Instead of a vastly overpriced parking garage with an attendant trying to overcharge us, behind the hostal there’s a gravel area (surrounded by a very high wall) that our precious Mitsubishi shares tenancy with a car, a rusted Ski-Do, a friendly but smelly cocker spaniel, and several cats. Instead of hassling unlabeled streets, many blocked off by police saw-horses, there’s a main road that runs in front of the place, with relatively little traffic this season, and less on the few small roads away from the beach. Instead of a tiny room, its faded and slightly musty-smelling carpet covered almost completely by the bed and our suitcases, we have a more spacious place with clean tile floors. Instead of going downstairs to use a hotel computer with a keyboard on which the keys – and ( and ‘ produced ‘ and < and *, respectively [and the best wisdom on typing an @ was to hold the Alt key and press 1 then 5 then 4, which in fact produced the Spanish n that sounds like ny] we have [jury-rigged] Internet in our room.
It’s quiet and warm, particularly to someone fresh from winter in Reykjavik. The hotel is small, clean, and nearly empty, with old anchors and other objects lying around and old photographs on the walls. We breakfast simply and fairly cheaply in the hotel each morning. Ragna walks along the beach most mornings. Sometimes we walk or drive down to the center of town. Surfers and occasional little fishing boats dot the water just across the road from the hostal.
(The traditional fishing boats, of which more stand with one end stuck in the sand near the center of town, are small straw craft that look so small that one quickly guesses the person using the boat must kneel, for there seems nowhere else to put feet – and they sure don’t look as if they could carry much of a catch.). Evenings we eat cheaply and well in one or another of the restaurants in Huanchaco. We watch the fog consume the setting sun an hour or so before sunset, then from our room smell the scent of the sea and hear the sound of the surf. Unfortunately, we also hear the sounds of barking dogs, and periodic whistles.
Our first evening in Huanchaco we walk down to the nearest restaurant, Club Colonial. Owned by a Belgian woman, it’s one of the best in town. We sit outdoors, watching the surfers and pedestrians, and see the fog swallow the sun long before sunset. The food is good, the service friendly, and her art collection makes the indoor tables almost as pleasant as the deck.
Much later during the first night we hear strange whistling sounds, and can’t figure why anyone is blowing a whistle at three in the morning or whether it is some bird. The second night we hear it just for a little while, much louder, then further away as if from out front somewhere. It sounds like some weird bird, and for awhile the sound mixes with my dreaming and I see the bird very clearly. Ragna gets up and watches out the window, then reports some men in white jackets, one of whom appears to be blowing the whistle, and some black-clad man or men lurking around. Sounds like pursuit of would-be intruders either by police or by security from the larger hotel behind ours. Half-awake, I hold silently to my belief that the sounds are made by some huge white bird, six or seven feet tall, a species unknown to science and rarely seen in Huanchaco, and that the men in white coats are trying to get a good look at it.
It turns out, though, that the whistles have a more mundane source: security men, whistling to each other, or to warn would-be intruders that the areas is being patrolled, or to remind the occupants of hotels and nice houses that their protectors are on the job. At first it strikes me as counter-productive, since the whistles could alert intruders to the precise whereabouts of the security guys, and thus help them adjust their behavior so as not to be caught; but we will run into this frequently all around Peru.
Huanchaco is an ideal place to rest up before the arduous mountain journeys we plan to take.
We also find that Trujillo’s fancy shopping center with a Ripley’s is just North of town, toward Huanchaco, and thus an easy drive for us, and wander in there for an ice-cream some days. [Immediately below are two images I snapped idly waiting while Ragna shopped: a mother and daughter standing in front of a store ad for Dia de Madres, and a self-portrait in the same store window after I noticed my reflection there.]
Other than jaunts to the shopping center, we leave Huanchaco just four times in six days: once to do errands in Trujillo and take a quick look around the downtown by daylight; once to a small community called Las Delicios south of town, where W back in Lima had told us we might find a flat to rent near the sea; once for a Sunday drive up toward the mountain town of Otuzco, and once to Chan Chan, the major and very extensive ruin near Trujillo.
Chan Chan is said to be the largest adobe city in the world. We walk around it for a pleasant hour or two with a cheerful local guide.
Las Delicios is an upscale enclave of homes, mostly second homes for people from Lima, we guess. We manage to find it, hidden behind a gated entrance with security folks. It’s right by the sea, and quiet this season, and we actually manage to look at a semi-furnished house that’s for rent; but it doesn’t meet our needs, and the village seems a little too lacking in character, and the woman would really prefer to rent it for longer than the month or two we have in mind.
The drive to Otuzco is fun. Initially the road makes its way through farms and small villages, the names already turning from Spanish to Indian, and then it climbs through picturesque mountainous countryside into the clouds. We still do not know the reason for one arresting sight, a long-haired man, probably in his forties, striding along the main road completely naked.
Quite quickly the village names turn from saints’ names to more native-sounding names. The ride is interesting, but we started too late. Hoping not to be driving in the mountains at night, we turn back in the heavy fog without reaching Otuzco.
Huanchaco is pleasant. I can imagine living here, perhaps teaching here or in Trujillo. It’s quiet here; it has the feel of a place that young tourists, many surfers, have found, but which will grow more prosperous from tourism in years to come. One could buy a home or hospedaje here, or land to build on, at prices fairly reasonable by U.S. or European standards, and live cheaply, and the commute to Trujillo would be a pleasant ten-minute drive, with little traffic except in Trujillo’s city center. For now, we have no luck finding a suitable house or flat.
I photograph a line of traditional fishing boats stuck in the sand near the pier, with a couple of fisherman lying near them on the sand.
Until life otherwise instructs me I will assume that one of these folks is the fisherman befriended by an American M.B.A. in the apocryphal story I first heard concerning a Mexican fishing village but more recently read as happening in Peru.
As the story goes, an American businessman is standing by a pier in a small Peruvian fishing village. He watches a Peruvian fishing boat pull in, and notices a small pile of very fine yellowtail tuna. He compliments the fisherman on the quality of the catch, and asks how long it took to catch the fish.
“Not very long,” the fisherman replies.
The businessman asks the fisherman why, if he could catch so many fine fish in a short time, he doesn’t stay out longer and catch more. The Peruvian replies that the catch is enough for his family’s immediate needs. The American asks what he does with the rest of his time.
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my kids, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, and then stroll into town and play guitar with my amigos in the Plaza de Armas.”
“I have an MBA from Harvard, and I can really help you,” the American says. “What you need to do is fish longer every day, and use the proceeds to buy another boat. You will eventually have a fleet of fishing boats, and many men working for you. With a large enough production, you will be able to avoid selling to middlemen, and sell direct. Eventually you can open a cannery. You will have to move to Lima and eventually to Houston or Los Angeles or New York to run the business, but eventually you will be a very rich man.”
“Then what, Senor?”
“Oh, that’s the best part. You can have an Initial Public Offering, sell all the stock in your company to the public, and make millions.”
“Millions? Then what, Senor?”
“Then you can retire to a small Peruvian fishing village – and sleep late, fish a little, play with your grandkids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll into town to play guitar with your amigos in the evening.”
A word in passing about the honesty of Peruvians. It is much-maligned, perhaps fairly. But experience has included:
the waiter, that first morning in Trujillo, who knocked on our door moments after our return from breakfast and, when I opened it, held up Ragna’s purse, left abandoned on a chair;
the waitress here in Huanchaco who raced across the road onto the beach to return my credit card to me when we ate an early supper our first night in Huanchaco;
more than one person in Lima who reached down to pick up and return a scrap of paper I ‘d dropped from an overcrowded pocket – useless scraps of paper that could as easily have been something of value; and
the upright and careful folks I dealt with in buying the car and getting it checked out mechanically.
There’s a nice church to see up on the hill, built around 1535-1545. It may be the second-oldest existing church in Peru. When I finally visit it, while Ragna’s packing clothes for our departure, a fellow there unlocked the little door that allowed me to climb the narrow, low-ceilinged stone steps up to the tower for a panoramic view of the town.
A couple of relatively simple places we ate and very much enjoyed were La Esquina and Brisas del Mar. La Esquina is a place you wouldn’t notice as you passed, but we had a good meal there. Straightforward: big hunk of fish grilled on the grill out front, S./ 20 or 25 including potatoes and a small salad. Delicious. Run by some nice young folks. Brisas del Mar was also quite good. Ceviche and more covina (S./ 20 for each entree), and Trujillo beer, sitting outdoors not far from the pier that juts way out into the bay toward the north end of town.
Club Colonial is more European – and run by one, a Belgian woman. Food was good. It had more variety in appetizers and such, and better red wine. And the outdoor seating faces the sea. It’s a little more expensive, but probably not as much as the enhanced ambiance might suggest.
We had a good lunch and another good view closer to the center of the town in Restaurant Big Ben, but I think it wasn’t open at night.