When we wrote the last blog post we were in Huaraz, way up in the Andes, a few hours from the coast. Peru is a beautiful country with incredible waves but we would be the first to admit that sometimes the coastal towns, which are all desert, can be a little run down and depressing. The dry, arid climate makes for a monochrome palette of dusty browns and the wild dogs run the streets, chasing after the tuk-tuks with blown out exhausts as they honk their way through the towns vying for business. The mountain regions feel like the Peru you imagine with the abundance of colour, fresh produce, indigenous people and dramatic landscapes. There is rain up there and the greenery that goes with it. People flock to the towns to sell their wares or produce on the streets near the market and you can walk around buying fresh fruit, veg, flowers, bread, cakes, street food and more all day and hardly spend any money. Huaraz is right in the middle of two beautiful mountain ranges and there are people that run tours and walking trips in the mountains surrounding it. Whilst we aren’t so keen on the idea of organised tours we really wanted to do some exploring ourselves. The city itself is at 3,500m and there were a few walks from near the town, we chose to head up to Laguna Churup, at 4,700m. A lot of people complain about altitude sickness at these kinds of heights but we hadn’t experienced anything bad when we were in Northern Chile so we hoped for the same here.
We both jumped on one bike, the other safely parked in a garage guarded by the meanest dog that we were both terrified of when we had to get them out, and headed through the narrow dirt streets heading up to the entrance to the National Park. We wound through pueblos and farms, past tiny basic houses with acres of fertile land and crops bursting out of the well-tended fields. The people all looked as if they were in costume especially for us; big tall hats and bright Peruvian textiles. Every house along the road had at least one guard dog and as usual, they hated us. Handfuls of rocks were our only defence as we crept past barking bared teeth, slowly and quietly is the best way to do it but its pretty terrifying. We stopped counting after about forty dogs in an hour and a half ride up to the mountains. When we reached the base of the park, we were astonished at how similar it looked to the Yorkshire Dales; green rolling hills with dry stone walls cutting the landscape into manageable chunks.
A path of stone steps lead us up towards the lake; each step left us gasping for breath; we didn’t feel sick but it’s difficult to do anything at 4,000m. We had a bag of Coca leaves we bought from the market; the locals swear by it so we stuffed our mouths with it and hoped its natural powers kept any sickness at bay. The steps wound their way up the hill towards snow capped peaks and a huge granite waterfall; Goredale Scar times ten. We wound our way up and onto the hillside, bringing us around to the waterfalls we had to scale, here the terrain got a little more challenging. Wires were set into the rocks for climbers to use to navigate their way up the falls, it was tough with very little breath but really fun to gain height so quickly and see the views unfold around us. We reached the top after about 3 hours climbing and were greeted by a beautiful lake set into the rocks, a vivid blue bowl with views of the higher snow capped peaks in the distance. We were hot from the climb despite the colder weather up there. Neither of us bought swimming gear for some reason but Tom stripped into his undies and dived into the cold waters. A few other people turned up and had a swim so we went around the corner to a private little nook where Sally could do her thing.
The clouds rolled in and we set off back down to the bike below, definitely feeling as though we were in the Dales now, drenched from the pissing rain and cold from the swim. We navigated the wet dirt roads back to the city, glad that we had decided to skip a lot of the Andes in the South, riding soaking wet at altitude is colder than you imagine, especially when you are wildly underprepared for it.
Happy that we had made the most of our diversion into the hills, we had eaten well and explored the area so we set off back to the point break from the last post. This was not the original plan but the chart looked perfect for it and we knew that we would be able to score empty waves for a few days and this seemed like a great option. After five more perfect days there, surfing head high reeling lefts with very few people, cooking and camping on the beach for free we decided to head North to Huanchaco, a famous surf town near to the city of Trujillo. It was 400km or so North so by the time we got there we were exhausted from the ride and found the first hostel that looked cheap and booked in for the night. It had a terrace with views over the surf and was a short walk to the town with restaurants with really cheap food. A couple of days previous, Sally decided to surf in a bikini with sand in her wax and had rubbed raw a patch of her stomach and was therefore out of the water for all four days we hung around in Huanchaco. The surf never got great but there were a few fun beach break style peaks dotted down the point, it was pretty busy and nowhere near classic so she didn’t really miss out but she was pretty gutted about it anyway. It’s difficult watching your husband and cool off in the sea in the heat of the sun, even if the waves aren’t perfect. 75p veggie burgers and the discovery of the best chocolate in Peru kept her going for a few days though.
We packed up early and rode the hour or so up to Chicama, this was definitely one of the major reasons we came on this trip in the first place; the self proclaimed ‘longest perfect left hand point break in the world’. We got to Chicama with the view to camping there to save some money but as we rode over the dunes to the end of the vast point, the winds were howling, sun beating down and the set-up was different to the last spot where we could watch each other surf and film etc. whilst keeping an eye on our tent. Chicama is vast and would be a brutal place to camp, sometimes it’s not worth it so we rode back to town and found a cheap hostel for £5 a night. It was basic but had a kitchen and was in a great location. It was still three more torturous days before Sally was healed enough to surf so she never really heard how good the wave was after I came back from a surf at first; it felt too cruel to let on. The wave was pretty much perfect, fast sections, slow sections, cover-up sections; it had it all really. I think we may have surfed waves just as long as the three or four distinct sections that make up the ‘one perfect wave’ and the fabled ‘jelly legs’ we had read about were more from the massive walk with bare feet to the point than the length of the waves but I think I still counted more than sixteen cutbacks on one wave which is pretty impressive. The current is at a fast walking pace down the point towards the town so you have to paddle constantly to hold position which is exhausting.
The towns itself was pretty chilled and small. There were a lot of foreign surfers and it was cool to hang out with them and hear about where they’d been and were going. The only problem is the fact that people think its acceptable to get a zodiac boat out to the point where they get RNLI style rescued every time they fall off or finish a wave. To be fair, it is a bit of a walk to the point if you have fragile feet and the current is too strong for their weak little arms so the boats are a real business in Chicama, there are about five boats now. It is a beautiful walk though and most surfers will be fit enough to hold position long enough to get a good wave. The zodiacs bring noise and pollution to the peaceful line-up, carve up big wakes in the faces and drop hoards of spoilt rich kooks deeper than you as soon as the driver spots a set. This is more than a little bit annoying when you have been paddling your heart out waiting for the set. After some particularly bad etiquette at one part of the wave where Sally was the only one not on a boat, she had a word with four American guys about their behaviour, they apologised and the driver offered her a lift in the boat for free which she proudly refused in favour of paddling herself out again and again. Most of the ‘real surfers’ you talk to share the same feeling about the situation there.
On the second day we were there, the waves were small and we were sat around watching a film in the hostel when the guy who owned it mentioned that there were penguins and sea lions on the point and they were going on a boat out there, we asked if we could jump in and he said “yeah, fine, course!”. We went out with him and Victor, the guy who lived next door who owned the boat. Victor was taking his son out for the day and there was an Italian who seemed good friends with them too. It turned out to be an island not just the point and we had a great time and saw penguins, dolphins, albatross and loads more cool stuff. When we got back to land two hours later, we offered to buy Michael, the guy from the hostel a couple of beers for hooking us up. He told us we needed to speak to the boss, Victor - be wary of this guy if anyone is heading to Chicama. We spoke to Victor who told us straight faced that we owed him four hundred Soles each, that’s two hundred quid in total. We told him straight out that we weren’t paying anything like that, we aren’t stupid. We ended up paying about twenty quid each which was probably about fair, we went to an island a few miles from the coast and it was a great experience. The Italian ‘friend’ paid the full amount but this was prearranged. In retrospect we wouldn’t have done it if we knew we had to pay anything up front but we would have definitely missed out so it all worked out in the end. This journey is constantly teaching us valuable lessons; money talk up front is a necessity.
Chicama is one of those places you could lose a lot of time, surfing is easy, the wind is good most of the time and you just grab your board and walk. We could have stayed for months probably but we knew we had to leave. We arrived in Pacasmayo about another hour up the coast and although we haven’t been too impressed yet, the swell is small and we need to give it a bit more time, there is a pretty good chart coming our way tomorrow. We will let you all know how that goes in the next instalment.