We, however, had fallen in love with tranquilo. We moved to Huanchaco for six weeks this November to teach photography for Fairmail. The organization is located in Trujillo, but the busy city with its traffic and casinos and pushy tour operators didn’t appeal to us. We opted to live a 30-minute bus ride away, within view of those sunsets.
|A man works on his caballito de toro, the traditional fishing boat. (click to enlarge)|
In Huanchaco, there are the back streets where locals conduct their business; there is the “tourist row” of Calle Los Pinos, stuffed with hostels, pizza joints and hamburger cafes; and there is the waterfront malecón, where the two worlds mix to form a third. The malecón is a beach-resort world, where Peruvian tourists flock on sunny summer weekends to create a carefree air. Have a pisco sour with your breakfast ceviche! Spend the day surfing, or drink beer while watching people surf!
The malecón is crowded with surf shops and two-story restaurants where you can sit on a balcony high above the visual pollution of passing cars and telephone wires (though not the noise pollution of the buses). During the day these restaurants serve ceviche fresh from the waves in front of you, and at night they set up portable grills in the street to lure you in with sizzling slabs of fish and beef.
The salt wind and sun are hard on the cities of Peru’s north coast. In Huanchaco, they strip away the finish on the sidewalks until they are pitted and choked with cement dust, and they and eat at bricks until only a latticework of mortar remains.
|Building up Huancacho. (click to enlarge)|
Because of this, and the increase in tourism, Huanchaco is a town under construction. Buildings are being thrown up, vast constructions of brick and cement and rebar. Piles of sand, cement and rubble obstruct the sidewalks, each day moving from place to place and changing the pedestrian geography of the town. In our time there I learned to recognize a new sound: the metallic hissing of rebar being dragged through the street from the back of a mototaxi.
There is a distinct difference between the sunny weekend Huanchaco and the one that we lived in everyday. On the weekends, massive tour buses truck in Peruvian tourists by the hundreds to buy trinkets and splash in the ocean, and the tiny town bursts at the seems. The beach is full, glutted with bright bathing suits and towels and umbrellas. Children in sand-filled underwear build castles at the water’s edge to be lapped by the waves, and young couples lay close together on blankets, half-naked and oblivious of the rest of the world. Bars and restaurants we have eaten at alone for weeks suddenly don’t have a single free table.
During the weekdays, however, the foreign surfers have the waves all to themselves, and the fishermen spread their nets on the empty beach for mending. In Peru’s spring months, the sun also seemed to know that the weekend was over, and it would disappear, becoming only a wan point struggling through the cloud cover. On the weekend, the fishermen make their money taking tourists out on their caballitos de totora, keeping to the shallows but still eliciting screams of delight as the unstable little boats rocked with the waves. But now it’s back to fishing. They’ve lost their glamour.
What the weekenders don’t see is the quiet back roads just a few blocks off the malecón where women in heels lead their children home from school, where cleaning crews in neon orange jump suits sit with their lunches, gossiping, where old fishermen tie totora reeds into where locals shop the tiny market for fresh produce and where skinned pigs hang from hooks next to restaurant counters.
The weekends can be fun, but it is the tranquilo weekdays that I loved, when the day’s work was done, and we would make the unimaginably far hike of five blocks to sit on the beach at sunset. No one is within sight on the beach, though we hear a bus rumble by, hidden by the verge of sand.
Out in the slate-bronze-rose waves, surfers and fishermen are finishing their days. The fishermen are pulling in their nets, and the surfers are bobbing out beyond the breakers, waiting. They are black silhouettes against the pastel clouds, rising one by one to the crest of the swells to catch that last, glorious ride home to shore.