Where Israel Meets Agrabah
I barely close the door of a rickety, yellow, former-robbery-getaway-car/ “taxi” in hm-this-seems-an-ideal-place-to-get-kidnapped, Peru and it’s already happening.
Driver: Mastool? You from Israel, si?
My cover’s blown. Way to wear a shirt that says יום ספורט גדוד צבר.
Driver: You quieres mastool?
What does he keep on saying? Mastool? Mastool…mastool…c’mon, AP spanish think…hm…maybe it means… wait—
I know exactly what it means.
This is amazing. I can’t believe I missed it.
Meir: OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! YOU’RE TRYING TO SELL ME DRUGS! IN HEBREW!!
Driver: Si, si, en hebreo. Mastool for you, achi. 40 soles.
Intoxicated; High; Stoned; Wasted
Driver: You Golani, Tzanchanim, Givati?
The rumors are true.
Remember the opening scene of Aladdin; endless sand, burning sun, sneaky auto-tuned lamp seller? Take that, add Israelis, and the result is Huacachina.
I had heard this was a destination frequented by Sabras but I was unaware of the breadth of their influence: not only are there so many Israelis here that the cab drivers know IDF units, but there are so many Israelis buying weed that the cabbies know to offer it, first thing, in our native tongue, “achi.”
An oasis tourist trap nudged between towering dunes and a murky lagoon, Huacachina offers three potential activity options:
1) Smoke weed – with Israelis (I know a guy, he drives a taxi)
2) Go dune buggying and sand boarding – with Israelis
3) Take a boat tour of Las Islas Balletas – with Israelis, including Daniella from my hostel who lives in Givat Ze’ev, whose first cousin happens to have been my childhood babysitter, and who also knows of two more relig people nearby who are about to cook dinner. Score.
I don’t know which genius decided: “¡OYE! Let’s take pieces of wood, attach nylon straps most definitely used in their previous lives as Peruvian airline seat belts, rub mini wax candles on the bottoms for grip, and let people zoom down the dunes on them!” But that guy is my Peruvian hero.
After hopping into a dune buggy – rollover bars, overhead baby buckles, and non-Israeli tourists utterly terrified by shouts of “YAAALAHHHH NAHAG!!! TAASEH THRRREEEEE SIIIIIIIIIXTEEEYYYY K’VAAARRRR!!!!” included – our driver (aka the guy who also works the hotel reception?) launches us through the desert – bending, dropping, banging through mountains of sand, skidding heart-stoppingly close to the edge of the first dune and cuing an everyone-who’s-not-Israeli-is-now-rethinking-going-on-Birthright chorus of “MAH HISHTAGATA!?!?”
You can go down the four size-increasing, ego-deflating dunes standing up or on your belly. And since I’ve snowboarded like three times in my life I obvi know exactly what I’m doing so HELLZ YE I’M GOING STANDING UP.
So is everyone else, of course…just after someone else goes first. So who’s gonna be the guinea pig?
“I’M GONNA BE THE GUINEA PIG” nominees:
1) First, we have Tomer from Gan Yavneh
Tomer braved blustery highway 1 to visit his girlfriend in Jerusalem during this past season’s bust-out-the-squeegees-we’re-shutting-it-down snow storm so he’s totally got this boarding thing down.
Tomer is also Israeli so he’s probably never seen a guinea pig in his life and is probably like ma hakesher guinea pigs achshav?
B) Next, it’s Dror from Beer Sheva
Dror, like myself, knows the desert having earned an honorary doctorate in sand education by serving in the Givati Brigade. Also his friend Itai is currently standing next to him reminding him that he’s a coccinel if he doesn’t go first.
Nu, Dror. Don’t be a coccinel.
(Says Meir Fox, who definitely isn’t going first)
But in a surprise move “That Guy” turns out to be “That Girl” as Debrah, a middle school bio teacher from Kentucky, headbands her Go Pro, straps up, and bravely places her board at the edge of the first dune.
And takes off.
For three brilliant seconds Debrah is the Shaun White of Peruvian sand boarding, coasting down like a jefe and picking up speed. But then it happens, in painful slow motion: the board gets caught, launching Debrah airborne, sending her toppling down the rest of the scorching slope face first. That’s gotta hurt.
But Debrah gets up right away, sand wedged between her smiling teeth, dirt packed all over her beaming face, and raises her fists in victory. The crowd above goes absolutely wild, especially Tomer and Itai. Big hats off to her.
Dror is now swiping left for all Debrahs on Tinder.
Now that Debrah’s proven that survival is presumably possible, everyone starts going and I am super pumped. I strap in, kick over, shoot down, and miraculously don’t wipe out! The second and third times. The first time I tumble onto my tachat faster than my driver/sand boarding instructor/hotel check in guy can yell “¡¡¡USA LAS KNEEES!!!”
Braving the elements and geometrical angles that would have frightened Pythagoras out of his day job, I go down all four dunes standing up.
Lies. I tooootally wimp out on the last one and go down on my belly.
Go down this monster standing up? MA HISHTAGATA?!?
The next day the dati dinner crew and I – along with every other person staying in Huacachina (unless you want to take a swim in the radioactive-colored lagoon, your options are tight) sign up for a trip to Paracas, a nearby town with boat tours to Las Islas Ballestas.
Alternatively known as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” (quite the downgrade from “Crossbow Islands”) the Ballestas constitute an archipelago of rocky caves, cliffs, and overhangs with sea lions, penguins, pelicans, and TONS of bird poop on or around them. Fun fact: that bird poop, called “guano,” is highly valuable for use as a fertilizer and was Peru’s prime export during the 19th century.
Fun Fact #2: On the way to the Islands there’s a giant geoglpyh in the shape of a candelabra, the origins and motives behind its creation completely unknown.
Huacachina: drug deals in Hebrew, sand dunes straight out of Jafar’s playbook, aerial attacks of expensive bird poop, and it’s only Monday. Who knows what the rest of my week in Arequipa has in store.