Monthly Archives: September 2014


The Desert Town Built around a Real-Life Mirage


When I imagine a mirage, I think of epic tales of adventure and perilous journeys through the desert where our hero is dangerously lost, hallucinating in the barren landscape ahead. Rarely does the mirage turn out to be something real. Except this one did, and you don’t have to be a character in a storybook to find it.




Just when you thought the internet had shown us all of the unusual and incredible places that earth has to offer, along comes another dreamy destination to discover and add to the bucket list.

This is Huacachina, a small town built around a lush, sun-drenched oasis lined with palm trees in the Atacama Desert of Peru, one of the driest climates in the world…




Huacachina has a population of just 96 residents living next to this surreal natural lake, surrounded by sand dunes that stretch hundreds of feet high. Being one of the few remaining natural oases in existence in North and South America, it has appropriately been called “the oasis of America”.

To find this desert treasure however, you won’t have to travel for days over a sandy lunar landscape, hanging on to the last drops of water in your flask. Huacachina is just a few kilometres from the southern city of Ica, a former Spanish colonial town located on the borders of the desert.


From the 1920s to the 1950s, wealthy Peruvians made Huacachina their desert playground and the oasis flourished in this golden age of tourism. Lima’s elite flocked to the lagoon where they would bathe in the sulfur waters, which was believed to be therapeutic. Nowadays, the water no longer contains sulphur but according to locals, still has curative properties.




Life is pretty simple in Huacachina and locals make their living off accommodating the backpacking visitors that have replaced the wealthy Peruvian elite over the years. The small town has several hotels, hostels and restaurants, as well as a few tiny general stores.


And look at that! They’ve even got their own desert oasis library– that’s got to be a first!


Huacachina, Peru


But of course, if we’re talking about a desert oasis; a real-life mirage, there has to be some local legend to go with it, so let’s gather round for story time…

The origins of the word Huacachina mean “crying woman”, which relates to the legend behind the village. This is that legend…

Centuries ago a beautiful Incan princess was wandering through the desert near her house, while clutching her mirror in which she constantly admired her beauty. However, when she raised the mirror to her face she immediately saw a man who was watching her from behind her. Shocked, she dropped her mirror, and when it shattered the shards of glass transformed into lake Huacachina.

It is at this point that the legend differs according to the local you ask:

One version states that the princess fled the scene, with her veil scraping along the ground, creating the dunes that surround the oasis. Another version states the woman remained in the oasis, and became a mermaid (una sirena). To this day, there are people who say that the mermaid in the lagoon is lonely and so every year she drags one man by his ankle, deep into the lagoon where he drowns.

The Guide Book “Moon Peru” contains a similar but even more sinister version of the legend:

Many centuries ago, a young woman and her lover used to spend most afternoons strolling through the countryside in Ica. After a while, the couple was very much in love, and planned on marrying. But just before the wedding was to take place, her lover dropped dead. Wracked with sorrow, she spent the next few days retracing her walks with her lover. As she walked, she cried so much that her tears formed a lake.

As she sat by the lake one day, an evil spirit took the form of a man and tried to rape her. She jumped into the lake, imploring the water gods to protect her. They did so by covering her with a mantle of white snow. In doing so, she drowned, trapped underneath the snow. Now, every full moon she floats over the Huacachina oasis, cloaked in sparkling white light. Locals say that once per year she drowns a swimmer as a sacrifice to the lake gods who protect her.

There are frequent reports of annual drowning accidents in the lagoon which adds fuel to the legend’s fire.


In recent years the water level of the Huacachina lagoon has dropped significantly, largely due to private landowners installing wells to access the groundwater. In order to prevent the lagoon from drying up entirely, water from other sources has had to be artificially pumped in from Ica for the use of residents. Dropping water levels are also due to evaporation, which increases when Ica temperatures rise during the summer. The grounds have been declared national cultural heritage by the National Institute of Culture, however if a new and deep well that can guarantee a regular water supply for the population and the lagoon isn’t built urgently, Huacachina’s oasis may very well end up as a mirage in the desert.



Cat in the living room

For now, this little town is still open to visitors looking for a surreal getaway. Locals survive running small businesses that revolve around sand boarding and dune buggy riding, offering tours, lessons and equipment– sort of like a mini off-beat ski station, but with sand!


There are 12 hotels and hostels that make up the village’s resort, including Hotel Mossone, a restored colonial mansion, Casa de Arena, a popular hostel and El Huacachinero (pictured below)




And if you ever picked up a Peruvian 50 Nuevo Sol note, you would have found a clue to nation’s hidden treasure!



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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


The Subway Spa

Enjoy the video first and then go behind the scenes with their mission report and photos.

For their latest mission, we turned a very hot New York City subway platform into an unauthorized luxury spa. NYC’s un-air-conditioned platforms can feel like a sauna in the summer, so we figured we might as well embrace the heat. Their spa’s complimentary services included infused water, towels, sauna benches (already provided by the MTA), hot stone massage, and a human-powered steam room misting station. Random New Yorkers were encouraged to join their performers and use the services and quite a few took us up on it.

New York City summers can be miserably hot, and the hottest spot in town, in their experience, is the NRQ platform at 34th Street. With the exception of Grand Central, none of the subway platforms are air-conditioned. Subway cars are air-conditioned, but in a cruel twist of fate, it’s partly the heat generated by their A/Cs that make the platforms so miserable. 

Many years ago they had the idea of turning an un-air-conditioned subway car into a sauna with performers in towels. Every so often in the summer you’ll accidentally step into a car with broken air-conditioning, briefly considering yourself lucky to find an empty car before realizing the reason why it is empty. The idea remained on the back burner until Louis Walch emailed them and suggested a similar idea that would take place on the platform. The platform! Of course! It’s reliably hot and there is no escape.

Subway Spa cast, pre-sweatThey met at the Deverge office and the walked over to the nearby 28th Street station. They had to ride the train one stop north to get to the 34th Street station, which was a pretty funny site itself.

Agent Clark Frankel puts up their magnetOnce they arrived at 34th, they immediately began setting up. They made some big magnets that read “Spa” and put them up around their performance area. They designed these so they wouldn’t cover the “34″ to avoid causing any confusion. The signs blended in so well  most people didn’t even notice them. Those that did got a nice laugh.

While they’ve staged many projects in subway cars over the years, they have very rarely staged anything on the platforms. The most recent was in 2008 when they turned the 23rd Street C/E platform into an art gallery. Safety was obviously a concern. To keep this as safe as possible they kept their cast small (only about a dozen folks in towels) and kept their tables and props in the dead center of the platform, evenly spaced out to allow people to pass on all sides.

Setting up the welcome station
Agents Bethany Hall and Jewel Frankfeldt setting up the water coolersAgent Ilya Smelansky designed an awesome poster displaying their services in the style of MTA safety posters.

After the stations were set up, the actors began arriving in towels.

The saunaThe brown wooden benches in the subway system already look similar to the type of benches found in a sauna, making their decorating job easy.

They added some rocks along with a bucket of water and a ladle.

They got tons of great reactions from the other New Yorkers on the platform.

Lots of people sat down next to their performers.

Every couple of minutes a new train arrived and a new crowd of people stumbled upon their spa.

Agent Dmitry brought his own Russian sauna branch for use in the “steam room.” The steam room was a teak platform surrounded by four people with spray bottles of water. They provided mist for anyone who wanted to cool down. Quite a few regular subway riders took advantage of the offering.

This guy was the first non-participant to use the steam room, and he even took his shirt off to get the full effect.

Despite having no training whatsoever, Agent Todd Simmons was on hand to provide hot stone massage. Participants reported it actually felt quite nice.

A few non participants requested massages as well.

Agent Keith Haskel activates the musicAnother reason why they chose this particular platform is it contains the awesome art installation REACH: New York by Christopher Janney. Installed in 1995, the installation allows passengers to create music by waving their hands in front of sensors. It’s always been my favorite piece of art in the subway system. It enables complete strangers to interact together and share a smile, a goal shared by Improv Everywhere.  The music it produces contains lots of wind chimes and bird noises– very similar to the type of relaxing music you might hear at a spa. Perfect!

People taking advantage of the lemon and mint infused waterMidway through their performance, two police officers strolled by. They were laughing when they approached them. They got it and were very nice about it but did say they’d have to come back if they received any complaints.They let them know they’d be gone soon.

The guy wearing socks was NOT of their performers. They had a few robes at the welcome station in case anyone wanted to join in, but they figured no one actually would. Not only did this guy strip down and put on a robe, he sat there for a half hour! It looked like he was with family when he first arrived, but I guess he ditched them to enjoy our sauna.

This guy was very excited about the spa and tried out every station. He particularly enjoyed the steam room.

Steam room staff: Jewel Frankfeldt, Katherine Maughan, Clark Frankel, Evan GregoryThey stayed on the platform for an hour or so before packing up. They were all pretty sweaty by the end of it. They cleaned everything up, removed the magnets, and disappeared on a downtown train.Mission Accomplished

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Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Uncategorized