Old meets new: Fishing and surfing on horses in Huanchaco


_This article was originally published in the September issue of An Extra Shot. To enjoy the entire issue for free,_ :http://register.peruthisweek.com/anextrashot.php

Whilst not exactly the type of real life stallions that immediately spring to mind, these ‘little reed horses’ are even more renowned than their real-life counterparts of the Grand National! The artisan fishing boats of Trujillo’s popular Huanchaco beach got their names – _caballitos de totora_ – from the way the fisherman would sit astride with their feet hanging in the water. They are still used today as important fishing vessels by local people, proving that even 3000-year-old traditions survive the test of time.

Since the ancient Mochica people began making their boats from the practical tule (a swamp-loving reed still grown and sourced from the nearby environmental reserve of Huanchaco), their crafting method has been passed down through generations. Interestingly, the same reed is also used by the Uru people to make the floating houses and islands on southern Peru’s Lake Titicaca. In a classic case of ‘moving with the times,’ the use of these accomplished techniques has been adapted for another purpose by Huanchaco’s modern boatmen, who make and rent them to tourists as surfboards.

Today, the _caballito_ surf-tourism industry is booming, with Huanchaco beach being named a world surfing reserve in 2013. It has a variety of beach-front surf shops, cheap lessons and equipment rental (the whole package can be purchased for S/ 60-80 for the day), eager wave-enthusiasts travel from all corners of the globe to try out the caballitos. Even if surfing is not your passion, you can pay the fisherman a few soles to take you out on the boats.

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_(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Melissa Thereliz)_

So highly celebrated are the famous reed horses that visitors to the annual festival in Lambayeque arrive excitedly in throngs of thousands to watch the children of the region’s fisherman compete in the junior _caballito de totora_ competition.

The original fisherman would traditionally stand up to ride the surf back to shore at the end of a days’ work: a custom which has seemingly paved the way for contemporary surfing. Although hardcore surfers continue to debate if this was truly the beginning of the sport, it seems highly likely that its roots are planted in the early practices of the original totora fisherman.

On any given day on Huanchaco beach, you can walk along the shore and encounter both traditional and contemporary _caballito_ customs: The totora fisherman trawling on their boats for the days’ catches and surfers hectically paddling out to sea to conquer the wave crests. In any case, it’s hard not to appreciate the fact that such an early tradition has maintained its presence alongside the inevitable development of tourism in the region. Ultimately, whether riding on a ‘little reed horse’ to catch fish, or standing up on one to surf a wave, the _caballitos de totora_ are just as symbolic today as they were centuries ago.

How to get there:

_Lima – Trujillo_: Flights are typically no longer than one and a half hours and can be found with the largest airlines in Peru (LAN, Avianca). Bus services are also available and will set you back about 9 hours. All major bus terminals will end in Trujillo’s center, and from there a 20-minute bus (S/ 1) or taxi ride (S/ 12-15) can take you to your beach destination.

_Cusco – Trujillo_: Flights will make a stop in Lima before continuing north to the final destination, making the trip range from 3- 5 hours. If you have nothing but time on your hands, first take a bus from Cusco to Lima (20 hours), followed by another from the capital city to Trujillo.

_This article was originally published in the September issue of An Extra Shot. To enjoy the entire issue for free,_ _download your e-version here._
These little reed horses are full of history and making waves with yearly competitions along the coast of Northern Peru.



Natasha grew up in a suburb of Chicago and moved to Peru two years ago and studied Bilingual Administrative Assistance and General Management at the British Academy. In her spare time she loves to be with family and her maltese, Maya.