In Search of Ancient Ruins and Epic Waves

Trip Start Mar 18, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Hostal Naylamp

Flag of Peru  , Huanchaco,
Thursday, May 15, 2008

Just a quick word about coffee in South America. Cafe con leche is the term to ask for coffee with milk, but there are so many variations to this that we needed to tell you about it. So far cafe con leche has resulted in - hot water in a cup with a jar of instant coffee and a small pot of milk, hot water in a cup with a thick coffee syrup which you pour into the water and then add milk, a cup of hot milk to which you add instant coffee, black coffee with a jar of milk - we are still yet to receive a white coffee in a cup but will celebrate when that happens.

Ah Northern Peru. Definately not part of the gringo trail and there is a good reason for that. Challenging travel and very real. The most desolate, arid, dusty and barren landscape that we have ever seen. It is amazing that people live here in this inhospitable part of the world, but they do, in a great deal of poverty and squalor. There are times when we are travelling between towns here when we actually find beauty in the harsh terrain of dirt mountains and sand dunes and other times when the dust in your hair, nose and clothes is too unpleasant to care.

Our bus from Mancora to Chiclayo didnt arrive so we ended up on a 7 hour public bus with no toilets and not enough seats for everyone. It was a long, hot and dirty day. We endured three police check points, all taking over half an hour each, where locals had to gather money on the bus to pay off the police so that their contraband could remain on board - at least until the next check point where more bribery was required. It was times like that when we wished we understood more Spanish cause it all got a bit wild and crazy with people yelling at police and the police just smiling and then taking all the luggage out of the bus. All this amidst a barren landscape that offered no distraction for us except the thought of being stranded with no backpacks and a police escort.

While Chiclayo might not be the greatest town in the world, it was an oasis when it appeared through the dusty mist. We stopped here for two nights so that we could visit some of the famous ruins in the area, including the tomb of Lord Sipan, ruler of the Moche people around 700AD. The site and his tomb was only discovered twenty years ago. We also visited the Sipan museum where all the treasures found at the site are now stored. A side trip to the pyramids of Tucume, also a Moche site, was a bit of a farce though because all of the pyramids look more like mounds of dirt with a few areas of mud brick scattered around the place.

Our next stop after Chiclayo was Pacasmayo but we werent feeling the love there so we continued on the next day to Huanchaco, where we have been for the last seven nights. Huanchaco has a great left hand wave that can break for 500m and PT has caught plenty of good waves. The local fisherman are apparently some of the original surfers, who used to ride their traditional reed boats into shore with a boat full of fish. They still use the same reed boats for fishing today and we took them up on an offer to paddle us out in the back of the boats and surf back to the beach through the very chilly water.

Near Huanchaco are some very important ruins dating back to 100AD and we spent a day visiting a few really cool sites. Huaca de la luna - temple of the moon - was the most impressive of the ruins that we saw. A huge temple at the base of a mountain in the desert that has been fairly well excavated to reveal five different levels, each representing a different time period in the existence of the Chimu people. The carvings on the walls of the temple have been well preserved and are nothing short of amazing. We also visited Chan Chan, a 20 square km city that was occupied by the Moche people for hundreds of years prior to the Inca invasion. It is hard to comprehend that a complex city like that existed over 1500 years ago.

Huanchaco is around one hour away from Puerto Chicama, home of the longest wave in the world. For a non-surfer, arriving on the cliff tops above the bay at Chicama is a beautiful scene. For a surfer, watching ten or more lines peeling in perfect unison down the long point is heaven. Chicama is a special place - it looks like a cartoon of the perfect day of surfing sketched in the back section of a surf magazine. Towering cliffs surround the bay and the desert landscape makes the place feel a million miles from anywhere. Truth is, Chicama is in the middle of nowhere. If you put such a perfect surf spot anywhere else it would have hundreds of surfers out every day. For two days, PT surfed with no more than six other people.

Because it is in a protected bay, the swell needs to be huge everywhere else before Chicama reaches the fabled 2m swells that result in four minute, 2km rides across to the pier. The locals explained that this only happens a handful of times every year. When its smaller, the waves are still perfectly shaped and mechanical but they dont link up from the point all the way through to the pier. The first day we arrived, the surf was only waist high but to catch more than 25 waves, all 15-20 seconds long, was a treat for PT. Leesh captured a few on video that we have tried to attach to the blog.

After such a great day of waves, PT returned to Chicama the next day after hooking up with our Canadian mate Todd, who we met in Ecuador. The surf had picked up and was shoulder to head high. Another dream day of epic rides - longer and faster than the first day - was had, again with only a handful of people in the water. Once you finish surfing the first point, rather than paddling in you can start surfing your way down the bay to the access point for the cliff tops. This alone takes more than 10 long waves and up to half an hour but it sure beats walking back.

Knowing that Chicama was the last stop on the Northern Peru surf trip, it was fitting that upon reaching Dorisīs clifftop restaurant after a final surf, a local guy offered to buy PTīs board for $40 less than he paid for it weeks beforehand. A final look at the amazing line-up, counting twelve separate waves peeling down the point simultaneously, and the Chicama dream was complete.
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