Back To The Big Blue Ocean // Chile & Peru (again) > click the photo below for full story <
Entering Chile from Peru felt a bit like returning to the States after being in Mexico… The wealth immediate and easy to see. The roads are pebbled with courteous drivers and with empty seats in the cars! You would never see such a ‘luxury,’ in Peru except in certain areas of wealthy Lima. Gas & groceries are pricier. The GDP per person in Peru $10,700 vs. $19,400 in Chile- and that 60% more wealth makes a huge difference in the standards of living. (Then take a look at the huge leap to the $49,000 in the USA!)
The arid north of the string bean shaped country is the gateway into the Atacama Desert- the world’s driest. The border is fastidious about fresh fruit or vegetables and dried seeds and nuts- which pretty much wiped out our pantry and fridge…
Surf was up- and in a major, cold, heavy way. These riders were on some grande rhino chasers (10- 12 ft surfboards), just a few lone rangers at this monster wave.
In Arica, we posted up at a half-finished hostal & overlanders camp, just north of town with a great beachfront location. Power and wifi keep us connected to you and the rest of the world. Just about the only thing seriously lacking from our adventure-mobile is that we do not have solar, which is about to change thanks to GoalZero! Our life is mostly spent outside, living ‘in’ a van mostly means living ‘out’side. It is strange, that word outside. We are living much more ‘in’ the world than ever before- using rocks for chairs, a sun-warmed dune as a resting place, and the shade of a tree on a balmy afternoon.
Adam happily suited up after our 2.5 months away from Mama Qucha the ‘sea mother,’ gliding along the powerful waves, feeling the force and beauty on these solitary shores. Adam made this board with the help from our friends at FoamEZ.
Caleta Camarones was a few hours by good road (interrupted by major road construction) to the south of Arica. We picked up some Chilean hitchhikers that were traveling only by thumb, and since the dude was a firefighter- they were sleeping and eating at fire stations along the way, tapping into the international brotherhood of volunteers. Brilliant! Near zero expenditures for the young couple, who were headed home after 4 months on the road exploring Peru & Chile.
A small painted sign signaled fresh seafood empanadas, so Adam happily ordered a few, which he reported were sensational. So far the food in Chile has been tasty! A short drive down to the sea met the pebbled shores, with a promising beach break. If the angle had been right, they could have been fun, but instead just closed out.
Down the far end of the beach the discovery of a coastal lagoon surprised us in this famously dry region. We walk, we breath, we listen to the magical pitch of our toddlers laugh- a sound so sweet and pure we wish time will slow- and it does. We are here, we are present, we are together. The simplicity of it. It is a gift we treasure. For those we love and have lost, we hold hands and walk this long beach and feel them with us… always with us.
We hiked, built sand castles and wished the surf would work here like it was back in Arica. Since a wishing surfer is a grumpy surfer, we headed back after 2 nights at the remote cove.
Adam suited up for some time out at the rivermouth, where a lagoon filled with as many ducks as vultures separated the single parking spot from the super long beach. We ended up camping right in this spot for a night. In Arica, even the local authorities stop to check the swell. At the border, a customs inspector, seeing the surfboards strapped to the top of the Westy, happily chatted us up, proudly showing pictures on his phone of his barreling home break. As we departed, he said “See you in the line-up!”
After another few days, we again headed south to another remote beach. On the wide open expanse of the Atacama desert, is a striking set of sculptures by Chilean artist Juan Diaz Fleming that rise from the sands like a mirage. Moments like these thrill us- this was not in the guidebook, nor did any locals tell us… we simply spotted a tower in the distance, and intrigued, drove to it. What kind of discoveries await you in your own backyard? We find curiosity our best instrument for adventure.
Off the main highway we meandered down a dusty road following a ravine, small farms miraculously raising fertilizer infused tomatoes and grapes in the dry and forboding landscape. At the end of the valley a sandy beach a half mile long- Caleta Vitor. Wind sculpted eucalyptus trees twist and arc making a perfect protected camp near the sea. Behind the small grass topped dunes we nestle in for a fire. Grilled zucchini, stuffed bell peppers and for Adam, some thin grilled Chilean steak. Ahhh, campfire & grilled food- the perfect combination!
“Hey, what’s in here Mama?”
“I don’t know, let’s go see little rabbit.”
Wild camps such as these have no amenities, requiring a shovel, bucket and ingenuity to meet all necessities.
Adventures in toddlering occasionally include experimental makeup sessions. Tender moments sear a memory into our hearts. Colette was an enthusiastic makeup artist, carefully studying each move before deciding on the next smudge or stroke.
Adam made a sawed-off power drill inspired by another overlander. With this exciting new tool, he installed snaps to the van to hook up the sliding door screen from GoWesty that our family brought to us when they visited a few months earlier. It is even better than we imagined- keeping bugs out, as well as a blocking wind and making it more difficult to look directly into the van. What a great new addition to our home on wheels!
Here, some remnants of the War of the Pacific, fought from 1879 to 1883. The war between Bolivia, Peru & Chile eventually led to the modern-day borders. Chile, the victor, gained Peru’s southern state of Tacna and Bolivia lost large swaths of the mineral rich Atacama as well as access to the sea.
We headed back in Arica after a few days and Adam found a fun wave where he pulled out the longboard he made. El Gringo is famous worldwide to surfers and body-boarders alike as the “Chilean pipeline”. It ominously jacks up over the bone breaking reef and A-frames left and right. Technically risky with high consequences El Gringo keeps most people out of the water behind the wall as spectators. We met stoked travelers from Argentina, Brazil and Aruba that came here to test their skills and cojones for the glory of the barrel.
A young soldier from the Chilean military out for a stroll on another grey day.
On the beach, we search for treasures, enjoying the delight gained from assembling these natural elements.
“Papa, can you help me brush my teeth?”
The sand in our hourglass was nearing its end, as we had a flight from Lima to catch back to the States for a visit- so we tried a new direction, and headed north back into Peru, exploring the stunningly beautiful remote south coast on the long road to Lima.
On this solitary beach camp, we found hundreds of sea urchins among the sea smoothed stones. In front of our van, mounds of seaweed gathered from the sea are set out to dry.
This German woman, who worked as an exporter of alcohol and grains, was not meant to become a mummy. She died at 28 in the War of the Pacific, and was buried in a wooden box near the sea. Unearthed some 150 years later, the salt air had naturally mummified her.
In the Mejía Lagoons National Sanctuary Museum, tons of hand carved fishing weights are artifacts of the culture that inhabited the area.
On the bluffs above the sanctuary, local goat herders enjoy a stunning view of the Pacific ocean and the lagoons. Over 180 types of birds live in or migrate here, including gulls, herons, egrets, grebes and Chilean Flamingos! Frogs, fish and lizards also abound, sharing the space with cows and goats who lead themselves thru the maze of swampy trails. It is on our list to return to at the height of the migratory season when the grounds become filled with the cacophony of birds.
Goat skull toddler is super creepy, agreed?
Gathered days earlier, the inspiration came to Adam, who crafted this urchin mandala, which means ‘circle’ in sanskrit. This piece is a sliver of the microcosm, the art of collecting and crafting a meditation unto itself, the assembly a practice in radial balance and the final result, a piece that is left to the elements, acknowledging the impermanence of our short lives.
In nearly every country we have visited from Mexico to Chile, we have encountered trash on the beach. Some places are worse than others, where the tide carries trash from far and wide to small coves littered with plastic remnants. Some places and most notably Costa Rica, see the value in their natural resources and work very hard to protect it. So many questions are raised. If people do not have the education to understand the full impact of their waste, who is to be culpable? How can we reach and educate such a widespread problem? Will the bottle manufacturers take responsibility in their abuse of the land and sea?
As schoolchildren we are taught ‘Reduce, Recycle, Re-use” but the first and missing step in that equation is “RETHINK.” Do you need that 4oz bottle of water? Did you fill enough water bottles for your day out and about? Did you pack bags for that trip to the grocery store? Do you need a plastic bag from the 7-11 for those 2 things? Just because you ‘recycle’ something does not mean it has restored the balance used to create it. This video by the Story of Stuff is a great and simple way to see how we have been manipulated into believing that only water from a soda company is safe to drink.
Emily’s wetsuit got left in California by accident (ahemmm, a certain husband ‘thinking it was his old one’ relocated it the day before departure), so there has been no cold water surfing for this rookie. Adam is holding it down for the Harteau clan, riding these solitary winter waves.
The remote south coast of Peru blew us away with its stunning beauty.
A rare glimpse of green in an agricultural river valley. In the barren lands, the rich sea is harvested of the abundant seaweed. Locals can make a decent living harvesting the nutrient rich plants from the sea, and flock to do so. Unfortunately, the laws which make harvesting the mature rooted parent plants illegal are rarely enforced. Many fish lay their eggs in the ill-perceived safety of the leaves, and never have the chance to mature. Seaweed is a huge oxygen producer and remover of toxins; like trees are vital part of a healthy forest. Upon further research, our stomachs sink learning the devastating effects of the worlds over-harvesting of seaweed is causing in all the worlds oceans.
Seaweed is bought by weight. Fishermen who harvest it wait until low tide to use shovels and axes to remove these algae trees from the rocks to which they cling. If they let them remain, these determined plants would grow back, bringing them profit for longer… but nobody seems to be looking that far down the road.
Before the Pan-American Highway turned inland towards Nazca, we headed to a beach we knew nothing about, just below a small village, but it was a beach, so we went choosing sea over desert for our nights lodging. Down a 2km dusty road, we parked and shortly after arriving, a friendly Peruvian named Alvaro stopped by to say hi. The dreadlocked organic farm manager joined us for an afternoon cordial, and soon revealed many fascinating recommendations for hikes in the area.
In the weather-worn petroglyphs on this rock we saw human forms and dogs.
At the top of the 100meter bluff overlooking the beach was the most fascinating, unstudied, Indiana-Jones type of shit we have ever seen!
The Nazca people (who built the intriguing Nazca lines) had territory extending to the sea. When conquered by the Inca, this village by the sea was perhaps turned into a seaside outpost whose riches of seafood and natural fertilizer guano were transported into the highlands. Maybe the numerous human remains are from the enslaved Nazca who worked for the Inca, or perhaps the bodies of those who died of infection brought to the New World by the Spanish? With little funding available for the innumerable settlements throughout the vast and rich empire, what remains are bone, shards of pottery and questions.
Guano (the word a bastardized version of the Quechua word wanu) from many species of seabirds covered the monolithic cliffside; below Humboldt Penguins returned to shore before dusk from their day at sea. Penguins & flamingos in a weeks time- the ornithologist in each of us delighted!
Further round the wilds of the rocky point we came upon this cove in what surely looked like the fishing village of the larger Nazca/Inca civilization that inhabited the area. A woven bamboo roof covered one building, inside a mattress and a bucket- the modern appropriation of an ancient stone building.
The sun disappeared unceremoniously into the grey marine layer and we hiked back to camp wide-eyed discussing the marvelous sightings of the afternoons expedition.
Morning came. Peace radiated in the still valley. Adam mixed up some wachuma cactus with juice, swallowed the gnarly looking mixture and set off for a solo hike. A hallucinogen used for over 3,000 years in religious ceremonies, it is also known as San Pedro because, like Saint Peter, it holds the keys to heaven allowing you to see experience heaven while still on earth.
Into the rugged landscapes, electric blue melted into cobalt.
Waves exploded through rocks.
The sun scorched earth went on forever.
The sea spoke in gurgled bursts.
Adam waited and waited, but he was definatley NOT tripping. Upon later investigation, it was ground coca leaves, which is sold as a health food, and definitely does not have the psychotropic effects that wachuma is famous for. It was a gift from a fellow traveler we met in Northern Peru, whom we imagine was pretty bummed himself upon the discovery we had…
Millions, read millions of pottery shards covered the landscape. The vessels were plain and functional, like everyday water jars or storage for grains, they felt homey and well used.
This smooth rock was near many pottery shards and felt good in the hand, perhaps a pestle?
Sober and enjoying the day, Adam headed back to the van where he met up with Colette & Emily. We three headed in the opposite direction to explore the bluffs on the north side of the beach we camped at.The south bluff seemed more ceremonial, with all the bones, whereas this northerly side was most surely terraced for agriculture and was the beating heart of the village. We have been talking to Colette a lot about ‘perspective’ here in these vast lands…
From the bluff we ask “Coco, can you see how tiny the van is?”
As we return, she squeals in delight “It’s getting bigger, it’s getting bigger!!”
A gusty gale blew in the late afternoon, but inside these long abandoned stone igloos, it was perfectly warm and wind free.
“Umm, babe? Do you see the faces in those rocks too?”
“Yep, sure do… the wachuma isn’t kicking in, sorry.”
The setting sun met the incoming marine layer in a warm embrace, illuminating the tiny bits of flying moisture, which illuminated the lands in a rainbow of damp color. Totally dreamy!
This stone wall created a huge circle, which looked like an animal corral. We hopped the fence and entered for further investigation.
A mound rose from the flattened earth with the center scooped out. Layers and layers of shell, animal bones and pottery shards revealed themselves at the edges. We were scouring the town dump! Suzie, Emily’s mom, studied archeology in college, and finding the dump is like hitting a jackpot- you find out what they ate, used as tools and remnants of clothing.
Dishes are an unavoidable fact of life, and this is a pretty good location to tend to them.
Thiiiiiis little one keeps us entertained day and night.
We have a new version of a classic song- it goes like this:
“Friend Alvaro had a farm… e-i-e-i-oooo
and on this farm he had some goats…. e-i-e-i-oooo”
Aaaand on this farm they grow organic veggies, e-i-e-i-ooooo.
Volunteers can come to work on the farm through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms also called ‘woofing.’ In the greenhouse they grow chard, herbs, carrots, alfalfa, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and much more; outisde they grow olives and tara. Tara is a native Peruvian bush that is used in ecological leather tanning, in demand from European tanneries seeking to meet strict regulation for children’s clothing. Green is the future people! We stocked up on some amazing fresh food that made us zing with live enzymes.
This is the son of the owner. He will someday own this slice of paradise.
Out in the wilds, the great expanse of the desert rolls on.
Our greatest inspiration is the majesty of nature, in patterns both bold and subtle.
Yes… we signed up for an uber-touristy dune buggy ride in the oasis town of Huacachina. And we had a blast!
Using pieces of taper candles, we waxed up our ghetto sandboards which strapped on with velcro straps.
Per usual, Adam set the bar kicking off down the dune first.
Emily sat on her bum, with Coco sitting in front- sledding style. On the next set of dunes, Adam and Coco set off belly first! She totally handled it; the other riders were like “If your 2 year old can do it, then I can!”
So named for the indigenous that inhabited the area between 800BCE & 100 BCE is the Paracas National Reserve.
The sand on this beach is maroon! There is a first for everything.
A tiny isthmus serves as safe haven for some fishing vessels.
This vast reserve has so much to explore, we are glad to have a taste of it, and are excited to have the chance to return in a few months, after our visit to the states.
Onward to Lima. Cerro Azul had some fun waves.
Nearing the madhouse of Lima, we feel the energy rise. Our ‘to do’ list is long, and Lima is the place to check things off the list.
We are flying home to California for a visit with friends and family and couldn’t be more stoked!