10 days after arriving in Huanchaco, I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever leave.
This sleepy little north Peruvian beach hamlet had given me a moment of rest after running about like a headless chook, and was conveniently populated by just enough people and tourists to have me form a little community within only a few days, consisting of…
…the friendly, happily chubby man whose breakfast stall was my favourite and who could deftly slice a Halloween-pumpkin-sized papaya in 3 minutes flat.
…the lisping Spaniards whose accents so made me miss my time in Spain.
…my surf instructor whose philosophical insights on life seemed to bob like the waves he taught on.
…the other students in my surf classes whose falls and successes mirrored my own.
…even the gaggle of Shetland pony sized pelicans who called the shore home.
SURFERS AND VOLUNTEERS RIDE ON IN
Huanchaco is a beach town half an hour from Trujillo where a very different vibe to its chaotic sister city hangs in the air. Not far from Chicama, the location of the world’s longest left-hand wave, Huanchaco is a popular spot for surfers and beach goers and a relaxed, siesta-like place to spend a few days.
Surfers’ cars dot the main street, waiting for their owners to come in from slicing the diagonal blue waves. The town is also filled with locals and an increasing number of wandering tourists, many of whom are twenty-something North Americans working as volunteer teachers in poverty-ridden Trujillo.
Caballitos de Totora line the beach. These pretty, one-person boats woven from reeds have been used by fishermen for the past 3000 years, during which time they played a pivotal role in the history of surfing. Here on these northern Peruvian beaches is where many believe the sport originated – when pre-Incan Moche fisherman began to stand on their caballitos de totora, intentionally riding the waves back to shore with the day’s catch.
SWEET TOOTHS BEWARE
On Jr Libertad, a few streets away from the main drag, lies a dangerous location, a place to be avoided at all costs if cakes, slices and pies are your weakness. The pull of this little shop is really quite alarming. I, you see, am not a sweet tooth. Salt is my vice and I would usually prefer to plough through a trough of chips, mini quiches or pizza..perhaps even salt itself. But there is something so delicious about Mónica’s little corner shop that even I found myself happily munching away there on at least three ocasions.
The specials change daily and are so very (almost embarrasingly) affordable, pinging in at between $1 – $1.50 a slice.
I became shamefully addicted to their chocolate cake and also waded my way through several enormous chunks of berry tart, mango tart and apple pie. I’m quite sure I resembled all three by the time I left.
GRAFFITI AND GORGING GALORE
The streets in and around that devilish cake shop and right down to the jetty are scrawled with full-wall graffiti. Designs cross and combine surf culture, flora, fauna and modern takes on ancient Mochica images. In these streets you’ll also find dozens of restaurants behind nondescript doors, easy for a daydreamer to miss. Offering seafood feasts including jalea and sudado de pescado, they’ll set you back between 5 and 10 soles ($2.50 – $4) if part of a menú del día, or 30 – 50 soles as a fuente (plate to share) between friends. There are usually very few people around these streets – most seem to be physically attached to their beach towels – which, if you like peaceful wandering and street art, is truly fabulous.
HUACA HUACA, EH EH!
Besides offering scary amounts of cake and seafood, Huanchaco is a known base camp for archealogical fun times. Chan Chan, a short public bus ride from the town, is said to be the largest surviving adobe brick (mud) city in the world; thriving and ruling supreme before the Incan invasion around 1470AD. Well restored, it’s easy to get an idea of the layout of this once grand city. If you want extra stories, get a guide (at 30 soles), as the placards are very basic indeed. Go with others, or wait around at the ticket office to form a spontaneous stranger tour group.
Further down the road (better reached by Trujillo) lie the Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol. Pronounded “wuaka”, they were the home of the Moche’s ceremonial and administrational activities.
Constructed using an original core, the Huacas (temples) were built over time and time again to symbolise the changing eras. However, they were abandoned after the Spanish conquest and have suffered greatly through a lack of maintenance, and because of the effects of El Niño, the weather phenomenon which hugely affects this area of Peru.
The Huaca de la Luna (Moon Temple) is the best preserved of the two and was used for religious ceremonies, sacrificial killings and other spiritual purposes, while the Huaca del Sol (Sun Temple) is believed to have been the Moche’s administrational centre. Sadly, a lack of funds means that the Sun Temple has not been excavated and is still largely buried under.
(In fact, the day I visited I actually saw someone walking their dog across it.)
In spite of the cruisy tourists, retirees – even the wonderful woman whose bakery skills were responsible for my sugar addiction – Huanchaco’s most charming inhabitants, in my opinion, are its pelicans.
Located in a seriously chatty gaggle around the pier, these feathery clowns are truly entertaining. They spend their days preening, stretching and scrambling amongst themselves…before finally twisting their baggy beaks right up over their backs and falling asleep.
Sadly, it might not all be happy days for these guys. Several were found dead during my time, an occurance that a Huanchaco local told me had been on the increase. He surmised that these mega-sized pelicans were coming to the beach when ill and using it as a place to die.
SPOILT BY SUNSETS
LEARN TO SURF
I’m often mocked for being Australian and not knowing how to surf. While we non-surfers are a breed all too common back home, almost everyone I’ve spoken to overseas has told me that my lack of skills are just not natural. Brazilians will proudly inform you that they can samba and play football while strumming a guitar and capoeira-ing. The beret-clad, baguette-holding French will continue to look at you with that particular combination of distain and lust (all the while chain smoking and snacking on frogs’ legs). Even the Italians will take you on an espresso-drinking moped ride while making gelati and suggesting that you’ll never be quite as good as their mother.
But we Aussies are just not worthy of the term unless we can croc hunt, slug back a six-pack and deflect a snake attack. All while surfing in a kangaroo’s pouch and battling through the slow retreat from a long-term cultural cringe.
But I digress. The point in question is that in Huanchaco I finally became a bit more Australian. And it was excellent fun.
Surf schools and competition between them abounds. Momentarily confused, I went for a recommendation and chose a school that offered a slightly more expensive class, but with the guarantee that you’d stand at the end of it. As I am famously unco, this seemed to be the correct scenario for me.
Muchik was that school and one half of their national champion surfing brothers, Chicho, the man responsible for my standing…and moving forward…on a wave…not once, but several times. Miracles do happen.