Enter: Lobitos, Peru. In the 1900s, Lobitos was an oil boom town with South America’s first cinema, a casino, the works. Surprised you haven’t heard of it? Well, fast-forward and now it is a ghost town except for the hundreds of surfers/windsurfers seeking the perfect wave. Matt found a volunteer opportunity at La Casona, a 100-year old mansion turned hostel. I looked at the photos of the place, it is situated at the top of the hill with a perfect view of the ocean. Well, all of Coastal Peru is harsh desert, so might as well spend a week with a perfect view of the ocean.
Only once we started driving 45 minutes down a dirt road did I realize we would really be in the middle of nowhere. We arrived the same time as Mathis, a 20-year old French traveler. For newcomers, the first day is a day to relax and enjoy. Matt immediately jumped into the water, so I went on a walk to “discover Lobitos.” What I discovered is there were 4 little bodegas (snack shops), tons of surf hostels, a surf statue and the end.
The first night, there were 7 volunteers from all over the world and 0 guests. The sunset was beautiful, we were fed this delicious dinner, and I (finally) learned the rules of poker. Sure, why wouldn’t we stay – paradise found? La Casona still had a few tricks up her sleeve.
As I slept soundly the first night (in 5 layers of clothing + socks, Lobitos is freezing at night!), Matt woke up seven times to use the bathroom (sorry, TMI). He still managed to wake up at 6AM for a morning surf, so I didn’t think anything of it. Tuesday is a day of rest for volunteers; the restaurant is closed and there were no guests to look after, but since it was our first day, Mathis, Matt and I were on duty. Chores meant 2 hours of cleaning in the morning (bathrooms, sheets, sweeping, etc) and a 3 hour shift manning the bar/cash register. Our first day was bathrooms. The bathrooms weren’t as horrible as I imagined, though I will admit I cleaned more in a week than I have the past year combined – we’ve been spoiled with a lovely cleaning lady at home.
Oh yes, and did I mention, there is no running water in Lobitos? There is a tank of water outside, and the water pump is filled only 3 times a week. This includes all water to wash dishes, flush the toilet, boil for tea, wash clothes, shower (aka watering can with a string to pull). All the cleaning activities were modified in a way to adjust for the conservation of water which lead to modified standards of hygiene. Since leaving La Casona, people have warned of us the hygiene in non-tourist restaurants, but we figure if we survived a week there, we can have the street food in the cities.
Matt was a zombie, getting progressively worse throughout the day and eventually just stayed in bed for two days but was never quite himself that week. The days started to run together, Lobitos was a this bizarre paradise. It was uncanny how quickly we fell into a routine – a nice change after traveling every morning. Matt would wake up to surf, I would do morning yoga on the front porch, minimal cleaning (as there were no/few guests), and the night shifts were spent socializing with the other volunteers.
Each volunteer there added a bit to our experience at La Casona. Tash, the free-spirited Kiwi, gave the great advice of getting in the water at least once a day. We jumped from the pier on her last day.
Flo taught me how to play poker and then won all our money the next night. The cooks, Janesa and Mauricio, were two new lovers who had met in Ecuador, and would prepare a delicious dinner for volunteers every night. I felt a bit protective of Mathis, and I was impressed that he was mature enough at 20 to travel solo across South America. It was awesome to watch him and a few other travelers have an impromptu jam session. Flor and Simone were two gentle Swiss souls who would allow me to join some of their evening walks. Jenny and Lisa were great company as we cleaned windows and dazzled us with their juggling and card tricks.
And there was Kala, who Matt and I have dubbed the chain-smoking surfing pirate. He has been chasing waves all his life, moving from one place to the next. When Matt was in college, it was his dream to be a surf pirate bum, but he ended up in Manhattan Beach where a job is a necessity. We were warned of Kala’s mood swings and temper tantrums, but Matt and I managed to stay under the radar and even in his good graces. Even in our very short week there, we saw several groups come and go, I can only imagine what a strange, temporal existence it must be for Kala.
Matt and I got in our first, real travel fight in Lobitos. I mentioned that this entire time, I had served as the translator and was getting annoyed that his Spanish was not improving. I projected my own values onto him and perceived it as him not wanting to learn more about the culture. To me, language is a beautiful way to be able to connect with others. One of my goals was to meet people along the way, and implicit in that would be speaking Spanish. For him, language is not as much of a priority and he prefers to spend more time introspectively observing and seeing new things. Then it came to traveling style – I prefer slow travel and don’t mind staying in one place for an extended period of time, whereas Matt gets restless and wants to see more. I think the anxiety of covering so much of South America in only 4 months was making me panic. But why? There is no check box, and it is impossible to see everything South America has to offer. I am really excited to see Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe on our year sabbatical, so we came to the agreement it is important to not over plan and keep flexibility, but also to understand we only have a certain amount of time. We both agreed to remain present and enjoy this time we have set aside for this adventure – him without worrying about places we may miss, and me without worrying about our time frame.
Our bus to Trujillo left from Talara, the closest city to Lobitos. We sat in the Plaza de Armas to pass a few hours before our 10PM bus, and we noticed two women and a boy staring at us. They eventually start talking to me, and the first lady is in my face, touching my jacket. I regretfully admit that my first (paranoid) instinct is, this is a ploy, they are trying to distract me so that they can take something. One turns out to be the lady who guards the plants – makes sure people/children are not trampling the bushes or flowers. The other guards these no longer functioning power wheels in which children can pay s/1 to be pushed around the main fountain 7 revolutions. The boy is her son, and helps push the children in the cars around the fountain. It was fascinating to me how popular the cars were! All of the cars were manually pushed, but these kids had absolute looks of joy on their faces. The ladies told me a bit about their lives in Talara and were eager to learn more about our travels and thoughts on Peru. We traded Facebook info, but unfortunately I was not able to find her.