Travel 2023: Find – and Access – Adventure in Peru
The author in the Atacama Desert. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Rockel
Escape and find a purpose! In our February/March 2023 issue of Zoomer magazine, we featured “23 Reasons to Travel in 2023”. In this edition, we focus on finding adventure in southern Peru. Click on the link at the bottom of the story for more ideas and inspiration for your next trip.
On the cusp of the Atacama Desert in southern Peru, dune-buggying reaches new heights. I’m strapped into an open cabin with a dozen fellow passengers, most of us laughing nervously and hanging on tight, as we crest mountain after mountain of golden sand above the village of Huacachina, next to South America’s lone oasis. Our driver, roaring engine revved to highway velocity, rides the curves of this vast dune-scape like it’s his personal roller coaster.
We stop and jump out for the prone version of sandboarding. The drill: Lie on a snowboard, grab the straps and hurtle face-first down a series of slopes. (If speed isn’t your thing, ask for extra wax.) Then it’s time to watch the sunset wash over the dunes before barrelling back to town. I take the option to stay up well past midnight at the oasis, where I join a fellow Canadian for an international beer pong tournament.
Next up are some real mountains — the nearby Andes. During my stay in the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco, I wake before dawn to join a guided day trip to Vinicunca, or Rainbow Mountain, with seven-coloured bands of minerals once covered by a long-vanished glacier.
A couple of weeks at higher altitudes help steel me for the hour-long, rock-strewn slog to the summit. But that apex is a gasp-inducing 5,200 metres above sea level, almost at the same elevation as Everest’s South Base Camp. To keep us moving in the chill, thin air, our guides dispense sniffs of medicinal alcohol, opening up our blood vessels to lessen the strain on our madly pumping hearts. The view from the top, which we share with some alpacas on their lunch break: worth every breath.
I visited Huacachina and Vinicunca via Peru Hop, a safe, flexible and affordable bus service that stops at 10 destinations in Peru and western Bolivia. Besides letting you plan your own adventure, Peru Hop will book hotels, tours and other activities with reputable providers.
Kevin Penny has visited Europe, the continental U.S., Hawaii and Mexico, spent a month in Costa Rica, taken several cruises and flown as far as Australia and New Zealand. The man gets around — especially given that he’s quadriplegic.
Penny, 46, began venturing abroad with his power wheelchair in his mid-20s, about a decade after a bicycle accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. “Once I started travelling,” the Annapolis Valley, N.S., native recalls, “I really got the bug.”
Along the way, Penny, who works with disabled students for the Nova Scotia Department of Advanced Education, launched a YouTube channel called Accessible Adventuring that has nearly 3,300 subscribers. The Halifax-based globetrotter fields questions from people of all ages, most often about how to load a wheelchair onto a plane, how to get on and off the aircraft and what to do if your chair is damaged in transit.
In the past five years, Penny says airlines are much better at handling wheelchairs. He prefers to book flights on planes with larger cargo areas, such as an Airbus or a Boeing 747, whose baggage crews put his chair in a container before loading it into the hold.
Next, he hopes carriers will follow the lead of buses and high-speed trains by letting passengers board in a power wheelchair, rather than being transferred to a narrower chair and lifted into their seat. “It seems like when it came to making laws about accessible transportation, the airlines were a bit exempt from complying with what needs to be done,” he says.
For Penny, a keen sailor who competes in regattas in his 16-foot (roughly five-metre) adaptive boat, travelling with a disability is about taking calculated risks. To that end, he’s a big believer in planning ahead, from finding accessible ground transport before arrival to choosing the right accommodation. Penny typically stays at chain hotels, which are more likely to have barrier-free rooms with features such as a level-entry shower. His advice to novice travellers with mobility issues: “Go somewhere you can be set up for success.”
A version this article appeared in the Feb/Mar 2023 issue with the headline ‘Find Adventure’, p. 74. and ‘Access. Adventure’, p. 80.
For more ideas and inspiration for your next trip, go here.