Peru and its muscle cars.
The climate change in the short distance we have traveled is unbelievable. Not but 60 miles back in Ecuador, we were in the Banana capital of the world, surrounded by lush jungle and banana trees. Suddenly we are surrounded by a landscape that resembles what I would imagine the moon might look like. There is no vegetation, and the hills are a dusty brownish sand color, with huge dunes of sand built up next to the coast by the wind. The two Ecuadorian kids we have brought with us mumble in disgust about how ugly Peru is, as Scott feels as though he has reached home and canÕt stop talking about how much he loves the desert. The Peruvian desert is really beautiful actually, if you look at it for what it is. As usual, in my own self indulgent ways IÕm more concerned with what the ocean looks like, and it seems pretty flat, meaning that our luck is still on the down and out when it comes to surf.
The one thing I notice immediately though, is the strange presence of Classic 70Õs American muscle cars. I have this secret muscle car fetish, and seeing these lifted, stock Dodge Chargers tooling about has me all excited. I tell Scott that on the next trip to Peru, I am going to fly in and by a muscle car. The one thing that gives me second thoughts about muscle cars in Peru is the price of gas. In Ecuador a gallon was $1.50. Here in Peru itÕs almost three bucks.
We make it to a tourist town called Mancora late that afternoon, and roll out onto the beach amidst Sunday summer chaos. The people from the nearby concessions stands circle our car as we park, blurting out words intent to sell, offering us such things as food, drinks and even much prized shade. We try and explain we just want to check the surf, but this has no effect on their sales pitches. Carlos says the people are Ômuy exigenteÕ which translates to mean they are really pushy. He is right. The surf looks all right actually, small and kind of warbled, but there is something, but the crowd in the water is tremendous. We are in the middle of summer, and everyone is at the beach. We opt to find a hotel in town and head a bit south in search of a wave with less people, as the crowded lineup and packed beach is just
too much to handle at this moment.
We find a small hotel, which is really just a familyÕs home, converted to accommodate tourists. As we walk in and ask to see the rooms, the entire family has just sat down to eat dinner, and I feel a bit uncomfortable, although the elderly man assures me that itÕs ok. The room is really cheap, relatively clean, and will house the four of us, costing us about $1.25 per person. That evening we head south, and although the desert coastline is really beautiful, the surf just isnÕt really happening. The other strange thing is that it seems that the entire coastal access has been bought up, as there seems to be no public route to the beach. We head back to Mancora to find some food and get some rest, hoping the surf will pick up in the morning.
The next morning the surf is small, but we get wet and catch a few waves at the sandy point out front. The water, although not cold, is no longer the tropical temperature we are used to, and after 35 minutes I am freezing. I can hardly imagine how the Ecuadorian groms are feeling. Both become more discouraged with Peru, although they still want to head south. Scott and I arenÕt really sure how much money these guys have, and also arenÕt really sure how far south they are planning to go, so I am continually explaining to them that they are invited as far as they want to go, but also explain that our goal at this point is to get to Lima in the next four days to pick up our friend Ziad, which is still a long ways off. They stay on, heading farther and farther away from Ecuador, and Scott and I get closer and closer to Lima and Ziad.
We stop at Pacasmayo, considered by the surf report as one of the best left point breaks in Peru. The surf is once again flat, but there are some waves, and we decide to give it a go. The water is downright cold, and I don my full wetsuit, and lend Carlos my springsuit. The two tropical bred Ecuadorians are just shivering in the chilly water, and the lean Watusa lasts about 15 minutes. Carlos out does us all as he surfs for almost an hour. The surf is not really worth bragging about, and the town has a funky tourist/surf vibe, and once again we are surrounded by ÔexigenteÕ young men trying to take us to a hotel or a restaurant. Unfortunately, this is where we say goodbye to our Ecuadorian friends. Money for them has run low, as well as time and patience, and they buy bus tickets direct to the border of Ecuador. Doing the math in my head, I figure these guys got about 24 hours of bus travel before they are home sweet and sound in Esmereldas. Although we are still quite a ways from Lima, I am not envious of the two. We shake hands and take some photos, bid farewell, and once again Scott and I are just two in the Cruiser, but not for long.
Lima has the worst, most disgusting traffic I have ever driven in, period. ItÕs a huge city engulfed in a haze of pollution visible from miles away. The gridlock is amazing, as the equivalent distance of two blocks sometimes takes us15 minutes, battling loco taxistas and busses more aggressive than I have seen, and the smell of diesel has my nostrils burning. I just got to Lima and all I want to do is leave, but we canÕt. Ziad is due in at 1:00am tomorrow morning, and we have got to pick him up. ItÕs been a puzzle trying to coordinate picking up my friend that we started on almost three months ago. He emailed me, gave me a date, and since then, its been back and forth on whether or not we would make it to pick him up. But, we made it, Ziad arrives healthy and happy, and packed to the gills with new gear for Scott and myself. My Christmas finally arrives as I get a new surfboard, as well as some gear from Patagonia. It feels good to see my old friend, and my inspiration to surf has been reborn.
Morning dawns and we are out of Lima as fast as possible. Breakfast, some laundry and we are headed to the beach. Once again we find that the coastal Peru outside of Lima is privatized, and itÕs difficult just to see the surf sometimes. At one private entrance to a gated community, we climb a small hill just to check the surf. What I see is waves, the biggest and punchiest since Panama, and what seems to be PeruÕs hottest surfers out destroying every ripple that comes in. ItÕs almost like a WCT contest site or something, as wave after wave comes through, and each one is ridden in a world-class manner. We canÕt figure it out and head on. Maybe Peruvian surfers just rip! Who knows?
Over the course of the next few days, we drive and camp, surfing a bit, cooking, laughing and enjoying everyoneÕs company. ItÕs nice to have a third passenger, and itÕs also nice to be camping once again. The desert of Peru is so vast, you can just pull over and park where you please, camping amidst sand dunes hidden and sheltered from everything except the elements, meaning sun and wind. The sun in Peru is powerful, and my skin being its off hue of red, I feel the need to cover up and protect myself even just for a mid morning stroll. The desert offers little shade, and it is hot.
Ziad is a vegetarian, and had asked me on numerous occasions on how the non meat-eating situation is in South America. ZiadÕs Spanish is not much other than the formalities and also, Òno como carne.Ó (I donÕt eat meat) This is the typical situation as we enter a restaurant. I ask the people what they have, and the reply is always, Òpollo, carne de lomo, pescado, carne de resÉÓ And then I go into to my shpeal about how that sounds great, but my friend here doesnÕt eat meat, and if they have something else. Then next reply is always, ÒPollo?Ó Where as I re state the fact that my friend doesnÕt eat meat. ÒPescado?Ó At this point the restaurant is confused, and usually a small crowd has appeared and canÕt quite come to terms that Ziad, as tall and strong as he is, does not eat meat. At the end, the meal is the same as always; rice, salad, french fries, and maybe a cheese sandwich. What we find out, or I should say Ziad finds out is that itÕs hard being a vegetarian in Peru.
From our experiences period, itÕs hard eating in Peru. For the first time on the whole trip, my stomach is not working as well as it should, and the typical meal of fried chicken, papas fritas and salad sounds worse and worse. By the tenth time or so, my appetite is minimal. Maybe we hit the wrong spots, but from what I found, Coastal Peru had not the widest range of cuisine.
Desert dwelling after a few weeks has us all ready to move on, as the heat and dust are taking their toll on our bodies and equipment. We make our last stop in Peru at a small town called Ilo, home to a huge steel factory that seems to employ a good part of the town. Ziad finds us a nice little wave to surf and we end up staying two days to re vamp and get ready for Chile and the real desert, el Desierto de Atacama, the driest place in the world.