Sunday, May 11, 2014

Trippin' on the Coast of Peru

We've experienced some trippy stuff while adventuring to the lesser known beaches in Peru. It all started when we aimed to check out some surf at a beach known as Atahuampa. It's only a few miles from the Pan-American highway and about 100 miles north of the modern metropolis of Lima. Once at the beach, we realized we couldn't drive down the 100-foot cliff, so we parked overlooking the ocean, next to a large chicken business. This business, Redondo, owns hundreds of miles of land along the northern beaches of Peru (hopefully all that chicken poo gets filtered before it hits the ocean!). The town seemed mellow, and the chicken business had lots of lights and security, so we slept on the cliff for the night.

Traffic jam on the road out to the beach

We knew we had made a mistake when we were startled awake at 1am by the headlights and overzealous honking of a private security truck. Into the dark interior of our truck, the security guard yelled, "que esta haciendo? (what are you doing?)". Scott leaped out of bed, wearing only his spearfishing gun, and responded in his tough-guy voice, "DORMIENDO!! (sleeping!!!)". After much back and forth with the security officer, he insisted that we could not sleep there because it was too dangerous. He seemed genuinely worried. He made us follow him to the town police station, where we slept for the night. The police officer at the station greeted Scott in flip-flops and boxers. He was clearly roused from an otherwise restful night, and we're not sure what he thought about the situation.

Our next stop, just 20 miles away, was the surf beach, Centinela. To get there, we worked our way along tiny dirt roads where Scott used his machete on the overhanging trees to make way for El Tigre. When we arrived at the beach, one of the local surfers welcomed us, and confirmed what we had heard from multiple sources - you should not camp on the beach. With fresh memories of a 1 am wake-up, we drove to the run-down surf hostel just up the road. About 10 years ago, this place must have been amazing - incredible views, landscaped grounds with sculptures, it's own private zoo, horse stables, cabins, and a restaurant. It was eerie walking around the property, poking around the abandoned buildings. All that was left of the private zoo was an emaciated tigrillo (aka "little spotted cat") in a cage. We fed and watered the tigrillo for 2 days, but left feeling sick about it's fate. In retrospect, I wish I would've voiced more disappointment about the treatment of the animal to the caretaker of the property. Before we left, we learned that there was an ongoing dispute between a wife and her ex-husband about who owned the property, hence the state of disrepair.

The view of the ocean from the creepy Centinela property

At Centinela, we met a nice Spanish couple doing the same thing we are, but heading south-to-north. They recommended a secluded beach called Puerto Caballa, where we would find 4 bays with good surfing. Sign us up! The catch - it was a 4 hour drive over 40 rough miles. Since it was Semana Santa (the week before Easter), where most beaches are bombarded with local holiday-makers, we decided this would make a good escape.

Despite our trepidation with this bridge, El Tigre had no problem

We arrived at Puerto Caballa in the early evening, ready to hunker down for a sunset happy hour and dinner. We rolled into "town" (a small fishing camp) and found somewhere to park. We were greeted by gale force winds that could have easily destroyed the bikes if we had parked incorrectly. The next morning, the wind was still blowing strong, but considerably less than the night before. Hoping to stretch our legs before the afternoon winds arrived, we ran along the beach, trying to stay on our feet against the raging wind. Scott asked one of the fisherman about the abandoned building that we camped next to. He said it was used for "fiestas" on "13 de Febrero". Once a year? Pork barrel spending is alive and well in Peru. We set up our hammocks, and waited out the windstorm in our new mansion.

The next couple of days, we were able to surf in the morning before the wind started. The first day, one of the fisherman emphatically warned us about all of the ropes in the water. At first, we didn't think it would be a big deal, but after we paddled out, we realized we would be dodging a rope strung over our heads as well as a few barely submerged in the water. The next day, we had the same problem with the ropes, but now, one of them had a net attached to it. It was a little scarier for us to dodge, but it also posed another problem. The sea lions have figured out how much easier it is to fish with a net, and the fisherman have figured out that hungry sea lions are bad for business. Their solution is a man with a gun, perched on the cliff, shooting at the encroaching sea lions - even if there are surfers in the water. I watched a large sea lion swim towards me on a wave, launching out of the water with a fat fish in it's mouth. It reminded me of the grizzly bears eating salmon on the rivers in Alaska. After each bone-rattling gunshot and the accompanying splash as the bullet hit the water, we just looked at each other and laughed. How many people surf with bullets zinging over their heads? The novelty of surfing with ropes, nets, hungry sea lions, and gunshots wore off very quickly, and we left Puerto Caballa the next day.

Scott made friends with the resident kitty of Puerto Caballa, "Michi Mich (pussy cat)" 

About 400 miles from the southern border of Peru, we stopped for the night at a pretty, clean beach called Playa Jihuay. We had a great night sleep, and in the morning, we headed out to hike the hills above our campsite. As we walked along the cliff, in the distance, we noticed rock-covered mounds with lines of white trailing down the side. As we got closer, we could see that these were actually unearthed graves with bones pouring out of them. The brittle, bright-white human bones were mostly femurs with a few skull pieces. It was eerie, and I felt as though we shouldn't be there. So many questions. Where did all these bones come from? How old are they? Why are they "pouring" out of the mounds, and how could that many human bodies fit in such a small space? Trippy.

A lovely place to spend the night

During the rest of our hike, I reflected on what we saw and wondered about the history of the bones. This particular area contains important archaeological remains from the Incan Empire dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. With bones on my mind, we walked along the cliff overlooking the ocean, and as we turned a corner, all I saw was a bunch of cut-off heads with long black hair laying on the rocks above the ocean (see pic below). Trippy.

Body-less heads with long black hair or valuable seaweed waiting to dry for eventual sale?

It turns out, my mind was playing tricks on me. The long, black hair was really just seaweed drying on the rocks. The "roots" of the seaweed looked like skulls from far away, but up close, simply coral-like attachments that had been pulled off the rocks.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You may have been on the wrong side of town to merit such a reaction from the security guard. Aside from the fact that he must have had orders not to have anyone stay there for the rest of the night, it must have been downright dangerous to be even there. Well, if there's some place where people must feel safe, it has to be the police station, right? Either way, that's one memorable experience you can laugh about later when you tell it to your friends. Cheers!

Elizabeth Shaw @ Westminster Security