Petrol pumping on the beach, street side pork stands, reckless drivers, world class surfing, and glaciers. We must be in Peru.
After an overcast couple weeks of mediocre wave riding in Ecuador, we decided to hustle down South to Peru. Peru has a reputation of being a country where the culture and history of ancient civilizations are abundant, amazing food for the frugal traveler hunker around every corner, the disconnect between the rich and poor are strikingly apparent, and travelers will experience a complete sensory overload, only comparable to our travels through Mexico.
The border crossing was a piece of cake: new facilities, uncrowded, organized, and fast. Our paperwork was complete, the vehicle import permit granted, and a seductive glare from an auto insurance sales women sent us on our way. A generous bag of plantain chips was purchased, split open the top, and our greasy hands dug into the feast. Now we head Southbound through the desert.
In need of the ATM machine, we search the streets of Tumbes. I park street side, enter a casino, and withdraw some bills (not knowing my bank is about to red flag my account because a transaction has been made in Peru). With cash in pocket, I return to the taco to find street folks trying to sell cocaine to Sara and Lupe. We brush off these clowns, lock the doors, U-turn on main street, and head for the desert highway. We are anxiously excited as we seek out the beach town of Punta Sal.
Punta Sal, from what we have read and heard from other travelers, is a good first night stop while driving the coastal border crossing from Ecuador. It is on the beach, safe, and provides a welcoming first impression of the country. We find the gated entrance (most costal towns in Peru are gated with security guards), sign some paper that states we will not rob, rape or murder while visiting the community and creep down the dusty beach side road in search of a place to set up camp.
We drive on the beach ready to set up for the evening, when a man (Jimmy) approaches us, and explains that we cannot camp on the beach. He then notices our New Jersey plates, and states that he used to live in Elizabeth, NJ, where he drove a taxi and sold cocaine in the 70’s. He smiles, shakes our hands, and politely insists that we camp in the driveway of his hostel. Jimmy has a clean, well manicured little hostel on the beachfront in Punta Sal. He performs Ayahuasca ceremonies (a psychedelic brew known to enlighten people spiritually) for people at his beachside crash pad. He was caring for a client at the time of our stay in his driveway, so we made sure to keep quiet, and respect his profession. Our first night in Peru was clear and starry, the desert beach was comfortable, and there was a noticeable difference in scenery and temperature from close by Ecuador.
The next day we arrived in Lobitos. Lobitos is a town in the baron desert with little to no vegetation, off shore winds most of the day (in actuality it is a very windy place), and travelers seeking good surf. There is not much to Lobitos and if your not looking for surf there is absolutely no reason to visit this place. The noisy petrol pumping litters the sandy landscape, the ocean horizon is contaminated with drilling platforms, and 6 breaks of world class surfing with waves all year round. Although the town is not crowded, and very spread out, the surf is jam packed much of the day. If you can work the crowd in the water, the reward is quite superb. Lobitos has been, without a doubt, some of the best waves along our Pan-American journey. I describe this place, as the movies, Mad Max meets Point break. An industrial wasteland of abandoned dilapidated buildings amongst desert landscape, with consistently wicked surf. We rented a cabin (Tres Cabanas) in Lobitos for close to 3 weeks, surfing everyday under blue skies. Countless waves ridden, full moon, ceviche, windy afternoons. Would I come here again? I hope so.
After a full days drive Southbound, In search for more surf, we inspect several breaks to set up camp for another couple weeks. Anxious to surf Chicama (one of the longest waves in the world) we arrive to flat seas. If we hang out for several days, and wait, we will surely become overwhelmed with boredom. We move on. A couple days here, a few days there, a quick bribe to a corrupt cop at a traffic stop, and we find ourselves in Huanchaco. We set up camp at Huanchaco Gardens, a hostel/RV park on the north side of town. Huanchaco is famous for their reed boats that fisherman have been using for thousands of years. The town is booming, cheap street food is abundant, The waves are big, fast rolling masses of power with virtually no one else was in the water. The paddle out was difficult, the water was filthy, but the wave was amazing. At Huanchaco, I surfed the biggest, fastest, longest wave of the trip, and my life. All the way from the point, past the pier, into the bay. Several waves, and a very long walk back to the point through traffic and tourists, lets do it over and over again.
Peru is a beautiful country with a wide range of things to do and see. Like all places in the world, Peru is not without its problems. Especially the costal regions we’ve noticed just so much trash everywhere. In the desert, its hard to decompose, and the wind will take it flying down the coast. Driving behind a bus, people are throwing their styrofoam take out containers out the window for miles on end. I see people eating in the streets and throwing wrappers on the ground while a trash can is within arms length. People picnic while leaving bags of trash and miscellaneous rubbish to blow around the beach. Maybe there is no organized garbage pickup? Maybe there is no money to correct this problem? Maybe locals have zero respect for their home? Maybe people are blind to the disgustingness of this behavior? or maybe I am ignorant to the root of an even bigger problem? This was the disappointment with Peru.
For the past month, surfing daily, satisfied and physically unscathed, we thought it would be a good time to head to the mountains and breath some clean air. We planned on a few days but it turned into a couple weeks. Snow caps, glaciers, hikes, and cheap living. The markets were similar to those of Mexico where you find meat for sale hanging from hooks on the streets, entire cooked pigs sit on tables while chunks get sliced off and sold to lined up street walkers. You sit and feast amongst locals and the plate of the day is a measly dollar or two. The markets are bustling, the eats are abundant. Its difficult not to enter a market and stuff yourself to the gills. The variety of food is unlimited, and cheap, so why not gorge? During this trip I have learned that my stomach is bullet proof, I have not been sick. I eat anything, served from anybody. This is a talent I’m proud to exploit. I am a pig with no self respect when it comes to street food.
On the way to the mountains we accidentally stumbled upon the famous Canon del Pato (duck canyon.) The canyon carved by the Rio Santa gives one an epic few hour drive through a massive rock canyon going through 35 one-lane tunnels. This route is a must see to anyone driving through Peru. Once through the canyon opposite the coast, one is rewarded with unlimited opportunities of the mountainous inland life. Exploring the city of Huarez, and the surrounding area over the next couple weeks, we hiked to glaciers and lakes during the day, had wine and cheese at night, and purchased large bags of veggies and trout for only a few bucks. Camping in the mountains, (We recommend camping at the sustainable hostel outside Huarez “The Hof”) one is rewarded with stunning snow capped views, old rock rubbles are evidence of expired civilizations, and road side cheese stands under clear blue skies. While we explored underground tunnels built by ancient ancestors, Lupe the dog was not allowed entry. We each took turns trotting along the 2000 year old subway passages. With no other tourists around, the lonely tunnels gives one a haunted presence of life back then.
We want to get back to the ocean, the sea is always calling. We heard the beaches on the southern outskirts of Lima are supposed to be welcoming, so we head there.The drive through Lima was riddled with close calls of crashing the Taco. The drivers in Peru are the worst to date. Overall I’ve noticed the drivers here are dangerous and take unnecessary chances while passing on blind curves or with oncoming traffic. We make it out of the city in one piece, we camp here and there. The more south we go the less towns there are. The Pacific Coast of Peru then 1000 miles into Chile is all desert. Its a beautiful stretch of baron coastline, scary and desolate. Driving the Southern Coast of Peru into Chile, one is rewarded with awesome cliffside highways looking into the deep clear Pacific. This time of year the water is moving North, so the clean 1st world waters of Chile are reaching Peru, which makes the South coast a true beauty.
Peru is a huge country covering half a million square miles. We only scratched the surface. The coast is mostly South West facing, making it a perfect wave making machine. The waves here will blow you mind, if you don’t mind wearing a wetsuit. This is a place of endless exploration, a rugged country that suffers on many levels. Amazing food for the broke and rich, and gold toothed indigenous selling anything one desires.