We leave Huanchaco – our landlady hugging Ragna as we load the car – and reach Pacasmayo in little more than an hour.
We drive into town, having read that it’s a quiet place with relatively few tourists and some old colonial buildings along the waterfront, plus one of the longest piers in Peru. When we reach the water we pause near a bunch of old boats on the shore, not far from the start of the pier. A couple of once-beautiful colonial buildings face the sea from across the road. A huge figure of Christ looms above us from the top of a nearby hill where the cemetery is.
This is a disreputable part of town, and looks it. The buildings are empty and decaying. I spot an ironic image, the spiffy “Club del Adulto” – which I assume means something involving sex or pornography – below the forgiving arms of Jesus.
The sun is shining, the waves are breaking, and a long line of fishing boats float at anchor near the end of the pier. We shoot a few photographs and continue into town to see about lunch and perhaps a hotel. The hotel room on offer, in yet another old colonial building, has a balcony overlooking the sea, and is irresistible. A few doors down we eat a great lunch on the front porch of another hotel, in still another old colonial building, the Estación Pacasmayo Hotel.
It is one of those moments. The sun is so bright on the water, and so warm on us, and the walk between the restored old buildings (the Marine Parade) and the sea is so wide and quiet, and the food so good, that we feel in love with the town. When we ask about places to rent for awhile, we are told there are none, but a waiter leads us to a building a few blocks away where someone has been turning a huge old building into a set of flats, some with fine views of the sea. An electrician leads us on a tour of the vacant, unfinished flats, and then to the impressive home of the owner.
The owner and his wife [J__ and S__, here], who have lived much of their adult lives in Australia, are warm and welcoming, and we talk for a long time, then arrange to meet again for wine and supper.
Meanwhile, we move into our lovely hotel room. Ragna relaxes on the huge empty balcony, then sheds road dust in the large bathtub and comfortable bathroom. I go for a walk.
A walk along the waterfront, late on a sunny afternoon, is another delight. Beside the two hotels, the marine parade contains another huge old building someone has just bought to restore into another hotel, as well as several smaller old buildings, neat and inviting. Boys are playing soccer barefoot on the beach, a few municipal workers are sweeping dust from the walk, the occasional lovers are holding each other or looking at the sea, and a few disappointed vendors offer handicrafts or snacks to a non-existent crowd. Almost the only adult enjoying the place is an older man
reading a newspaper so intently that I photograph him too. I pass a small park and the steps of the church, across the street from the building we toured earlier in the afternoon, and venture out on the pier. (It costs one sole, and is made of huge, thick old boards with sufficiently wide cracks between them that a woman with high heels would be in serious trouble, and even I watch where I’m walking.) I meet a fisherman, and chat with him as long as my limited Spanish permits; I shoot too many photos of the beach football game and the sun setting behind the anchored fishing fleet. I am absorbed in what I’m doing. I feel comfortable here.
In the evening J and S join us. We are instant friends. We talk and laugh well into the night.
We also gain insight into the place. J__ was born here, and although S__ was raised in Lima she lived here early in their married life. They have returned recently from Australia, after many years there. It’s clear that they both miss Australia; but it’s also clear that J__ is a big man in this small town, where he knows almost everybody. He enjoys being here, and he enjoys greeting almost everyone who walks or drives past, and he enjoys his relative wealth and status in the town he grew up in; but it’s small, and he knows it, and he misses what Australia had to offer. S__ – who didn’t grow up here and hasn’t so much professional work to divert her – is less torn: she’d rather be in Australia, where two of her three children are and where there’s more to do.
Their house has two lower floors, currently empty except for a Chilean woman who is going home in a few days, and we discuss leaving our stuff there when we go up to Cajamarca, and perhaps renting the rooms for days or weeks.
The next morning we set off for Cajamarca. It sits high in the mountains, far from anywhere most foreigners go. It’s said to be a lush and beautiful valley, but its fame arises from the fact that in Cajamarca, in 1532, Francisco Pizarro captured Atahualpa, the Inca [emperor]. [Note: to continue in chronological order, feel free to read 5: Cajamarca [30 April to 2 May] before reading the remainder of 4: Pacasmayo.]
Everywhere we drive or sit, J is constantly and enthusiastically greeting friends. He knows everyone and is known by everyone. He is very much in his element here, a prominent man in his home town, although he speaks enthusiastically of their time in Australia.
We drive up to the cemetery. It affords a fine view of the town and the harbor. J disappears, and S tells us he still goes to visit his father there. Knocks on the wall as if to let his father know he’s there, and probably talks to him. Both of them believe in God, but worship a little unconventionally. We stroll through the place. It is
Approaching from the car, I notice some writing on one wall. S tells us that the former mayor, an artist and good friend, wrote it.
Por mas que critiques, envidies y blasfemes esta será fu ultimamorada. Y si tú eres digno de amar a Dios, ama a tu prójimo, cuida tu vida y no maldigas lo que con mucho amor hacen los demás por tí
The more that you criticize, envy, and blaspheme, this will be your ultimate destination. And if you are worthy of the love of God, love your neighbor, take care in your life, and do not curse that which others have made for you.
There are many paintings on the exterior walls. S tell us that the former mayor painted a lot of paintings up here, or had them painted. They were not so religious, but more in the spirit of what he wrote – showing people from all walks of life who would end up here. It sounds like a visual Spoon River Anthology, and I wish we could see them; but since his time as mayor the town has painted those over with more conventionally religious scenes.
In the afternoon we go out to a smaller town just north of Pacasmayo, Jecapeque, where Jimmy and Marika have a horse ranch with 34 horses. Many are highly-trained Peruvian stepping horses with the odd gait that supposedly makes riding them far smoother than riding other horses.
It’s a great place, not far from the sea and surrounded by fields stretching away toward dunes. Recent rains have created a small lake out back, so deep and natural that we’d have assumed there was always a pond there. One of the fellows who works there gallops back and forth along the dirt road we’d driven in on.
Jimmy and other experts explain various points about the horses and their gear. Ragna videotapes the horse and rider, and the large black dogs delighted by so much company.
It’s peaceful here. I have no difficulty understanding why Jimmy wants to be here every weekend.
They bring out a slightly older and more fully trained horse and I ride out of sight and back a couple of times. Splendid. Each time I do not feel like turning around and riding back to them.
When I return, I extoll the virtues of the Peruvian stepping horse – and honestly.
I have mentioned to them that the last time I rode, in the Navajo nation, I fell off the horse. When I get down today, S announces their general disappointment that I’ve provided no such entertainment today.
Later another man rides for awhile, then backs the horse into the new lagoon, where the horse, followed by two of the dogs, prances around for awhile in a couple of feet of water.
It’s a great afternoon. Watching Jimmy with his horses gives almost as much pleasure as he himself is having. He shows us all of them, including one whose racing or performing career was ended by ignorant vets in Europe. His horse had been shipped there, and had an ankle problem, and the vets – ignorant of the Peruvian stepping horse – mishandled the situation so badly, thinking the horse’s natural hoof was somehow injured because it wasn’t like those on the horses around Europe, that the hoof is now completely misshapen, almost backward.
The sun sets behind the dunes, and we drive back into town, with loose plans to meet again for drinks at the Hotel Estacion Pacasmayo Hotel restaurant.
On the hotel’s front porch we talk at length with Jimmy and Marika. We speak of his frenetic work schedule [in a single week he may be in Trujillo, Chiclayo, Pacasmayo, and Cajamarca], horses [of course! – including a fun story in which the Ecuadorean ambassador, a horseman, went off riding with their eldest son, despite the misgivings of his staff and security people, then was out far longer than he’d said, sparking even deeper frowns from the staff, despite Jimmy’s reassurances; and of course the Ambassador returned, an hour late and rather dirty, but quite happy], their kids / grandkids in Switzerland [whom they will visit soon, and brujas. [She’s been to Huancabamba to see brujas’ ceremonies, at a lake it takes ten hours of bad dirt roads to get to from Piura. He has no interest at all]. And they discuss their lives.
Their story is romantic, though told in a very understated way. Marika points out that they lost everything in the land reform of General ________ in 1969, when she was 18. As Jimmy’s father was the largest landowner in the area, they came for his place first. Suddenly a very prominent family was reduced to more limited means – given some paper with vague and unkept promises of future compensation. Given some warning, Marika’s family “stole everything we owned”: in a series of stealthy late-night episodes, they drove tractors and cattle north to Chiclayo to sell for what they could get, aware that their own lands would soon be seized. Even so, the family’s reduced means canceled her plan to study at a German university, and left her studying secretarial skills to work at the local cement factory.
On the plus side, she smiles, they know now – having struggled to build their lives up to a very comfortable position, that “Everything we have, we worked for. We made.”
As we talk, a poor man stands staring at me, trying to make eye contact to ask for a handout. I resist, partly because I’m uncertain how our friends feel about such intruders. (Earlier, when a kid approached the table, presumably for a “propina,” Jimmy quietly sent him away.) At the same time, the man’s silent patience appeals to me. He stands there a long time before the others notice him. When they do, Jimmy goes into the restaurant. I fear he will ask the waiter to tell the man to leave, and regret that I haven’t given him something. But Jimmy returns with a coin for the fellow, whom they tell us is likely an alcoholic.
I was, of course, moved by their story. I thought about the 18-year-old girl, dreaming of a German university then working at the local cement factory. I also thought of 1969. I was then a young antiwar radical in the U.S. If I heard anything of the land reform program in Peru, I undoubtedly applauded it. I doubt I’d have contemplated the pain it caused individuals losing their land and dreams.
I muse also on the international backgrounds of our friends here. J’s father was born in China, and came to Peru as a small child with J’s grandfather. Both Jimmy’s father and Marika’s grandfather came here from Switzerland, where their kids now live. I think Jimmy’s mother or grandmother was an American, whom his father or grandfather met at Cornell. Marika lived four years in California as a kid, Jimmy lived in Switzerland for a few years, and J and S have lived many years in Australia and a few in Europe.
Later that night, I read on the Internet that the filly Eight Belles has collapsed with two broken forelegs after finishing second in the Derby. I think of Jimmy and his wounded mare.
The better hotels are the Hotel Pakatnamú and the Estación Pacasmayo Hotel. The latter seems to be more of a local favorite, and certainly has more of a restaurant. Inexpensive meals in a wonderful location. The hotel room at the P was fine, but for whatever we paid, more than S/ 100, they ought to be able to get the shower working better – but they actually had a bathtub.