2013, a year of extremes in pictures

I’m gazing out of the window, the rain is lashing down in ‘sheets’, driven by high winds that are bending trees at an alarming angle. Although only early in the afternoon, the light has already started to fail, making it seem more night than day. The traditional New Year’s Day walk has been postponed – in truth cancelled – due to a general reluctance to endure the terrible weather in person.

My mind keeps wandering over the year just past: this time last year we were celebrating the arrival of 2013 in Sucre, Bolivia, our home for a year. Although we would spend another few months in Bolivia, we were already planning a journey north that would take us through Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, before returning to Bolivia. In between, we’d visit Argentina and Chile, Bolivia’s wealthier neighbours, for a change of scene and cuisine.

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

So, with one eye on the coming year, here’s my homage to 2013, a year which took us from the heart of South America to the heart of Central America. A journey from the high Andean mountains of Bolivia to the turquoise waters of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, and back again, before returning to Britain.

Adobe church and Vulcan Sajama, Sajama, Bolivia

Adobe church and Vulcan Sajama, Sajama, Bolivia

Siloli Desert, Bolivia

Siloli Desert, Bolivia

Salinas Grandes, Argentina

Salinas Grandes, Argentina

Cemetery in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Cemetery in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Fiesta in Cuzco, Peru

Fiesta in Cuzco, Peru

Magical Machu Picchu, Peru

Magical Machu Picchu, Peru

Oasis of Huacachina, Peru

Oasis of Huacachina, Peru

A woman sits on a Botero sculpture, Medellin, Colombia

A woman sits on a Botero sculpture, Medellin, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

The Panama Canal, Panama

The Panama Canal, Panama

The beautiful San Blas Islands, Panama

The beautiful San Blas Islands, Panama

The Pacific Ocean from La Cruz, Costa Rica

The Pacific Ocean from La Cruz, Costa Rica

The magnificent Granada, Nicaragua

The magnificent Granada, Nicaragua

The idyllic Pearl Keys, Nicaragua

The idyllic Pearl Keys, Nicaragua

Glorious Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Glorious Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

…finally, returning to reality in London…un feliz y próspero año nuevo por todo.

Tower Bridge, London, England

Tower Bridge, London, England

An oasis in the desert, the giant sand dunes of Huacachina

Reasoning that age had probably caught up with us, and put off by its reputation as a party zone for the international backpacking set, we almost didn’t go to Huacachina. In the end alluring photographs of majestic and mountainous sand dunes surrounding a palm-fringed oasis, and the knowledge that it was the low season, convinced us we should visit.

I wasn’t expecting reality to live up to the photos, but Huacachina doesn’t disappoint. Its quite extraordinary, the more so perhaps because it is only five minutes by cab to the thriving city of Ica – which you can see from the top of the dunes – yet feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Once the hangout for Peru’s wealthy, Huacachina has become something of a must see destination on the gringo trail offering sand boarding and dune buggy rides where once more monied travellers rode ponies. Regardless of the thrill-seeking side to Huacachina, it still manages to be a relaxed and easy going place, although I’m not sure I’d want to be there in the high season.

Preferring my own two feet to some noisy gas-guzzling dune buggy, I set off a couple of hours before sun set to hike through the desert and conquer a nearby and nearly vertical dune so I could watch the sun sink slowly over the desert. It was a magical experience, only slightly lessened by the sound of an occasional dune buggy and its screaming occupants off in the distance.

The desert near the oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The desert near the oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The desert near the oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The desert near the oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The desert near the oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The desert near the oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The desert near the oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The desert near the oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The desert near the oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The desert near the oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

Sky over the desert, Huacachina, Ica, Peru

Sky over the desert, Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

Chatting to a local resident, it seem that the water level of the oasis has dropped significantly over the last decade. At current rates the oasis will have disappeared in twenty years time. That would be a tragedy, but it isn’t the only environmental issue facing Huacachina…

If I have one complaint about Huacachina, those who visit it and run businesses there, it is this: in a once pristine environment the level of environmental degradation from discarded plastic bottles, bags and a multitude of other items is shocking. I climbed one sand dune, looked over the edge to a hollow and it was filled with plastic bottles. I just don’t get it…how hard is it not to throw rubbish into the middle of the desert?

The following morning I went for another stroll through the beautiful and peaceful desert landscape.

The only problem on the way back was the sand had gotten so hot it was like walking across burning coals for an hour!

The oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The oasis of Huacachina, Ica, Peru