Sube, sube, sube! Huanchaco, Huanchaco, Huanchaco!
This was a familiar call from the combi* hustlers from my 3 months in Huanchaco in 2008 with 12 other Duke students volunteering with Engineers Without Borders. It was a bit of a strange feeling to be back to a place in a completely different context – honestly, I never thought that I would make it back to this small fishing village. I was curious to see how much (if anything) would seem familiar – I had kept in touch with a couple of people, but what would it be like 5 years later?
I messaged my friend Robby a few times before arriving – he was my best Huanchaqueran friend from 2008. He had mentioned that his aunt may be able to house Matt and me but the internet at La Casona was sparse so we hadn’t confirmed and arrived prepared to stay at a hostel if needed. Our bus got in much earlier than expected, so we walked around for a few hours before calling Robby at 730AM. To my surprise (and delight), he had been awake for a while and said to wait for him as he came to meet us on the beach.
Quick aside on Robby – he was my Spanish professor and was very patient with my questions and note taking that summer. He was always looking out for our best interest, and always made sure we had fun and were safe in his hometown. 5 years later, I saw him walking down the street and we started running towards each other into a hug – it was so great to see him again! We walked up to the town on the hill above Huanchaco to his aunt’s house! Matt and I were pretty groggy from the lack of sleep, but so extremely grateful to have a place to stay. We had no idea what to expect, but Robby’s aunt, Natalia embraced us immediately and we were extremely humbled by their entire family’s hospitality.
We had the pleasure of having some authentic Peruvian home cooked goodness, and had a chance to swap a few recipes of our own! Lots and lots of kitchen time, but more to come in a separate post. Delicious food aside, we were also able to spend a lot of time with Robby’s cousins, Miguel and Luis. Miguel and Luis were so incredibly welcoming and they graced us with their company at the beach, around the mercados, and out for a night in the town. It was apparent that Huanchaco had expanded, but after a couple days, things seemed familiar again. There were new buildings, but Cherry’s still had amazing chocolate cake for s/2, my favorite vegetarian hippy joint was still there, and I even visited the old surf school (albeit a humbling experience, as the owner tried his best to act like he remembered me but I was just another one of the hundreds of tourists from years past).
Most the days were spent relaxing. During the day, Robby had to work, but Miguel and Luis were nice enough to walk with us around the beach, showing us their favorite spots and helping navigate the bus system. At night, we went to happy hour with Robby and Miguel for s/2 maracuya (passion fruit!) pisco sours at a local hostel. There was a live band, and I ran into Carlos, another friend from 2008 (I forget what a small town Huanchaco is!). Matt and I haven’t explored too much night life, so it was fun change of pace. The night would not have been complete without a little cumbia (poorly danced on my part) – thanks Carlos!
Huanchaco was another relaxing stop. We did take a few short day trips – Matt and I got to visit Chan Chan, only a 10-minute ride from Huanchaco. It’s hard to imagine people living in the desert with these 20-foot high mud walls with such intricate etchings. I am amazed at how well it has been preserved these years.
Matt and I ventured a couple hours to nearby Chicama, one of the main reasons Matt was so excited to surf Peru. We arrived and it had incredible cliffs overlooking the water. But, another windy, hostile environment that surfers flock to. What is this obsession that drives surfers to go out of their way to see waves even in inhospitable places? I went on a long beach walk as Matt enjoyed 2 hours of his biggest surf-dream, ending on the longest wave of his life.
We had several (much sunnier) beach days with Robby, Miguel and Luis. We played a creative game of volleyball with an imaginary net and practiced a bit of yoga.
Natalia and her husband, Angel were such great hosts. She stays at home most days tending to their animals (100+ pigeons in their backyard that fly to the roof on command). She shared a lot about her experiences growing up in Peru, and was extremely fascinated with the notion that Matt’s family had a lot of beef cows at home. Angel is a native Huanchaquero and comes from a long line of caballito fishermen. He educates tourists about their history and sells mini replicas. He takes great pride in the tradition and was nice enough to share a ‘how its made’ and send us off with a few souvenirs. We met him on the beach and he let Matt surf a caballito – definitely a first even for this surfer!
Huanchaco was just the relaxing stop we needed. We have been humbled time and time again by people’s outpouring generosity. Natalia, Angel, Miguel, Luis, Robby, and Eduardo were more than welcoming – we cannot thank them enough! I only hope that we are able to return the gesture of kindness in the future!
*Combis (white passenger vans used for public transportation) are filled to the brim with people, as drivers are paid per passenger. The combis usually have a driver and a helper (I call them hustlers) who yells and solicits the bus to potential riders and collects the money.