We crossed the border into Peru around sunset after finally putting customs and visas behind us. We waited a long time behind a seemingly endless line of Venezuelans who are still in the process of expelling themselves from their pertinent country, ruled by a corrupt military government. It’s a long and tedious story with no end in sight. We finally got to Tumbes, after one of the longest days of the trip. The sun immediately commands attention in Peru, it seemed to set in slow motion glowing brilliant orange, leaving a lasting impression. We pulled off the highway to stop at one of so many restaurants lining the Pan-American highway and sat down to sup. In Peru, they make their own mayonESA, and its delicious on chicharrones of any type, take your pick. I prefer chicharron de pescado, which is nugget-size pieces of fish fried in a tasty batter. I also tend to prefer Pilsen over Cusquena, arguably the two most popular beers in the Country, although lately I’ve been mixing it up a bit. Ingrid almost always goes for a ceviche, which pairs very nicely with an arroz con mariscos if you are very hungry.
We left that restaurant feeling a lot better than before and head off to find Yorch, who was staying in Zorritos with his girlfriend Daphne, for a long weekend. We found him sometime after dark, he had rented a beautiful apartment on the beach and welcomed us to stay. We stayed with them unwinding from our last tumultuous week-plus in Ecuador. It’s worth noting that it’s my opinion based on inquiry and local knowledge that the north-west coast of South America is one of the most dangerous parts of the continent, specifically the zone around the border of Ecuador and Peru. To be honest, I was so preoccupied about being robbed in Peru that I completely underestimated where I was at the time and not for nothing, we were almost in Peru. And let it be known for anyone who wants to fault me for being insensitive and stereotypical, we were also robbed in Peru. More on that later.
Zorritos is the last of the warm ocean water, it gets gradually colder as you continue south. Most Peruvians will come here to vacation for this reason. That, and there’s a lot of long empty beaches to enjoy, take ocean walks, lie out in the sun, and or just get drunk and trash the place. The beaches in Peru are fascinating. You typically find a lot of sea life. Birds, pelicans, shells, crabs in hordes, whales, sea lions, seals, and garbage. A lot of garbage. Playas, as they are considered public land, are often used as dumping grounds. In Peru, that also goes for just about anywhere you look. South Americans don’t seem to agree a lot in general, but this one seems practically unanimous. You might say it’s not a beach unless it’s covered in garbage, though I’m afraid this is the fate of all beaches on this planet, not just in South America. It was great to catch up with Yorch after so many years. He’s a good guy, and a good friend.
We moved on towards Mancora, where we have been in the past and have good memories but since it’s a vacation/party town much like Montañita, we were uneasy to spend much time there. Ingrid’s mother called in a favor on our behalf and a friend of hers offered to let us use her beach house for a few days in Las Pocitas, just far enough down the beach to feel out of the way. We were truly grateful for that, that was where we finally relaxed for the first time in a while. Surfed again in Mancora, that’s a really fun wave if its not too crowded. We also caught up with our friend Java, from New York. He was on vacation with his girlfriend Kristine so it was really fun to hang out and loosen up with them a little. We planned to meet up with them further south in Lobitos, hoping to score some good surf.
Lobitos is a legendary sandbar point, but as we learned, it’s a bit fickle as the sand moves around a lot and you want to be there near the end of the season for it to be good. We got there at the beginning of the season and it wasn’t. We also drove by the legendary Cabo Blanco, completely flat. Just wishing that there would be a rare off season swell of the perfect size and direction. Surf travel is often like that. Only the truly dedicated tend to reap the benefits but inevitably, everyone gets lucky sometime. Surfed with Java in Lobitos, we had fun surfing alone up the beach but it was pretty gnarly. Windmill paddling, some bomb sets, nearly getting thrashed on the rocks on the exit, that pretty much sums up surfing in Peru. We did however, drive back towards Cabo Blanco hoping to conjure up some kind of magical session, which actually happened. What can I say, sometimes you get lucky.
We were also the lucky ones chosen to be robbed again. I should take it as a compliment, people just seem to want what we have. In this case it was Ingrid’s old disintegrating 8’0” board bag which I was in the process of repairing, and my shortboard which they tried to steal off the roof of the van around 6am. I woke up in a jolt as I heard them loosening a bungee. Turns out bungees are good straps because they have a lot of give under pressure which is easier on the boards, and they are awkward to work with, potentially taking out an eye if not fixed appropriately. Thinking he could simply loosen the bungee, he unhooked it quiet as a mouse meanwhile hanging off the side of the van but the metal hook lightly bounced on the roof as it came around the rack and rang like a shot inside the van.
I woke up immediately, but almost wrote it off, as we were parked under a tree and felt it was safe to assume it was a stick or tree branch as it so often is. But as we’d been parked there for days and not a single branch had fallen hard enough to make a sound, I decided to jump up and take a look. I saw the guy making his exit, but as it was the night guard whom I’d just met the night before, and there was nothing obviously missing from camp except for a knife out of place and an unstrapped bungee, I naively assumed it wasn’t him. In my groggy and confused state I actually made up and believed the story in my head that maybe Ingrid had moved the knife before going to bed and that maybe I hadn’t properly strapped the bungee and ‘the wind’ helped it come undone. But I knew something was funny because I’ve been to Peru before, and have my own previous experiences with ‘mystery’ winds. Turns out the new night guard and his brother, young cadets at the local military school, robbed the place we were staying. They took my beat up old board bag, and the old vintage bike that the employees would use to run errands.
The general was there the next day, he consoled us and within a few hours we got our board bag back. The bike I believe, was never recovered. Some military guys showed up and assured us they would be punished, which I really didn’t support. The 8’0” board bag however, is worth its weight in gold if you care about your board and want it to last. I had cut out the disintegrating top of the bag, bought materials in Mancora, and had cut them to fit and loosely installed them with needle and thread. We got the job completed in the market in Lambayeque. That was an interesting project, with a story to go along with it.
It was great to leave Lobitos, such a cool spot, but really dirty. Driving through the desert on the way in, you see the dump which is just a massive pile of garbage, they don’t even dig a hole. Then, with the help of the stray dogs and the strong prevailing winds, its just a shit hole mess that stretches for miles. Plastic bags tangled up and disintegrating in the cactus and thorn bushes, blowing like flags proudly marking the presence of those that live there. To get past Lobitos, you have to pass through Talara. Talara on a good day, is a scourge to humanity. Absolutely foul, garbage piling up and rotting with all sorts of dead things in it. Smells exactly how it sounds. It reminded me of the coast of Ecuador, just worse. We gassed up, hit the ATM, aired up the tires, and went on our way.
We made our way through the desert. On the way to Chiclayo we stopped first in Lambayeque to see the Museum of the famed Lord of Sipan. Fascinating display of the Moche culture, amazing to see the craftsmanship and attention to fine detail in their work and art.
In Lambayeque they have a giant market with everything you can imagine. We found our guy there, he finished our board bag for us, at last achieving the physical manifestation of a somewhat ambitious undertaking. We stayed the night, and learned that because of the surrounding rice fields, there was a massive infestation of mosquitos in the town. Of maniacal proportions, enough to bring on a heart attack. We left early the next morning with swarms of mosquitos in our dust, on our way to the legendary surf spot of Chicama.
To get to Chicama coming from the north you must pass the arguably longer wave and equally worthy point of Pacasmayo. We came upon Pacasmayo in the early morning fog. As we entered the outskirts of town, I noticed a group of men standing around with a few mototaxis mixed in, looking rather odd for a scene not so out of the ordinary. Getting closer I noticed there were some police as well and they were all congregated around a man lying on the side of the road who appeared to be dead. This all happened in a few moments as we were driving by and I realized then we’d finally seen our first dead person, God rest his soul. We went on through town and way out onto the deserted point to check the wave. Pacasmayo is so big that you can’t even see the wave until you drive 10 min. up the point to the take-off zone to see what’s going on. Waves roll in for what seems like kilometers, but the first kilometer of the outermost point is the most popular for surfing, known as El Faro. The rest of the bay attracts windsurfers and kite surfers as there is typically a lot of wind. The waves were kind of small and inconsistent, so we continued on to our original destination, checking Puemape along the way. Puemape looked nice, we hung out there watching a few guys get all the good ones while listening to Musica Criolla on national radio. It was a Sunday, and every Sunday they have this program where they play the old classic sounds of coastal Peru.
Peru has three different zones. They are the coast, the mountains, and the jungle, each has their associated music. Criolla for the coast, Huayno of the Andes, and Cumbia in the jungle. All are great fun and entirely entertaining until you’ve heard one for 10 hours straight on a bus and you’re ready to rip your ears off. Still a great memory.
At last we arrived to Chicama. You see it coming in the distance long before you arrive because the point is large enough to house mountain sized dunes, and you notice the landmass extending out into the ocean. An hour later driving through cane fields and desert, you’re there. And it’s a sight to lay eyes on, believe me.
There are three named waves that break down the long and drawn out point of Chicama. Each as long as the other, the last and most inside is the one of mythical proportions. Most famous in surfing culture as the longest wave in the world.
After bending their way around the outermost point, La Punta, they light up the Kay, finally arriving to ‘The Point.’ The Point is like no other place on earth. There was a massive amount of sand when we showed up. It was overflowing the surfing zone and at low tide the most perfect looking walls of water would pour around the corner, funneling up like individual rivers of ecstasy, marching down the point like a herd of wild unicorns. The wind is always offshore in Chicama. It’s enough to make you lose your mind. The wind sweeps across the desert uninhibited, and comes sailing over the bluffs straight into the face of the wave dressing them up like babydolls, ready to play whenever you wish. The take off is fast but once you stand up, the first section breaks in slow motion and you really have to focus to maintain your composure and deliberate your plan of attack. The second section, providing you’ve achieved the proper momentum and minimum friction, will leave you smiling like a kid in a candy store as you hover between air and water. Your board at this point is evolving and adapting itself into a hydro-foil, your mind instinctively conjuring up images of Icarus and Daedalus. The third section separates the men from the boys because that’s where all the time and experience you’ve accumulated in your surfing practice will culminate into a top speed freight-training ride of your life as you bowl your way God willing, into the 4th section. At this point it’s halfway between a gamble and if you know how to use your overdrive because this is where the wave hits Mach-speed and if it’s big enough, is likely to barrel. You will see a healthy size chunk of reef fast approaching marking the 4th section known as ‘El Hombre’. This is also arguably the halfway point, most of the local kids surf here in the afternoons. It’s from what I understand upon inquiry, the best section of the wave. There is a 5th section, it ends at the pier. No one has ever made it this far as the world record is broken long before you arrive. Anyhow, your legs will inevitably refuse to work around the 3rd or 4th section depending on the wave and where you took off on the point. If the swell comes from the west, you’re in for a real treat. The sight of an approaching set will stay imprinted in your mind forever. Now it’s a half-hour walk back up to the point to the take-off zone, against the wind.
We reunited with our friend Janet at the Chicama Resort and reveled in our good fortune. Bottles were opened and toasts were made celebrating the good times awaiting us. We feasted everyday on fresh ceviche, sudado, and cold Pilsen, exaggerating to our hearts content the length and quality of the morning session’s bounty. Afternoon sessions were reserved for only the most reverent, and rewarding they were. I remember scoring some most excellent waves on a massive incoming tide, waves whiplashing people all over the place, bucking and frothing like broncos ready to stampede. The setting sun stimulating the scene to the point of overload. The colors all too potent, the waves all too real. The paddling unbearable. The smile and sense of awe permanently stenciled to the inside of your face.
We stayed until we felt guilty. Endless swells on the map, enough to make you squirm, get flustered, and eventually irritated. Nothing good last forever, sometimes you have to tear yourself away for the saying to remain true. My little brother showed up for a weekend, which happened to coincide with the best swell we saw the whole time. He’s probably still rubbing the disbelief out of his eyes. He scored such good waves it wasn’t even funny. We had a rocking good time, short but sweet. It was great to finally see a close family member of mine after such a long time on the road, so glad it was at a place that means so much to me. Chicama is a place where dreams come true, so keep chasing your dreams. I have proof they can be realized in the physical world.
Ingrids mother, Gabriela, had Invited us to explore the Pre-Inca archeological site of Kuelap, inland from Chiclayo, and it turned out that Chicama was the perfect place to park the van while we went on that excursion, with its proximity to Chiclayo. Many thanks to Janet for advocating on our behalf. We’re forever grateful to her as taking a break from the van was something we needed significantly at the time, and the trip to Kuelap ended up being an excuse to venture inland to sites well off the beaten path.