An oasis, wineries, horseriding and dunes

My hour or so journey to Ica from Paracas was filled with snoozing, lazily watching a spanish-dubbed Adam Sandler film on the bus’s entertainment system and trying to make conversation with my Japanese seatmate who nodded and said "good, good" a lot. The sweet fellow: after asking what part he was from and getting the same response, I realized it wasn’t really working, so I nodded, said good, and went back to snoozing and film watching.

It was night by the time I arrived in Ica and so I swiftly took a taxi to Huacachina, 15 minutes away, and to my hostel. Everyone had told me to stay there instead of Ica - it's a peaceful little place, an oasis in the middle of miles upon miles of desert, with a little lake around which there were cafes and hostels, one of which was mine.  I downed my backpack and went out to the courtyard bar area for some food, a beer, and some writing time. I’d only been there for a few minutes when the two boys at the next table struck up a conversation, asking where I was from – they said they were from gringoland in American accents – and what I was doing. They invited me to join them, which I did, and we had a great chat for a few hours about Peru and travels and life. They lived there, working for the US government, and were on a week long vacation from their home in Lima. I told them I was keen to see some wineries and we decided to all meet up the next day to explore.

The next day we were off bright and early – they had a car, which was amazing, as I don’t know how I would have visited the wineries without one. My wonderful friend Pepe Moquillaza, whose family had welcomed me so kindly the first night in Peru and of Pisco Inquebrantable fame, had given me some suggestions of where to go for the best Pisco, and the guys - Paul and Wilfred (he told me not to use his real name so: Wilfred) – already knew of some places too, so we headed out into the southern Peruvian wine country to explore. Our first stop was Viñedo Tacama, a winery that dates back to 1540. In many ways, it was like being in a Spanish vineyard - stucco, brightly coloured buildings, a bell tower, a chapel – and glorious views across the acres upon acres of vineyards. We took the free tour – in Spanish – and then the tasting: quite lovely wines, my favourite being the sparkling rose. Of course.

Paul had been talking about this wonderful place they’d been the day before, where they’d spent the afternoon drinking pisco, eating food and spending time with the owner and his family. They showed me pictures of the day before, with the owner playing guitar and serenading his wife, tears in his eyes – it had to be a wonderful place indeed. We had to go – and so we did – to Hacienda San Juan. It is a luxury hotel in the making and while it was being developed, it was open for dining and had a massive outdoor space for entertaining, with an enormous pool and, further still, a huge backyard with llamas and horses roaming around. That day, it was playing host to a local school’s sports day and we sat on the verandah, watching the kids play, and eating and drinking and talking. The food was amazing - I had Chancho al Cilindro, a roast pork feast, which, to this day, I keep wanting another plate of. After lunch, the lovely owner harnessed the horse as I’d said loved horseriding, and took us for a ride. They also took lots of pictures, which I believe have wound up on their facebook page and other sorts of promotional material. Ah, being a gringa in Peru. It was a great place and I would thoroughly recommend it. And if you go, have some Chancho al Cilindro.

After a few hours, we left and went to the Tres Generaciones winery, where we again took a free tour and then sampled some of their Pisco and wines. By then, it was almost the end of the day, so we started heading back to Huacachina. Paul suggested we all go duneing and off we went - and what fun. SO much fun. We got into the buggy and were off, driving up 45 degree dunes at break-neck speed and then down the other side, holding on for dear life, screaming - maybe that was just me - and loving every moment of it. And it was so incredibly beautiful – golden sand for miles on end and as it was the end of the day, the oranges and yellows and then purples and blues of the sky melted into the dunes. Pure joy.

I said goodbye to my wonderful new friends – they were truly the best company, and so very kind and generous. Again I say this - and there will be more times - I felt so very lucky to have met such amazing people, and so randomly. It's one of my favourite parts of travel - and that day was one of my favourites in this entire adventure.

I made my way back to my hostel and bumped into Charlotte again, who’d just arrived from Paracas. We had a really brief catch up but soon I had to get going as I was taking a night bus to Arequipa.

I loaded up my backpack, took a taxi to the bus station and I was off again…