6 months, 10 countries, One Love // Coastal Galavanting in Peru

Life on our open road, after 6 months, is just that- life. Our daily adventures have not grown tiresome to us, like a chore we must do, in fact with each passing day these discovered moments become a more wholesome nutrient for our souls, enriching our bloodstream with new vistas of mighty peaks piercing the heavens and lavender clouds floating upon the unending tides, oxygen rich deep breaths infused with bouquets of every kind color. We like this life and are still in awe that this is ours to live. Yes, of course there is still laundry to be done and dishes to wash, those chores that follow a household whether it be on wheels or not, but holy crap… this is good and it keeps getting better!Markets are like a pressure cooker for seeing a town- you get in and quickly feel the tide of the place.  You see what is bought and sold, see the wealth of that place, what is in season for produce, and what the cuisine is like.  Since Mexico, we have seen that Sunday is the Latin American day of drinking; this gent had definitely had a few to honor that time preserved tradition.
In Guayaquil we miraculously located the same 16.75 Yokohama all-terrain tires that we have and managed to swap the back to front, patch a hole in one tire from a wayward nail, buy 2 new tires and balance the alignment with a fancy computer operated system.  This I tell you took ALL day… from 10am till 7pm.  Abundant in stores that buy and sell things, the largest city in Ecuador, Guyaquil was a charmless mess of slovenly laid bricks, exposed wire and half built roads.  Our positive experiences were reliquated to this exceedingly slow tire center and a tasty vegetarian Indian restaurant.

We quickly took our leave to beautiful Cuenca, a city of trees and rivers.

Affable Umberto, the owner of Cabanas Yanuncay, is a kind and gregarious biologist who studied in the Galapagos, lived in Berkley and cycled around Europe in his younger years.  He now hosts camping overlanders and rents rooms in cabins or in his house on his family plot set adjacent to one of the many rivers in Cuenca. You can just tell Umberto relishes employing his gift of gab in any language- be it Spanish, English or German.  Five plots of land have been turned and toiled into an organic farm where potatoes, carrots, chard, amaranth, broccoli, mustard greens, several kinds of onion, cilantro, mint, and so much more now grow prolifically.   He crop rotates, has an old swimming pool-turned compost pile that the chickens scratch and turn and a rock wall where at night the salamanders and other night critters do natural bug-control.

In our daily thanks with Colette, amongst many other things, we thank the farmers for growing our food.  To have this magical process so beautifully and honestly working is such a gift.  Experience creates understanding in a way words simply can not.  She stared wide-eyed at Umberto when he urged her to pick a carrot to eat.  She did and gobbled it up, then picked another.  So awestruck and delighted, she bent down to kiss the carrot-tops!

In the orchard grows papaya, avocado, walnut, guava, the ancient Andean tomate de arbol (tree-tomato) and the sublime babaco.  Also called champagne fruit, babaco is related to papaya, but the flavor profile is totally different.  The sweet white flesh has an effervescence, hence the champagne reference, a slight acidity like a strawberry and a texture like a honeydew melon.  Just another new amazing tropical fruits to eat- so yummy!
Colette spent the sunny afternoons barefoot and giggling, chasing the many chickens around the verdant grounds.  We discovered some tiny hatchlings peeping in the tall grasses and shooed off the protective Mama to grab one of her little chicks for a snuggle.  Colette so gently nuzzled the fluffy babe and kissed his head.  She put him proudly in her pocket and gazed adoringly at the tiny being.  He peeped and squeaked for his Mama, who scratched the ground anxiously, and when we returned him to the flustered auburn chicken, Colette gave chase trying to grab the chick again.  The feisty Mama bird chased Colette, who in turn, came crying for her Mama… ahh, the circle of life!
Before departing Los Angeles we did not get our Yellow Fever vaccinations because Colette was not 2 years old yet, so agreed we would all three get them together down the road… In Cuenca, at the Centro de Salud we got them for FREE.  At home they are $180 EACH.  Thank you Ecuador for your socialized healthcare (and we are just visiting)! The bug had finally gotten to us… the time to leave lovely Ecuador had come.  So inspired to depart, we broke our usual rule of not driving at night as we were excited for Peru!  Descending the mountains, a deep fog rolled in, along with a police escort who knew the turns well and kept the busses in line.  Thru a deep carved canyon we wound further down and then camped in a gas station lot with a night guard.  Morning broke and we departed down our old friend the Pan-Americana Highway into Peru.  This marked our 10th border crossing, so we knew the routine and with no lines we virtually flew thru.  It’s been great, Ecuador… Hola our new friend, Peru!

Mostly arid desert dotted with flat, fertile lands flooded into rice paddies marked a dramatic change from the endless banana fields of Ecuador.  In the uber-touristy mecca of Northern Peru, Mancora’s narrow streets are lined with walled and gated properties side-by-side.  A crowded wave and eager/ harassing barkers in front of the many seafood restaurants steered us immediately the other way. We grabbed a bite of the biggest (and arguably the tastiest) veggie burger in South America at Angela’s Place, a healthy vegetarian spot, then hit the road south.

These wheat pasted advertising walls are all over northern Peru were a visual delight.  Adam peeled at some of the bright and varied layers for inclusion in his collages.  Below are some studies he has been working on, from photos he has took in Mexico.  Los Organos had a steep drop from the flat sand into a raging, cold, heavy shore-pounding wave.  Sadly, the many relaxed months of warm water are no longer.  The tepid El Nino is gone and the cold Humboldt current hits here.  With a sigh, Adam slid on his pullover for a sunset glass-off.  Our inaugural night in Peru we camped seaside, still layering up at sunset to avoid the jejenes.


Usually Adam will get to a spot and languorously peruse the peaks, but when we arrived in Lobitos, the waves were big and empty- so he wasted no time in suiting up and getting out.  Little beach bunny tuckered herself out chasing waves, and Emily had a few solitary moments to tuck into her latest read.  The ocean sets rolled in over the barren desert-scape, like heat waves into an infinite horizon.

Viewing the sun set is a ritual practiced the world round, but a simple pleasure we missed often in Los Angeles because of our houses location on the east side of a hill.  To see the signals of a day, feel the warmth of the rising sun heating our roof-top tent, the sparkling colors of its end, the twinkling of stars under new skies, the waxing and waning of the moon and her cycle, make us thankful for this journey to reconnect to our planet and the simple daily beauty of this glorious routine.
Day breaks, surfers rise to beat each other into the water, and by the time the sun has fully risen, the point has lots of wave hungry fellows in the water.

Lobitos is a dusty town where one beach and four point breaks cluster into this surf haven, as do throngs of Brazilian surfers who fly in when the swell hits.  We counted fifty, yes 50 heads out at one sunset.  Where are we, California?!  Adam preferred to time his entries at dawn and mid-day when the throngs were still snoozing or taking a mid-day siesta.  His surfing has grown tremendously, and he is already gaining a comfort in these big, cold waves that Peru is legendary for.   Double overhead and thick as a building, these walls of water are not the typical shape we most associate to wave, but a solid force moving forward.  Feel the raw power.  This desert-worn structure is the first all-wood church in Peru, constructed of Oregon pine.  Oil derricks pump day and night both offshore and on for the liquid gold.  Old military base houses are rented out to locals for $20 per/month.  No, that is not a type-o.  Twenty dollars per month rent for a near beachfront early 1900’s built house made from Oregon pine.   The same goes for nearly $3,000 per month in Venice, Calif.  Um, yeahhhhhh…
At El Muelle, meaning the pier in Spanish, we camped seaside between the clusters of boats those both regularly used and those decaying and long forgotten.  Oh, our dream wheels were spinning with what we could make with all that cool old aged wood.  We climbed in our private ship for the famed sunset harbor tour and Mother Nature again wowed us with an amazing sunset.   If they say fire is the caveman tv, I propose that a sunset is the wilderness tv.  The columns of the old pier rose 3 meters from the waves and pelican perched themselves on the posts gently swaying in the tide.There are some moments so simple and pure you close your eyes to cement that slice of perfection into your mind forever.  Sometimes you can grab a camera to help document that too.
A few hours down the road, we did our first 24 Hour Bazaar in Peru.  This is our way of extending our travels; we curate a selection of fair trade, artisan goods in market towns, then offer them for sale to you for 24 hours only.  If you would like to be on our list for future markets, please send an email to contact@ouropenroad.com and we will be sure to include you!

The market town, had plenty of artisans from the surrounding areas and tasty restaurants, but no hotels with parking and wifi.  We do not usually have such requirements, but at market time, these two elements are essential.  So a 15-minute drive led us to Piura where we located a place to fit the bill.  Shipping the goods out, we had to stamp our fingerprint, which was an eyebrow raising first!

People in the desert go after their dreams.  No holds bar, no limiting ones ideas to fit into societies ideals or neatly shaped boxes.  I like that about desert folk.

“It is opener there in the wide open air.” (Dr. Seuss)

Perhaps it is this wide open air that allows folks to start working on an idea when the whimsy strikes, or maybe it is just that land is cheap.  Either way…  they build and build, perhaps stopping half way into the structure, to start on a new, better idea… and so on and suddenly you are surrounded by a village of half built structures of many inspirations and different leanings.  We camped at one of these compounds, but it could have just as easily been in a California desert- say Joshua Tree or on the shores of the Salton Sea. Pacay, also called ice cream fruit and guama, has been cultivated and eaten for thousands of years.  We cracked open the tough outer shell, and pulled apart the slightly sticky compartmentalized puffs, popping them into our mouths for a new sensation.  Technically a legume, the sweet white fruit around the seeds has a consistency similar to a dense cotton candy.
Near the bohemian pyramid camp complex, the town of Pimentel still utilizes these traditional fishing boats called caballitos de totora, or little reed horses.  Straddling the wrapped bundles of reeds like a horse, we saw fisherman return from their day at sea gliding upon the waves, using their bamboo paddles to steer.  Pottery in the area shows this method has been used for nearly 3,000 years!  It seemed clear that some of the earliest wave riding was done in Peru with these, although there is debate in the surfing community as to if this style constitutes surfing or not.

We met another traveler, Liam, at the seaside-pyramid-campground and he joined us for our day adventuring around.  South Americans take their witchdoctors very seriously, so when we heard about the Mercado de Brujos, or Witch Doctors Market, we knew it would be wonder to see.  Our goal was the brujos, so when we found a huge, bustling market surrounding it, we were pleasantly surprised.  The humble potato is the 4th largest food crop in the world and was domesticated 7-10,000 years ago; this is the lifeblood of the Andean people originated in Peru.  There are over 3,800 types of potato!  In the Chiclayo market we saw the largest assortment of these we have seen thus far, which was more like 20 varieties, but still- does your Whole Foods have 20 varieties of heirloom potatoes?  I think not.  The tropical fruits still blow us away.  We seriously eat SO much fresh awesome fruit every day- succulent mango, luscious granadilla (like passion fruit, but sweet not tart), deep red papaya, fresh coconut, super yummy bananas, white pineapple, cherimoya and so much more.  We moved fast down past the meat alley, which was so gnarly even Adam said his stomach turned.
In the Mercado de Brujos– the Witch Doctor Market- neatly packed stalls changed from selling fruit and veg to herbs and amulets.  Piles of flowering plants, cut and tied into bundles with twine lay on tables assembled into organic pyramids 4 feet high.  Beside it a vendor that sells brightly packaged modern weight loss mixes on the front of which are printed pixelated images of svelte white girls gleefully posing with a measuring tape.  Across the dappled light of the tarpaulin covered aisles is a merchant specializing in Traditional Chinese Medicine- where ginseng extracts and mushroom tonics line glass shelves.

Then your eyes start to adjust to the cacophony and you stop to walk a little slower, looking a little deeper.  The rainbow of candles draped over a pole are each stamped with a word or symbol- be it skull and crossbones on the black one, or dinero on the green.  Liam was seeking San Pedro, the cactus containing the psychedelic alkaloid mescaline that is used in Shamanic practice to explore spiritual realms and universal consciousness.  Behind the dried maca root and seahorses, a vendor spoons out the dried San Pedro for Liam.  His next step is finding a Shaman to guide his experience.
 This was a bigger and badder assortment than ‘eye of newt’ and ‘tongue of toad’ type of witchy ingredients.  Wandering further, shit started getting real weird (human hair braids), gnarly (crucified drying lizards) and horrific (bundles of toucan beaks and monkey skull necklaces).  Yikes… a dizzying display of death.  Nearly 50% of Peru is jungle, which starts on the eastern flanks of the Cordillera Blancas- the range of mountains called so because the moisture comes up from the Amazon and dumps snow upon the peaks, keeping them white much of the year.  These jungle creatures were surely killed in the Amazon, where little is done to protect them from poachers who sell them as talismans. We do not condone the killing, buying or selling of such wild caught animals for any purpose.  Having yet to see a single live toucan through 10 beautiful countries (seriously!), our stomachs turned to see a collection of 10 toucan beaks; we continued with eyes as big as saucers down the market halls.

Ayahuasca, the even more intense psychedelic, was also available in liquid tonic.  Said to make you face your daemons, many fear this trip to the dark side, whilst others praise its deeply cleansing properties.  Neither of us have taken such a journey, so we have no comment as of now…  At the fantastic Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan no photography is permitted, bummer.  These tombs of Moche culture, which date to around 300 AD, are resplendent in gold adornment and represent everything the royals would need in the afterlife.  Think the tomb of King Tut, but pre-Incan.  The King was supposed to be part animal, and wore a large septum ring that hung down in a half moon shape blocking his teeth, which are intrinsically a human feature, thus preserving his human identity from the hoi polloi.  Huge plugs for gaged ears inlaid with Peruvian turquoise were massive and three inch long representations of peanuts (who knew this humble nut could be so prestigious) were carefully crafted in solid gold.  The priests wore plated armor that was only attached on the top which reflected like a disco-ball and certainly sounded like a party; think a Paco Rabanne inspired ancient priest- yes, chic and all solid gold baby.

In Pacasmayo we decompressed from the visual overload of the Mercado de Brujos and all the bling from Sipan.  Along the wide sandy expanse, the sea meets land and forms a long, beautiful wave.  Arguably the longest wave in the world on the right swell, the other wave to challenge that title is Chicama, to the south.  Titan, God of the ocean, smiled once again and sent a swell to coincide with our arrival.  Each of the 3 days the sets came and came, rolling in massive double overhead beasts that unfurled into the distant bay, the surfers becoming tinier and tinier as the wave kept pushing.   Adam, prepped for the big Peruvian waves from Lobitos, hopped in and paddled deep.  Having these huge waves to himself, or perhaps a surfer or two to share with, he had his choice of which wave to paddle into, and of course choose the juiciest of the waves to play with.  Amazing waves were caught, the most *epic* of Adam’s life thus far.  Adam caught a long, long one, which set his legs on fire because the ride was so long and that put him inside the bay, which requires a 20 minute walk back to start the cycle over again. Adam on the longest wave of his life; photo by Jeff Ward.  This wave peeled and peeled for over a minute and by this point in the wave, Adam’s thighs were burning- he calls this the ‘tired neanderthal’ stance.  The fog laid over the coast like a thick blanket, sweeping in from the south, in the direction of the swell; Colette commented as we were watching Adam surf, “Look Mommy, the clouds are moving.”  Departing as the swell did, we headed south to Chicama.
Near Puerto Chicama we drove out into the dry, barren landscape which we imagine Mars would feel like, this is after all- one of the driest landscapes on earth.  The howling winds blow against the rocky cliffs, creating the abundant sand, which makes these amazing waves.  The contrast of arid land to abundant sea was so clear here.  Basecamp was at an inlet near the small island where the famous wave begins off the rocky point.

If it wasn’t for the help of our friends at GoWesty!  we wouldn’t be able to make it out to such remote locations.  The FOX shock absorber set and lift springs have allowed extra clearance so we can explore off the beaten path landscapes while feeling like we are driving a Cadillac!  
Accessible only at low tide, we discovered so much on this apparently empty rock.  Colette poked the sun starfish and tried to prod the anemones, which quickly recoiled from her tiny fingers; a few fisherman threw their hooks by hand into the breaking shore.  The winds howled, pushing the overpowering smell of bird feces into our noses.  This rock felt ancient, and clearly the blue-footed boobies, seagulls and pelicans had inhabited this place for many-a-millennia.  Round the rubbled trail we carefully traversed, where we spotted our largest pod of blue-footed boobies yet.
A less trodden path led us to the very top of the isle.  At the crest, a few dugout pits, perhaps a foot and a half deep, were scattered with bones.  Much of the island is littered with crab skeletons and bird bones, so it took a moment before we realized- these were not bird bones.  We looked at each other… knowing.  The energy felt calm and peaceful, the human skeletons were only fragments.  We found pieces of hip and femur, jawbone with teeth, and a piece of skull.  We could have let them lay, but curiosity got the best of us and we picked them up for a minute before returning them. Set back 1km from the coast rests Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian city and the largest adobe city in the world.  Built by the Chimu people in about 850 AD, the sprawling 21 sq km complex was inhabited by a population of approximately 30,000 until the Inca took over in 1470AD.  We visited the ruins on a cool grey day, ambling around the vast roads and sidewalks of the city.  The Chimu were masters of irrigation, creating long channels to bring fresh water in from the Moche River and dug down to the ground water creating marshes in which they grew totora reeds to make boats for fishing.  The adobe bricks were covered into smooth walls where intricate reliefs were carved depicting both birds and sea life, stylized and realistic as well as geometric designs.  These gorgeous icons were repeated along the length of walls.  It was a dazzling sight to see in the weather worn state, and imagining the original beauty we gasped at the amount of work to create such a place!

Always a mystery, the next chapter of the adventure is yet to unfold.