Desert Nights EcoCamp
The town of Huacachina was oval-shaped, with buildings and businesses springing up around it like a half-moon, opening up to the dunes. The Desert Nights EcoCamp, sat on the furthest edge of the crescent—the last lodging the dune buggies passed on their escapades into the sandy wilderness.
The Oasis was immersed in myth, with an origin I could almost believe as I watched the wind move the sands from one hill to the next. I first heard the story of how Huacachina came to be at a party, where it was told to a spellbound room by a small woman with a weathered face. "There was once a beautiful woman"—she began in Spanish, and all conversation stilled, every face turning to hers—"admiring herself in a mirror when she saw a wicked man with a rifle creeping up behind her..." The woman's arms held an imaginary gun, and her dark eyes scowled. The room tensed.
"The young woman saw the man, and cried out. She fled, and as she ran, her garments fell away"—the storyteller's hands fluttered to the left and right, as if tossing scarves into the air—"and where her clothing fell, the ground changed to rippling dunes." Her palms dipped and rose, caressing the hills. Her voice softened, "Tears flowed down her face, and a pool formed in the center of the sands, with life springing up all around it. The hunter was close behind, so the woman dove into the pool and became a mermaid, where she was safe. She lives there still, and lures men to the waters with her beauty, where they drown in her waters."
The storyteller's hands folded as her story finished, and the room exhaled together. Grown men nodded solemnly, and began to relate tales of those they'd known who had seen the siren and lived to tell the tale. The mermaid's statue was front and center at Huacachina, with a sea of shimmering dunes rising on all sides. A merciful grove of palm trees shaded her green waters, and her likeness was the center for selfies and group pictures. Children clung to each other at the edge of the Oasis waters—close, but not too close—hoping to glimpse the vindictive mermaid in the pool.
It was my third night at the Oasis, and tonight I was staying at the Desert Nights EcoCamp—a hostel dug into the sharp hillside. It burrowed tenaciously into the steep grade, with rows and levels ascending, each level with a line of airy canvas tents shaded by bamboo structures, and here and there, lay little nooks where travelers could pitch their own tents if they chose.
The large pool served as the hub of the hostel, with stunning views of the dunes from the water, and a bar built down into the west side of the pool that put the bartenders eye-level with the swimmers. In the mornings, an impressive breakfast buffet was served here by the Tikki tables. I took my coffee early, before the town was awake (because few people were ever awake before 8 am in South America), and listened to the breeze that patiently shifted the sands, taking in the ethereal strangeness of the world around me.
Staying at the Oasis was entering a unique community, with its own culture and established rhythms that the guests were invited into—slow mornings, late lunches, afternoon siestas in hammocks or under the shade of the palm trees, swimming or paddle-boating through the heat of the day, happy hours and ice cream, good food, vineyard tours, sandboarding when the day cooled, dune buggy rides through the desert at sunset, and parties and dancing late into the night. At golden hour, the townspeople and tourists emptied from the Oasis and climbed the sharp ridges of hills together, to take in the sunsets and linger in the twilight until the last of the colors faded—nowhere to be, except here, which was ever the best place to be.
My final night, I meandered the streets alone, following the music and laughter until long after the Oasis had turned in. I walked back to camp slowly, past the towering palm trees, and the waters, and the statue of the tearful mermaid. Stars were glowing above the EcoCamp, framed by the sharp silhouette of the dunes. I let myself in through the gate and saw new friends swinging lightly on hammocks, margaritas in hand, in the midst of conversation and connections we'd remember long after we'd gone our separate ways.
And for a few hours longer, it was only this, only us in this mythical place, with our faces tipped to the stars, our laughter and stories drifting on night breezes, to be carried into the mysterious quiet of the desert.
(Read more about my experiences in the Dunes HERE)