temperature: 24 C / 74 F
elevation: 420 m / 1,378 f

Our hotel in Ica was a fairly long taxi ride from the bus station, out of the centre of town. On the way there, we passed an enormous, pyramidal-shaped sand dune. The driver told us the name of the dune, and said it´s the only one in the middle of town. The others are outside a posh neighbourhood called Las Dunas, where our hotel is located.

As we approach (through gates), these giant dunes loom behind the plantation-style homes. We can see the tiny silhouetttes of people climbing their steep slopes. The dunes are enormous sand mountains. Having climbed smaller (although still quite large) sand dunes in Oregon, I can´t imagine making it to the top of these. The way down is sand-boarding. Definitely not an Allan and Laura activity.

The hotel in Ica had a large courtyard pool, ringed with palm trees and tables, and a small, very basic room. Ica is always sunny and warm, and we should have been relaxing on the patio with Pisco Sours or Cuba Libres. Too bad it´s off-season. The bar is closed, the kitchen is only serving chicken, and our choices are cervezas or agua. (I´m not keen on Peruvian beer. Thin and tasteless, it would never cut it in Canada.) Plus we have to take a taxi into town and back to get money.

Ah, well. A hot shower, a decent meal and a bed that wasn´t moving went a long way. It wasn´t the evening we had hoped for, but it was enough.

We realized we´re getting overcharged for taxis all over the place, drivers asking 7 soles for a ride the hotel owner says costs 3, plus if they carry our bags (which they all insist on doing), I tip over the 7. However, these large differences to Peruanos are very little to us, where 3.3 soles is about US $1.00. I keep saying I´m going to scale back my tipping, but I never do. It means so much more to the driver than it does to me.

After breakfast at the hotel, we took a taxi to the bus, this time a regular local bus, to Lima, a four-hour trip. They show a movie, first at blasting volume, then after I begged, at a lower volume with subtitles. Spanish dubbing, Spanish subtitles, a soccer movie, so trite and predictable we understood it all.

On the way out of town, we pass more enormous dunes, like a mountain range made of sand. At every stop, women selling food and drink board the bus, and men selling newspapers.

It´s funny to think that a couple of days ago, we drove down a dirt road, where women in embroidered dresses and hats were herding goats with a stick, carrying their bundles tied in shawls on their backs, women who live in villages with little or no electricity. Here on the coast, everyone looks like people do in busy, working-class cities everywhere. The traffic is insane, most people carry cell phones, they wear jeans, carry backpacks. The highlands is a world where time has all but stood still. Yet tourists visit, and use the internet while they´re there.

From the bus, on the Panamericana, we see the coastal desert - flat sand, only occasionally punctuated by green fields where there is irrigation. There is almost no rainfall here, but the air is foggy and misty.

At the bus station, a driver is waiting with our names on a sign, and we struggle to make conversation on the 40-minute drive to the airport. I always sit in the front. My Spanish has improved since I´m here, but just enough to frustrate me that I can´t converse more fluently. This driver spoke slowly and clearly, and I did well, but it´s still very small talk.

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