Peru: The land of lefts

“We have it harder, but on the other hand, we have some things that probably people from the first-country don’t have. We can just go whenever we want. And, sometimes do what we want. Doesn’t mean it’s good.”  — Magoo de la Rosa, 7-time Peruvian national surfing champion, (“Peel: The Peru Project,” 2007).

The film, “Peel: The Peru Project,” featuring pro-surfers Jesse Colombo, Randy Bonds, Magoo de la Rosa, Mark Healey, Sofia Mulanovich and Jamie Sterling, documents the surf, life and culture in Peru. The journey these pros took, and the experiences they had in Peru, have been similar to ours. If you haven’t seen it, and are interested in learning more about Peru and its surf, watch it.

Surfers around the world know Peru as the land of lefts, paradise for goofy-footers – and home to the longest left in the world, Chicama. (Pavones, Costa Rica, has the second longest left). The country also has the most consistent surf in South America making a great place to visit year round.

The big-name left-points are all north of Lima and include Mancora, Organos, Cabo Blanco, Labitos and Chicama. There are some good surf breaks south of Lima including Punta Hermosa and San Bartolo.  Although the coastline of Peru is desert, the water gets colder the further south you go, so you will need a wetsuit. (Good thing we brought ours!)

Southern Peru, south of Lima and heading into Chile, offers slightly bigger and more-powerful waves. Today, according to Magic Seaweed, the waves are anywhere from 8 to 15 feet. We are headed to the southern coast in a few days. Having never been in these waters, Brandon is feeling a little intimidated. “But it doesn’t mean all bets are off,” he says.

Traveling and surfing in Peru is about preparation. You will get sick. It’s not really a question of if, but more like when. The water is extremely polluted by the waste from locals and businesses. Be sure to bring some colon-cloggers and never drink the water from the faucets.

The surf breaks can be hours away from each other; therefore, you may want to consider renting or buying a car. You can probably purchase a wagon for under $1,000, and then sell it when you are done. Taking busses can be pain – especially if the waves aren’t breaking when you get there. We can assure you, as this was our mode of transportation.

Our journey in Peru started eight hours south of Mancora in Huanchaco, a quiet surf town outside Trujillo—the third largest city in Peru with more than 3 million people.

Because time is on our side, our travel plans change almost weekly. Our decisions are based on where the waves are pumping, what we want to see, the reputation of the place and how comfortable we feel going there.

We heard Mancora beaches are covered in pollution, have bad mosquitoes and the local surfers aren’t excited for visitors. It’s also well known for being a party town, which didn’t excite us. We truly enjoy a good nights sleep. Because the swell wasn’t pumping in Mancora when we left Ecuador, and considering we hate mosquitoes, we took the advice of a few friends whom we met in Canoa and went to mosquito-free Huanchaco.

We were a bit nervous about crossing the Ecuadorian boarder into Peru.

For this reason, we went with Cruz del Sur, a reputable bus company known for its reliable and safe busses and drivers. It was an 18-hour bus ride from Guayaquil, Ecuador, to Trujillo, Peru, and cost us $60 USD per person for economical seats, which are usually located on the top of the bus. We sat near the front and could see the road in front of us. We left Guayaquil around 3 p.m.

Around 6:30, sunset, we made it to the Peruvian boarder. We had no problems getting through. I can’t say the same for our Belgium friends, 22-year-old twin brothers, who sat behind us.

They had been traveling for four months and were headed back to Peru to catch their flight out of Lima. They finished each other’s sentences, smoked like feigns, and cussed like old-drunken-fishermen. They weren’t cocky and had good manners. We thought they were hysterical and enjoyed their company.

They were the first in line at the Peruvian immigration office. We could tell something was wrong when a guard escorted them to another small building across a dirt road near the highway. By this time the sun had set and the only light outside came from the windows of the immigration office and a couple light posts along the highway.

Brandon and I got through with no problems (phew). After, we waited outside of the immigration office because no one was allowed on the bus until everyone was done. After about 10 minutes, the Belgium boys freely crossed the road and sat next to us. Upset, yet calm, they lit a cigarette and told us how they were forced to pay the guards $20 USD to get their entry stamps. “The f*ckers wanted money for beer,” one said.

The boys were thankful they only had to pay $20, and we were thankful it wasn’t us.  Although we’ve heard several stories of robberies, this was our first-hand experience.

Back on the road, we were served dinner – vegetarian and better than any airplane food we’ve eaten – watched a gory movie with English subtitles (this is typical on all long-bus rides) and fell asleep.

Around 2 am, I awoke from the bus going over speed bumps. We were somewhere in northern Peru passing through a dark shantytown.

Turning on my iPod, I noticed a huge fire in the center-divide of the main street. Our bus detoured down another street. Minutes later a taxi pulled up beside the bus. Two men and a woman (who was holding a baby) ran in the middle of the street forcing the bus to stop. The men started yelling at the driver.

I thought maybe something was wrong with the baby.

As the men’s voices got louder and locals from the town poured in to the street, I decided nothing was wrong with the baby.

I couldn’t make out what the two men were saying, but they were angry. Next, they started pounding on the bus driver’s front window ordering the driver to open the doors. By this time, I woke Brandon, and everyone else on the bus started to wake. The driver put on the emergency sirens and wouldn’t open the doors.

Was I scared? Not really. The number of men on our bus – a mix between Ecuadorians, Peruvians and backpackers – had these two outnumbered – no problem.

Soon a police truck arrived with one officer. After an hour of discussion, the men and woman got into the same taxi they arrived in and drove off. Bewildered, we had no idea what happened, until we reached a guarded checkpoint about 15-minutes later. By this time it was 3:30 in the morning.

The taxi with the two men, woman, baby, and now two drunk locals, were back. Through all of this chaos, the men and women where trying to get their relative – an older woman sitting on the back of our bus – off! The woman never spoke up! Maybe she was embarrassed, or maybe she didn’t want to get off. But the guards came on the bus and escorted her off. Come to find out, because this shantytown was not an official Cruz del Sur drop-off location, and seemed dangerous, the driver would not open the doors. Thank you Cruz del Sur!

We arrived in Trujillo around 8:30 in the morning. We took a taxi to McCallum Lodging House (Hostal) in Huanchaco, which is located about 15-minutes outside Trujillo.

It felt like we arrived to another planet. The coastline – where the desert meets the ocean – is rugged and dry, yet, incredibly beautiful. The air temperature was cool, in the mid-70s F*.

The McCallum family couldn’t have been more welcoming. They had our room and breakfast ready for us. Other than the communal kitchen, the hostal was clean. My favorite was the newly renovated shower in our room – very clean, lasting hot water and good pressure. (Ah, we were so happy we made it.)

About 30-minutes later, another couple arrived at the hostal. After quick introductions – her name was Jesse and his, Nate – we invited them to eat breakfast with us. We learned they were from Huntington Beach, California. (Originally from Wisconsin but had been living in Huntington for three years). They had been traveling around the world for a little more than a year, and had another year to go. We hit it off with them and a few days later, we decided that since we were traveling the same route through Peru, to travel together.

Let me back up a minute. When we booked our room at McCallum, we decided to stay for a month, costing us $300.

We thought it would be the perfect location to call home while we explored the northern coastline and surf breaks (that I mentioned earlier). Most importantly staying in Huanchaco would save us money and get us back on budget.

Our budget is $1,600 each month, that’s $53 dollars a day – including accommodation (for the both of us). We keep track of how much money we spend, and what we spend it on. I input what we spend into an Excel sheet at the end of each week.

Before heading to Peru, we realized that we spent way more than we budgeted for in Ecuador. We were in Ecuador for 44-days and averaged $73 per day. This means we spent little more than $3,200 in 44 days. (WHOA!) Staying in Montanita for as long as we did, during the high season, more than doubled what we expected to pay for accommodation. Considering $1 USD is equivalent to 2.6 Peruvian Soles (S/), we settled, making Huanchaco our home for a month.

Huanchaco lived up to its awesome reputation. Great weather, good people and most of all, good surf. It is also nearby many archeological sites including Chan Chan and Huaca del Sol y la Luna (Temple of the Sun of the Moon).

Both are a UNESCO World Heritage sites showcasing different civilizations:

Chan Chan, built by the Chimu Culture in the 13th Century, is the largest Pre-Columbian city in the Americas. Lasting about 1,000 years, the Chimu Empire was overtaken and absorbed by the Incas in 1470. It became a part of the large and vast Inca Empire (1438-1532) that flourished in Peru until the Spanish conquered and took control – stripping the country of its resources – in the early 1500s.

Huaca del Sol y la Luna, discovered in 1991 by a professor and his students, was a Mohican empire (early Chimu), flourishing from 100 AD to 800 AD. Here you will find the two pyramids of Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna (more).

We really enjoyed these sites.

After six days in Huanchaco, we learned of a devastating virus (similar to that of measles in humans), killing pelicans, dolphins and sea lions off the northern coast of Peru.

Brandon and I were used to the pollution in the water, however one day we noticed that the water was a deep blood color. Brandon decided to stay out of the water that day and hang out on the beach.  It wasn’t long until we noticed pelicans washing ashore. Some already dead, others where woozy, had severed wings, or they couldn’t walk. We left the beach.

Later that same evening, a couple friends who had traveled to a couple northern breaks, told us they saw a dead dolphin and sea lion onshore.

During the next couple days the story broke in the local papers. At this point we knew it was a virus, however, it was still uncertain how it would affect humans.  For this reason, and because we do not have insurance, we decided to leave Huanchaco. This was a really hard time for us. Not only were we devastated for the poor animals, we were not going to make it to the surf breaks Brandon had been dreaming about. Not this trip anyway.

Soon the story hit the international wire, maybe you’ve read about it? Today, the virus has killed more than 5,000 pelicans and almost 1,000 dolphins. Although the media is saying the deaths are a result of warm water and food, we believe the horrendous pollution in the water has a lot to do with the animals not being healthy enough to fight the virus.  Here’s a recent article via Daily Mail with more information.

After nine days in Huanchaco we caught an 8-hour bus to Lima with Jesse, Nate – and another friend we met from New Zealand, John. Here our plans changed and we would soon set forth on many unexpected adventures.

For more pictures of our adventures, visit our Facebook Fan Page.

Until next time, keep shredding and living. Much love, Katie and Brandon.

6 thoughts on “Peru: The land of lefts

  1. the poor animals!!!! thats so terrible! good thing you guys stayed the hell outta the water!!!! cant wait for the next adventure!!! xoxoxo

  2. Haven’t read anything more interesting in a very long time. Thanks for keeping us mortals posted on your adventures. Great blog!
    My son just gave me my first surf lesson. I could get hooked!

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