On our second day in Huacachina, it was time to take to the sand. We'd arranged for a dune buggy to take us sand-boarding - Huacachina's defacto backpacker activity - and had little idea of what to expect. We met our driver/instructor - a short, temperamental man prone to muttering - and strapped into the buggy. Huacachina being as small as it is ((It has a reported population of 96. There are also warnings on travel websites about seemingly friendly locals luring foreign girls to local wineries and sexually harassing them. If there's only 96 people in the town, how hard can it be to find these criminals?)) , we were in the desert in under a minute.
A few turns and hills later, we were surrounded by dunes and Huacachina was nowhere in sight. We felt wonderfully isolated in the desert, truly out in the open. Our guide unloaded the boards and launched into an explanation of sand-boarding, which no one understood even a small part of. The miscommunication could be blamed equally on the consumption of last night's red wine by the fluent Spanish speakers and the muttering of our guide, but no one worried. How hard could it be? Three of our group launched off the hill at once.
When the guide started screaming we knew we'd missed something. He was finally able to communicate that the main part of his long lecture concerned how crucial it was that we go one by one; some of the only real danger in sand-boarding comes from crashing into one another. We were off to a bad start with this guy.
Sand-boarding is a thrilling but brief adventure. Like skiing, a large part of it involves waiting around but good company and the beauty of the scenery help alleviate the tediousness of waiting for everyone else to finish. It's fun and creating little games (like seeing who could slide the farthest on a given slope) gave it a competitive edge. The day flew by and before we knew it we were at our last, and steepest, run.
I was the last to go and, before pushing off, the guide signaled that he'd bring the buggy down to pick us up. I wish I'd warned him of the severe, bowl-like shape of the sand at the bottom of this particular run, but I had no idea that it might be an issue.
I slid down the quick, steep run and joined my friends at the bottom. We laughed and discussed plans for the rest of the day as we waited for the buggy. Our driver came over a hill and we loaded in; sorry the fun was over but ready for a shower. And then the day took a turn. We couldn't get out.
Like a car spinning it's wheels in the mud, the buggy simply couldn't handle the steep inclines of the sand surrounding our location. We unloaded and watched as our driver helplessly tried to circle around the bowl to gain speed to clear the hill, to no effect. We'd been laughing all morning about it, but now we really were trapped in the desert.
A good group can get you through anything. We were still loopy from the sun and fun of the day so we sat on the sand, cracked jokes, and watched from afar as our guide drove around in circles. It soon became clear that this buggy was going nowhere soon, but that didn't persuade him from trying. It eventually overheated and broke down, which prompted him to angrily walk over a nearby dune and sit in silence. We jokingly discussed what we'd do if we had to spend the night. The fact that we'd brought a candle but had broken apart to wax the boards was a source of endless amusement.
It was eventually decided we needed to convince the driver that our buggy was a lost cause. He needed to call someone ((If he hadn't been caring a cellphone we actually might have been in serious trouble. Because he was, we laughed throughout the whole situation. I love technology.)), however embarrassing that may be, and so we needed to find somewhere with cellphone reception. After marching around the dunes for a while, he returned and was finally able to explain someone named Antonio was coming for us. We immediately started joking about how funny it would be if Antonio drove right into the same pit our guy buggy was stuck in. All of the sudden that wasn't so funny anymore.
When Antonio raced by, into the pit, with all of us screaming "DON'T GO IN!", we briefly considered whether we might be on some kind of Peruvian reality show. Maybe more buggies would come, all of them briefly representing the hope of being saved, before all driving right into the pit, keeping us right we where started. The pit would fill with buggies, driven by confused Peruvians, all of them frantically calling their friends, who would promptly drive over and accidentally join them in the pit, and then call their friends, thus endlessly perpetuating the cycle. Maybe we'd become pit people and learn to be great at the niche sport of sand-boarding and eat sandwiches every night for dinner. Clearly the sun was getting to our heads.
With Antonio now in the pit, we needed to call another buggy driver for rescue. However, being worried that this 3rd buggy driver might also end up in the pit, I wanted to make the call to ensure that the pit issue was being properly explained. I suspected the our driver had not fully discussed the pit incident with Antonio out of embarrassment of getting stuck in a pit. Forget saving face, I wanted to make it clear to the 3rd driver that he should stop as soon as he saw us.
Yet, Antonio was in no rush to call another buggy. He seemed content to chat with out driver and look around the pit, as if there was anything more interesting than sand everywhere. "Oh stop these macho head games you damn buggy drivers" I thought "Admit you're stuck in a pit. I know your boss might give you shit. But I'm about to throw a fit. If we don't git. Out of this pit...." Just then Antonio revved his engine. He was driving for the edge! He was going to try and power out of the pit, as our driver had failed to do. We cheered wildly as he reached the incline. Do it Antonio! Escape the pit! And just like that he was over the ledge! He'd done the impossible! Whether his buggy had a more powerful engine or he was just a better driver was unclear, all I know is that he was a hero to nine sunburned gringos that day. We drove over the dunes laughing, and learned just how wonderful the sight of an oasis can be.