plus, I was feeling a bit sluggish and a bit entitled to relax on my day of birth. I did conclude, however, that 23 is quite possibly one of the most insignificant birthdays one is allowd to enjoy. Acting only as a stepping stone for 24 (which may be even more insignficant), this one provides very little cause for celebration; that is unless you consider the passing of your youth as a positive, which I doubt many individuals do. It was best that I had some good company, great friends who sent their regards, and a wonderful city at my exposure to provide adequate distraction the fact my age is ever increasing and a 3rd annual 21st birthday is far less cool than your 2nd annual (which isn´t even that cool). It´s a good thing, then, that my boyhood wonder remains intact and multiplies at an even faster rate than my age, giving a fair balance between youth and manhood as the war between them rages on.

Now, for the activities. Even more extraordinary than usual, the past few weeks were overflowing with an abundance of novel experience. Teeming with excitement, and most importantly an open mind, I decided to take on the desert before I headed to Lima. Several reports from other backpackers led me to believe that such a journey would be worthwhile, so I put in a bit of research and set my sights for Ica, Peru after Machu Pichu. Still in awe of the vibrant crowds that were dancing in the streets with beers in hand as our bus left the terminal in Cusco (for no other reason that it was a Monday, of course, and this is standard protocol apparently in Peru and especially Cusco), I was even more overwhelmed when we reached our next destination. A lonely little place on the western side of Peru, just inland from the shore, I cannot speak highly enough of Ica or its people. Small enough that it seemed to fit in your hand, but large enough in personality that radiates high above the hot sand its foundation was built upon, this place was more reminscient of a metropolis than its true nature of an overrun town whose source of life is a nearby lagoon. Rickshaws race through the roadways, overtaking the little Peruvian men zooming around on their motorized scooters, each of whom are competing against the yellow and green taxis that speed on by with zero regard for pedestrian traffic, red lights, or the well being of their customers. Buses, or more so oversized mini vans, trail behind, picking up passengers who care for a cheaper fare and have no problem standing next to twenty or so of their fellow country men in a vehicle that is probably meant for no more than 7. Police officers nearby, watch it all helplessly – for they must have realized by now that there is nothing that can be done to control madness that fills the streets, consumes the place, and brings it to life. All of this taking place around a slightest of town squares, the center-piece being a lovely little green park with statues and benches filled with people of all shapes and sizes, with gold and tan buildings on the outskirts providing a constant reminder of the city´s rich history. Vendors cooking up all different varieties of food, one could only hope clean and relatively fresh, who if they can´t fill your stomach are willing to sell you the shirt of their back just to feed their families. The best part: Of all that was going on there, of all the people that were rushing to and fro, the only non-Peruvians were my two companions and I. Inconspicuous being impossible, we embraced our new surroundings and the giggles of the young girls passing by, the stares of the elder men en route to work, and the efforts of every store front clerk to lure us inside, hoping to make some nice profit.

Ica, however, is not the main attraction of this area. It is actually an smaller town just outside, 4km approximately, known as Huacachina that is focal point for those passing through. When I say small, I mean really, really small; no larger than 5 blocks at the most, with no more than 250 residing within, and nearly all of its business relying on tourism. If Ica were to fit inside your palm, then Huacachina would be no larger than the size of your fingernail. But, it is hard for this place to go unnoticed, and quite deservingly so, as it is featured on the back of the Peruvian 50 Soles Bill. A national landmark, an oasis in the desert, the best analogy would be something along the lines of a beach without the ocean but with surfing still being possible, as long as you don´t mind getting a little sandy or a few burns. The refreshing waterfront that usually compliments this quantity of sand is replaced by hostel pools or, for those who are daring enough to try, the murky lagoon that rests nearby and whose cleanliness is questionable at best.

There was no doubt I was making out into the desert to do a little sand boarding and dune buggying. In hindsight, I realize now that the cruising around at over 60 miles per hour in an open faced vehicle could hardly ever be considered safe, let alone sane, yet I have zero remorse about going out there, throwing my livlihood into the hands of our driver Julio who I had only met the day before (but came highly recommended), and seeing how things turned out in the end. Well, as I am still alive, and can only rave about the experience, it was definitely the correct choice. Plus, I wore my seatbelt and that´s got to count for something.

For the entire duration of the trip its almost like riding a rollercoaster that has gone off the tracks, taken a mind of its own, and intends to leave you in the dust hanging with the vultures as its madness continues. The amusement park has no boundries; a world of sand whose end is eludes your eyes sight and whose beginning rises out of the lush, fertile vegitation that surrounds the lagoon from which you depart. Upwards, sidewards, and even backwards your body is propelled, with your only option to hold on for dear life and expect that like all those who have done this before you, you will survive. Curling up the side of a 500 ft dune, your survival no longer seems as certains as before, a feeling that only becomes stronger when the driver decides to hit the gas, shift into a higher gear, and let gravity go to work as we are propelled downward at top speed, popping over the following hill and repeating the cycle for the next three hours. Part of the journey, clearly not the most important, was to include some photo taking and sight seeing. I snapped a few shots, but my enjoyment lay within the vehicle, whirling over montains of sand and touching the sky as we flew from one place to another. Totally awesome, but not something I recommend for those with weak stomachs, high speeds, or fear of a death.

 Adreneline rush to say the least, only to be complimented by the nifty (yes, I said nifty) boarding atop the ¨Everest¨ of Huacachina. Not as big as the name implies, this hill was a force to be reckoned with nonetheless and left most of our crew in shambles. Our first attempts to go down traditional snowboarding style failed miserably, with the group falling into several categories: those who have had snowboarded at all and opted to go down headfirst on their bellies (all women, and probably the most intelligent decision), those who had never snowboarded before yet decided to sandboard anyways cause ¨it can´t be that hard¨ and went tumbling downhill within the first 10 feet (this group clearly provided the most humor), those who had limited snowboarding experience but opted to sandboard cause, as they proclaimed, ¨Snowboarding was real easy for me so this is can´t be to different¨ and, following in the footsteps of those in the second category, went tumbling down after all but fifteen feet (this group being those ¨macho¨sort of men we all have come to know at one time or another¨, and a final group of individuals with fairly significant snowboarding experience who obviously chose to sandboard yet proceeded down the hill at glacial speeds until they reached about 20 feet and began their tumbling just like the rest of the individuals before them (a.k.a. William Lee). A fun activity, hardly as entertaining as I originally thought it would be, it left me more appreciative of mountains with snow rather than mountains of sand. Slightly bruised, with a few flesh wounds to prove my failed attempts to become a master of sandboarding, I left the desert proud to have taken on Huacachina´s most intense and relieved to have survived its worst.

By this point on my trip, bus rides are beginning to become more and more dogdy. Rumors of hijackings are flooding the backpacker community, with extra caution needed to be taken whenever traveling between cities and especially at night. Words whose wisdom is implied, advice that ought to be heeded, for if ignored only yourself can be blamed and only you shall suffer. One apt for precaution over wrecklessness, I have invented my own method of avoiding confrontation if there were to be a group of bandits to board my bus. No, much to many of my friend´s disappointment to their numerous suggestions, it is not whipping out a pistol, knife, or even hand grenade and taking on my intruders in duel like fashion (side note: my weapon of choice, if one were to be selected, would most definitely be a trident. Zeus was badass), it is going into the bus expecting to be robbed to have planned accordingly beforehand. This mentality, commonly known as Murphy´s Law, has resulted in preparations of the following variety: 1. Minimal cash should be brought onto the bus, but there should be at least some, and left in an easily accessible place. Ideally, if one were to ask for all your money, this would be at least something small to give him, a pittance compared to the wealth of other objects you could potentially loose, to appease his demands and allow you to be left alone soon thereafter (hopefully) for complying at will 2. Since entire backpacks have been known to be taken from below the bus as well as those being carry-on brought into the main cabin, all important documents should stowed away somewhere safe on your person. For instance, traveling from Cusco to Ica, I placed my passport in my boxers (hardly comfortable for a 17 hour journey), my credit card below the sole of my shoe, and the large amount of USD that I have with me at all times in case of emergency in the sole of my other shoe. 3. Ipods and other electronics, such as the Amazon Kindle I carry, that are necessities on long bus rides will most likely be taken. You can either go 17 hours without them, which I can´t, or be just prepare yourself for the mental anguish when you do loose them and cannot afford to purchase new ones. Realistically, these items are replaceable and small compensation for the larger losses that could occur if such a hijacking did go down (i.e. your life). 4. Placing locks on your bags is a good idea, but on the parts that have relatively very few important things within them. These can act as decoys, for the average person (and I assume robber) would assume that the valuables would be locked away while the worthless objects will go unprotected when one is on the road and traveling. This is where reverse logic can prove to beneficial: The first is that the robber sees the section of your bag that is locked, makes you open it, realizes nothing worthwhile is there and leaves it be, the second is that the robber becomes frustrated while attempting to open the bag himself because he does not know who it belongs to and his time to make away with the loot is limited, so once again he decides to leave it be, and third is that the robber breaks open the locked portion of your bags, removes all your relatively worthless belongings and takes them for himself, but leaves those that are valuable behind without realizing his own mistake. In the worst case, your entire bag is going to be taken and there is nothing you can do about it. But if happens not to be, and to be gone through by hand, decoy locks may end up saving you a whole lot of money.

Right now I am in a hostel in Huaraz, Peru. Tomorrow, I am beginning a four day trek up the mountains, reaching around 4900m before descending back to base camp. Apparently, the top is known to have the best view of the wondrous mountain ranges in Peru. As you would expect, I am pumped. That being said, I will be out of touch for a while and probably not likely to post for 5 – 7 days. My plan for when I return is to grab a bus from Huaraz to Guayquil, Ecuador. From there, I will be heading to the Galapagos. Lots of traveling, but I am sure it will be worth it in the end. Until then, all the best and stay safe.

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