August 8 – September 18, 2010I won’t lie to you. At first I thought Peru sucked. True, Roz and I were both beat and in need of some beach time, but still, our first impressions of the country were awful. We crossed the Ecuador-Peru border at the little-used Macara crossing and had to deal with a surly uniformed customs official who, with his sunglasses and military-style mustache, looked like he’d rather be in charge of a death squad than process our paperwork. Luckily, the only thing he murdered with his glacial pace was our schedule, so it was dark by the time we rolled into the the large fruit-canning town of Tambo Grande. We checked out some hotels, but none of them looked very appealing. Nor did they have secure parking (Yuki can be such a princess). We finally found a hotel where they let us park inside their restaurant (I’m not joking). Great for Yuki, but not for us. Our spartan room was pretty drab, to put it mildly, and the naked lady painted on the wall upstairs confirmed our suspicions that this was a pretty sleazy place. And noisy, especially on a Sunday night in a blue-collar town. Since I was too damn lazy to get my earplugs from Yuki, I spent the night listening to overamplified club music and copulating neighbours. Arousing perhaps, but not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
The second day in Peru wasn’t any better. After stopping in the city of Sullana for a bank machine, we hit the road to the coast. Just outside of town, Roz asked me to pull over so she could take pictures of some rice paddy fields – something we hadn’t seen before on our travels. (ROZ: And definitely an unexpected sight in Peru. Who knew they grew rice here? Little did I know that this was just the beginning of our many “expect the unexpected in Peru” moments to follow.) As Roz was snapping away, I heard the unmistakable sound of Yuki’s back door opening. What the hell? I jumped out of the truck and saw a 20-something-year-old guy standing by the open back door. He was wearing a sheepish smile, like he had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. When it finally dawned on me that this prick was trying to steal from us, I started towards him cursing like a sailor. He backed away, never losing his stupid smile. I was about to begin chase when Roz ordered me back to the truck. Naturally, I obeyed. I hadn’t pulled my knife, but I sure was thinking about it. Roz restrained my raging yang with her calming yin. She pointed out that the guy hadn’t taken anything and there was no point in pursuing a possibly violent path for nothing. I reluctantly agreed and forced my anger down. But I learned a good lesson: always lock your back door – even if you’re in the truck. These peckers are brazen in their thievery.
Somewhat calmed down, I drove towards the coast where the landscape changed from irrigated farmland to dry desert wasteland. Oil pumps and derricks dotted the landscape and ocean. So did garbage. One port town we passed, Talara, had a perimeter wire fence that acted as a magnet for plastic bags. Thousands of multi-coloured bags had blown across the desert and got caught in this fence. It was a bizarre and sad sign of the times. (Roz: On the plus side, as soon as we crossed into Peru we saw goats. At first I thought it was an anomaly, but then we saw some more goats, then a whole lot more goats. What a blast! It was the first time we had seen goats on our journey and happily, it wouldn’t be the last.)
We thought the surf town of Lobitos might have what we were looking for, and although it was fun watching a few surfers, the barren beach just didn’t have the right vibe to entice us to stay. It was definitely better further up the coast in the popular and busy surf town of Mancora. But while it was great seeing Western tourists walking around in bikinis, there were also lots of local hustlers working the area. Too touristy, we thought, so we continued an hour north to Punta Sal, which was way mellower with only a few hotels and restaurants. We set our tent up on the beach and then paid a nearby hostel owner a few dollars to use her bathroom and parking spot. Not bad for a couple of days, but it still wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. After Roz did a little internet research, we continued north to check out some oceanfront cabins. Our determination to chill finally paid dividends when we found the awesome Waltako Beach Town (http://www.waltakoperu.com) just outside the fishing village of Canoas. It was paradise.
Waltako Beach Town is run by Rodrigo and Vanessa, a lovely relaxed couple who speak excellent English and who quickly became our close friends. We rented one of their self-contained bungalows with the intention of staying a week, but before we knew it, one week became two, which then became five. I don’t know where the time went, but I do know we were happy, well fed and thoroughly relaxed. As I didn’t keep daily journal notes during that time, here are some of the highlights that I do remember.
Most mornings were spent just hanging out with Vanessa & Rodrigo, drinking coffee, sharing stories and laughing a lot (often at the crazy antics of their two dogs, Roxy and Leika). Rod is one funny guy, especially when he’s imitating a group of cackling Peruvian women using a hilarious chicken voice. It was during one of those mornings that they bestowed me with my “playa name.” This is a common occurrence at Burning Man, where people spontaneously give you a name that suits your temperament and personality. Roz became “SoBliss” at BM, but I had to wait until Peru to become “Troncho Villa”. Rod jokingly told me that “troncho” is Peruvian slang for joint. What that has do with me, I don’t know, but there you go – just call me Troncho.
When we weren’t talking, we were eating and drinking, usually at “La Oveja Negra”, Rod & Vanessa’s beach restaurant. Many a good meal was eaten there – and many a pound packed on – thanks to their great cook Sadith, who surpassed herself every time with fresh, delicious Peruvian cuisine. We also sipped our first – but definitely not our last – Pisco sour cocktail there. (Roz: Pisco is Peru’s national booze, a fermented grape alcohol that’s used as a base for many appetizing mixed cocktails. Rod told us that Pisco was invented by Peruvians, but then Chile started producing it and marketed it so well that it’s now world-renowned as a Chilean drink). Thank you Professor Nerdsalot.
Behind and above the beaches of Waltako Beach Town are rolling hills of desert scrubland where Rod and Vanessa have cleared a network of mountain biking trails. (Rod used to be a marathon runner who now loves mountain biking.) One day, a man showed up at the Beach Town wanting a guided mountain bike tour for his 14-year-old son, so Rod and I took the kid for a ride while the father and the gals walked behind us. It was a great introduction for the kid and super fun for me because I’m an avid mountain biker in Vancouver. While my cardio wasn’t as strong as it was a year ago, I still had some of my “mad” technical skills and was able to impress the gang with a few gnarly descents. After our ride, we learned that the father was a Major in the Peruvian army and had been packing a 9mm pistol the whole time we were riding. Just in case, I guess. He then pulled out a couple of rifles from the trunk of his car which we used to murder poor defenseless cans. Fun!
One morning I felt something sticky on a bump that had been developing behind my knee. It turned out to be a Botfly larva hatching out of my leg. Actually, there were two babies emerging, but apparently, that’s what they’re supposed to do. According to wikipedia, the Botfly is a hideous-looking insect which captures mosquitos and lays eggs on them. Then, when the mosquito bites someone (like me), the eggs fall onto the skin and burrow in deep where they will grow for a month into larvae. Then the larvae work their way out of the host’s skin, fall to the ground and proceed to grow into more hideous botflies. I know, gross. Since we didn’t know any of this at the time, we did what anyone would have done upon discovering a worm emerging from their body. First, Rod sprayed it with canine worm poison and then I squeezed around it until it finally popped out. Unfortunately, the second larva got stuck half-way out my leg before he broke in half. Oops! Better have that checked out one day. It was easily the ickiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Must be like giving birth. Eeeeewww!
By the way, the right way to get rid of a botfly larva (if you don’t want to wait for it to drop out on its own) is to cover the bump (and its airhole) with Vaseline and then tape a gauze pad on top. Go to bed and in the morning, remove the gauze. There should be a little larva in the gauze looking sweetly up at you. “Mama.”
WARNING: THIS VIDEO IS GROSS! (But funny.)
One weekend the four of us went camping for a few days in the dry forest of Parque Nacional Cerros de Amotape – near the Ecuadorean border. We drove a couple of hours northeast to the small village of Casitas where we left our vehicles and hired a guide with a donkey to carry our gear for us. An easy three-hour hike later, I was a new convert to “pack-mules”. What a great idea! We spent a few blissful days camped on a sandy beach next to a gentle creek. One day we walked to another private beach by a small pool and waterfall surrounded by huge rock faces. As the four of us lay on the beach together, giggling for no apparent reason, we heard a low rumbling noise that sounded like an approaching freight train. Suddenly the ground began to vibrate and pulse beneath us. Holy crap – it was an earthquake! It barely lasted 10 seconds, but it was enough to turn a “fun guy” into a “scared guy”. We thought about running until we realized that we were already in the safest place possible. At that point we started laughing again. What a hoot! Thanks Pachamama for the “ride”.
Roz and I celebrated our 21st anniversary on September 7th – the same day that the power went off in the ‘hood (again). Who says the universe isn’t romantic? We lit a few candles and carried on watching the Technicolor spectacle of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. At one point, Roz went to the dark bathroom for a tinkle and, a second later, I heard her shriek. She said she saw something move on the floor. I arrived with my flashlight and found a tarantula in the corner looking back at me. He was the size of a paperback. Aware that Rodrigo would kill the furry little dude, I trapped him in a container and then took him for a walk in the back hills where I released him. I know, I’m a softy at heart, but he was soooooo cute.
(ROZ: Speaking of almost-dead things, the beach at Waltako seemed to be a vortex for washed-up animal carcasses. During one of my first walks on the beach, I was horrified to find a bloated sea lion washed ashore. But not too horrified to take pictures. After all, it’s not everyday I see a dead sea lion – or a dead blue-footed boobie or dog for that matter. It got to the point where it was an unusual day if I didn’t see something dead on the beach. I began to wonder if the Universe was trying to tell me something about impermanence and the endless cycle of life and death – a theme I was to encounter over and over again in Peru.)
What else? One day we saw a school of dolphins swim by close to shore. Other days we were treated to the spectacle of whales leaping out of the water and splashing down with thunderous crashes. I also started doodling again and designed a Travellin’ Troz business card. (ROZ: Don’t you have to have a business before you have a card for it?) In any case (wise guy), Vanessa took my drawing and created a great-looking card from her computer graphic program in exchange for work I did mapping out their mountain bike trail system with my GPS. Win/win. And everyday Roz got to play with Rod & Vanessa’s two sweet dogs – Roxy, the bandit-faced boxer and Leika, the gentle and soon-to-be mom of 11 pups. (ROZ: Leika gave birth 2 weeks after we left. D’oh! Probably just as well, or we would have had to haul a trailer to hold all the dogs I’d want to keep.) Best of all, we had the perfect creative space to write up and post a few blog entries.
(ROZ: It was pretty surreal to be sitting on a beachfront porch in Peru, working on a blog about our time in Colombia. Other days I’d be reviewing photos and videos from Ecuador and then I’d look up from my computer screen and see some whales splashing in the water 100 metres away. Right, I’d think, I’m in Peru – here and now – not in Colombia or Ecuador. Travelling in the digital age is a whole new experience and I’m constantly challenged to remain in the “now” of our journey.)
After five weeks of fun, work and debauchery, we reluctantly decided that it was time to move on. Our tourist visa card was only for 3 months (we should have asked for 6) and there was still so much more of Peru to check out. So with heavy hearts and big hugs we said goodbye to Rod & Vanessa, Vanessa’s beautiful daughter Jade and Sadith, the always-smiling cook. As we drove south on the Pan-American highway I told Roz that the hardest part of being on the road so long was not having the camaraderie of our close friends back in Vancouver. She agreed, but then reminded me that for a glorious month in northern Peru, we had it with our new pals, Rod and Vanessa. How lucky is that? Thanks guys for everything!
I’m glad we didn’t let our first impressions chase us out of Peru because we would have missed out on what was to become the highlight of our whole journey – an amazing country filled with one jaw-dropping experience after another. Yes, it has corruption, poverty and brazen thieves (what country doesn’t?), but it also has incredibly diverse cultures and landscapes, thousands of fascinating ruins, and the finest food south of the Mexican border. Stay tuned for more!
END OF PART 30