Cusco, Huacachina, Paracas

It gets quiet in the desert at night. As the evening concludes and the sun's afterglow carves out distant sand dunes in a blood-red sky, the only sound that remains is the singing of the sand, blowing across vast, arid valleys. It feels otherworldy, mesmerizing, and slightly intimidating. The relentless and unforgiving heat of the day, absorbed by the surface, is released into the darkness, quickly cooling down the surroundings to an eery chill. It's an evironment that is simultaneously enchanting and perilous, captivating and maddening, and entirely unique.

When one thinks of Peru, desert landscapes might not immediately come to mind. And yet, in addition to the famously lush Amazonian rainforest and imposing Andean mountain ranges, the country is marked by an extremely barren strip of land all along its coast. The dryness of this coastal region is caused mainly by the Humboldt current, which carries icy water from Antarctica right up and along the Western coast of South America, generating consistently cold, inland winds. The ensuing dry, high-pressure weather fronts prevent precipitation and the buildup of clouds, and a desert is born. Contrary to what I'd always assumed, the water in seas bordering deserts is therefore unusually cold, rather than warm, which I experienced in person for about 2.5 seconds. Maria, on the other hand, felt very much at home.

It was my second time in Peru, which meant that I'd been to most of its "highlights" the first time around. It also meant that I knew what a fabulous place it was, that I still had only barely scratched the surface of all there was to see and that I was very eager to return. Maria had not yet been to Machu Picchu so we started our time in Peru by visiting mountainous Cusco for a week. While Maria went on the same mind-bending, high-altitude-biking, river-rafting, zip-lining, cliffs-of-death-walking trek to the Inca citadel I'd made a few years earlier, I hung out in the beautiful colonial city, enjoying the perks of one of the first truly Western-catering backpacker hostels of the trip. Nightly activities, hostel bar and restaurant, full-privacy bunk beds, prices affordable to Westerners but not to locals,... selling out never felt more comfortable. Apart from being the vantage point for many Andean activities, Cusco serves as one of the main nightlife and festival cities of Peru, where locals from all over come to mingle with eachother and visitors from overseas. That means it's just an overall fun place to be and do nothing besides wander around, get a haircut, a massage or a manicure, indulge in Peruvian pisco sours, party the night away and deal with altitude-aggravated hangovers. Everything culminated on our last day with the celebration of carnival, marking the beginning of Lent and essentially an excuse for a massive, city-wide foam-water fight where you had to either participate or become a massive gringo target. It felt mostly like a South American equivalent to Indian Holi, with similar battleground antics, absolute inferiority in numbers made up for by kamikaze enthusiasm, and memories for life.

All this excitement called for a proper contrast, as I'm finding is important not just in traveling but in most aspects of life. Cold to hot, hectic to peaceful, rocky mountains to sandy hills. Our time in the desert oasis of Huacachina was mostly peaceful, if not for an adrenaline-inducing dune buggy and sandboarding excursion one afternoon. Think roller-coaster-resembling desert driving, sliding hundreds of meters down a steep sand dune while lying face-down on a stripped snowboard, watching the sun set at the end of it all. A few days in, I managed to find for the first time in my life, an ultra-religious Catholic gym. It was hilarious. I worked on my abs while getting acquainted with verses from the New Testament. "Your Body is a Temple" - Corinthians 6:19, "I do not Run Aimlessly" - Corinthians 9:26, and my personal favorite: "Train for Godliness" - Timothy 4:8. The abs are still in the making, but Godliness may soon be within my grasp.

We've landed, for the time being, in the peaceful desert-seaside town of Paracas. Days consist of scootering into the national avian reserve just outside town, a deserted expanse bespeckled with beaches and brimming with indigenous bird species nesting, hunting and otherwise hanging out near the fish-filled waters. Hunting aside, we've pretty much been doing the same. Relaxing and indulging in the amazing (and amazingly cheap) seafood-inspired cuisine that Peru is rightfullly famous for, and preparing for the final part of our time in Peru.

We'll be spending nearly a month in the tropical north, deep inside the Amazonian rainforest. Starting in Iquitos, the largest city in the world completely cut off from any road network, and from there on ever deeper into the dense jungle, on an intentful journey of introspective exploration. It'll be a time for much reflection and an opportunity for living presently. To truly meet my inner self, to connect with all aspects of what makes me me, and to strive toward benevolent and all-encompassing acceptance of who I am.

See you on the other side.

March 12th, 2022

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