Last Days in Huanchaco

It’s hard to believe that we have been here for a month. When it’s been cloudy and cold, it feels like more than a month, but lately the sun has been out and it’s been gorgeous. It makes me not want to leave, but there’s more to do and see. I’ve been getting some surfing lessons in between bouts of being sick again (apparently you don’t really get immune in this town..the only person I’ve met that says they don’t get sick anymore has been here 3 years. Our newest place of residence has been great. We’re next door to the mini-market and have made some good meals here, especially since we have use of a kitchen with an oven (lasagna with homemade ricotta; roasted ullocoa (i thought they were potatoes); homemade gnocchi; black-eyed pea and quinoa fritters). I loved having a tub. I doubt I’ll see another one again. Our duena was a bit neurotic with signs everywhere about keeping things clean and talking about Jesus. But overall, she stayed out of our way and was genuinely nice, until the last day when we didn’t leave town until 9:30pm because of our bus. She wanted us out of the room but there were some miscommunications and we just left and hung out with Scott across the street at Cafe Chaska to try some of His NY style pizza (he’s from New Paltz). His girlfriend makes the best chicha morada we’ve had so far and I was able to get the recipe from her (look on my food blog). He also sold us some sangre de grado, which is a tree sap from the jungle that is an anti-bacterial. Matt cut his toe really bad playing soccer and our surf instructor gave him some to help his foot. I was sick for our last two days in town and Scott said it would help kill the bad stuff in my stomach. I took some before the 6 hour bus ride but I’m not sure if it helped because I took 2 Imodium a-d’s and drank an emoliente. I was good for the first 5 hours, but I had to make the bus driver pull off in the middle of the mountains for me. I finally took my doctor’s medicine and I am now 100% better.

But let’s talk about the last few days in Huanchaco…when I was healthy. My last day at work was Halloween and I didn’t have to cook, just help decorate the restaurant and paint people’s faces when they came in. I got to paint a dracula, a spider man and a wild cat. I painted eyeballs on my eyelids and had vampire teeth. I don’t really know what I was,but most people weren’t dressed up for the party anyways. I would have liked to have had an elaborate costume, but I didn’t have access to a sewing machine or materials to make something for one night. Plus, I didn’t want to carry it for 5 more months on my back. Overall, working at the restaurant was fun. I learned a lot of kitchen vocabulary and some new recipes. I also learned to ignore all of my safety and sanitation classes while cooking (not because I wanted to). To sum it up, nothing’s really refrigerated and there’s no hot water for washing dishes. I got to have some more restaurant experience (and confirmed, yet again, that I don’t want to live work in a restaurant). I didn’t get as many responsibilities as I thought I would have. I did a lot of veggie prep and dishes and by the last week I was able to cook a complete order. I wasn’t able to create any specials like I was promised, but I did take a few recipes with me that I liked (their pan de la casa was great, it had quinoa, kiwicha, cornmeal, flaxseeds). But in the big picture, I’m glad the tips went to charity and Matt and I ate there enough to help out some local group.

The party was lots of fun. Halloween is big here, not as big as in the US, but big enough considering it doesn’t have any roots in Peru. Kids get dressed up and run around yelling “Halloween” (they can’t say trick or treat). There are plenty of stores in Trujillo that have masks and accessories. Finding a complete costume if you are bigger than a child’s 14 is difficult. We decorated the restaurant with spiders, bats, and lots of yarn to resemble spiderwebs. Peter, one of the creators of Otra Cosa (who will be returning to the Netherlands next year) was the DJ and the mix of music was interesting. Salsa, reggaeton, 80′s and some random Dutch songs that were amusing, at least to watch the Dutch people dance to it (it would be like our early 90′s music). We danced a lot and the party ended about 2:30am. Afterwards, a group of people were going to a large salsa party on a basketball court, but Matt and I decided we would rather go to bed.

The night before we left, we had a little going away party at La Tribu, the local hangout and hostal owned by artist/philosopher/sculptor Luis. He has a little fire pit in the restaurant and we spent most of the evening talking around the fire. A group of obnoxious American study abroad kids ended up there, ruining our little cozy atmosphere. Two girls took San Pedro, a hallucinogenic cactus, and started freaking out and eventually left the bar (thank god) to only wander around town. It’s interesting how different the volunteer crowd is from the study abroad crowd. I’m glad I’m in the volunteer crowd-the people are interesting, genuine and fun to be around. It’s definitely bittersweet leaving Huanchaco. We have made some good friends and it’ll be hard to leave such a strong international community, where there’s always someone around to share stories, meals and experiences. Luckily, I have a travel partner, so we won’t be alone.

Surfing and Salsa

Now that my body has (hopefully) become immunized to the Huanchaco bacteria and the weather is warming up, I’ve decided to give surfing another try. The first time was really frustrating. I was shivering under my wetsuit and sick. I didn’t understand the enjoyment when 90% of my time was spent paddling back to the ocean, fighting the current and the waves. It’s a lot of work just to (maybe) catch a wave for 10 seconds. But, Matt’s been going pretty often and we get a discount on lessons and rentals from Un Lugar…so I thought I’d give it another go.
So now I’ve had 3 lessons and it’s much more fun.

Juan Carlos is the teacher, he runs Un Lugar Surf School and has a LOT of energy. Sometimes it’s overwhelming because I spend all my energy paddling back to the ocean and as soon as I reach him, it’s “This wave’s beautiful, start paddling and catch it!” I can’t complain, I’m getting my money’s worth. But it is exhausting! When Matt and I go alone, we take lots of time to relax on the surfboards (mainly because we’re learning how to read the waves). It’s fun to try to catch the waves on my own, but I don’t really catch as many as when I’m with Juan Carlos (sometimes he pushes me into the wave to give me speed). Right now my little cheat when I’m alone is to place myself right in the crash zone so I don’t have to rely on my wimpy paddling skills. Then the wave crashes and I either catch the wave or the wave catches me and I’m thrown off the board. I’m still on the big soft longboard, so it floats very nicely. I’m standing up no problem; I just need to learn how to paddle into the wave. I’m already feeling my ex-circus muscles waking up. Our discount with the school is great (because we’re volunteering with Otra Cosa). For a set price (about $80) we get 6 2-hour lessons and unlimited use of the boards and wetsuits, forever. So if we come back to Huanchaco in a month, it’s cool. If we come back in a few years, it’s cool. Impressive since to have ONE lesson in Hawaii, it’s $155 for 2 hours. I refused to pay that.

Another plus is that Juan Carlos provides free surf lessons, board rentals and wetsuits to the children in Huanchaco who can’t afford it. He’s training some of them to compete in surfing competitions to show them a different route in life. And he has a green parrot named Maria, who laughs and says Hola; we’re becoming friends.

We’ve also had our introduction to dancing. We’ve been to La Barra in Trujillo twice now. It’s one of those all night discotecas. I have a hard time staying up past 11pm and this weekend we were there until 5am! I think if I have an activity to do, like dance, I can stay up past my bedtime. Salsa seems to be the most popular dance style here (good thing Matt and I took some classes! Now we need to just relearn all the steps). David, the head of Espaanglish (where Matt teaches English), LOVES to salsa. I’ve danced with him a few times, and it’s lots of fun. He’s teaching Matt some funky new turns. I learned Cumbia, which doesn’t sound like salsa Or merengue. Cumbia has more horns and I can’t do it very well. I really enjoy dancing salsa so far. I forget how much fun dancing is until I’m in the environment. I’m lucky that Matt likes to dance and that we’ve taken so many classes together.

So…that’s where most of our free time has been besides sleeping. We move on to a new project in less than a week!

Ruinous Excitement

I am proud to say we chose the cuarto without the cockroaches and dirt. It did seem like a fun place, but we can always visit for a beer than retreat to our santuary. We have our own room with a table next to a window overlooking a courtyard of plants. We have a bathroom attached to the room that has a TUB as well as a hot water faucet. Amazing! I must take a bath soon. Plus the room is so much warmer, being on the second floor with windows that close. No dogs on the roof and only one day this week was there construction at 7am…but it was next door, not outside our room. We have access to a lovely roof with a clothesline and views of the ocean. We are sharing the kitchen with the owner and her 20 year old daughter. They are quiet, nice and don’t bug us all the time like Wilma did. (And it’s only 30 cents more a day than Wilma’s!) Plus, in the house there are 3 other sets of couples and a solo computer programmer guy (It’s a big place, but somehow less noisy than where we were). All in all, we are much healthier, happier, warmer and less stressed. We also live next to the best market in town, El Hornito. So any late night cravings for plantain chips can be satisfied. We’re still one block from the beach, but my walk to work is about 15 minutes now.

We have been busy with our volunteer work as well as making time for adventures. This past weekend we visited the Huaca del Sol (y la Luna), which are Moche temples built at the base of a rocky mountain (Cerro Blanco). The Moche people lived from 200 BC to 850 ad and are known for their ceramics, textiles and metalwork. Gold here isn’t found in nuggets, it’s in pieces like mica. So they would just build a big fire and extract the metal out and make impressive breastplates and other accessories out of it.

I’m impressed how advanced they were with the buildings and artwork and how they lived in an organized community with a strong religion. The Huaca del Sol is the largest single pre-Columbian structure in Peru, but about a third of it has been washed away from wind and rain (mud houses DO need some upkeep). It looks like a rough pyramid and it was made completely of mud bricks (estimated 140 million bricks for one pyramid). The thing that amazed me the most visiting the Huaca is that about every 100 years, the Moche people would fill up the current temple with bricks and build a new temple on top of it. The Huaca del Sol has 5 layers, which means 5 temples built upon each other. So all of the previous temples are beautifully preserved because they were covered with bricks. The top of the 5th and final temple was washed away, so we couldn’t really see much of the top of the pyramid. The tour was really interesting because the archaeologists can’t fully expose a previous layer without destroying the current layer. There was one part in the tour where we walked through a giant crack in the North wall, the only designed entrance to the temple, and you can see in the bricks the colors painted on the previous walls. They exposed the layers of the main wall in a way you can see all 5 buildings with their individual carvings and designs. It was beautiful (and scary).
Most of the friezes were of their angry saber-toothed god, Ayapec, and a few of decapitations, naked slaves and shiny happy people holding hands. From the upper level, we could see the ruins of the walls of the village were the common people lived, and the Huaca de la Luna, which still looks like a pyramid and is not open to the public yet. Archaeologists are still slowly digging away, which means there will always be more to see in the future. I think it’s crazy how many ruins are in Peru and have barely been explored. I think most of the sites are waiting for some rich person to will all their money for excavations. I really enjoyed seeing the Huacas, and it was a fun public bus ride through a tiny village of Moche descendants. The Moche built an elaborate irrigation system from the river, and the village around the Huacas is lush, with lots of farms and plants and GREEN. Such a contrast from our current desert dwellings.

Last week we went to see Chan Chan, which is located in between Trujillo and Huanchaco. This place did not have the irrigation nor any communities living close to the ruins. It was dry and dusty. The main road actually cuts through one of the temples, so anyone who commutes to Trujillo or Huanchaco sees the ruins every day. Chan Chan consisted of 9 royal compounds, and only one is restored and available for the public. Chan Chan was not pyramidal like the Huacas, it has high thick walls and it’s a bit maze-like with a lot of hallways and rooms. Since there weren’t any roofs, most of Chan Chan has been eroded by the weather. There was no colorful friezes (although they used to be colored) and most of the friezes were restored (where the Huacas were all original). Their artwork on the walls was less angry God man and more ocean art (pelicans, sea otters, fish and fishnets). The ruins were built around 1300 ad and covered over 28 sq km, which is HUGE. It’s really hard to believe that this many people, without cranes or brick building factories, had accomplished this much work. I am quite the lazy modernized American. It was neat to see the ruins, especially since it’s the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world (according the Lonely Planet). The coolest part of Chan Chan was when we came upon the well. Everything so far in the tour was dry, dusty and eroded. Then we entered this area with basically an Olympic sized swimming pool filled with totora reeds, lily pads and silly ducks that ran on the water and dove under the water for minutes at a time. I had been wondering what a culture living near the ocean did for fresh water and now I know. The Chimu people (of Chan Chan) just kept digging until they hit the groundwater and filled a large enough area to grown their reeds for their fishing boats and have drinking water. There were 3 wells built in the compound we visited, but we only saw the biggest and coolest one. There was a sacrificial alter near the well, too. There’s always the sacrificial alter, which is sad. I don’t know how they choose, but it’s always their own people they kill to appease the gods for more rain. Oh, and the Chimu people lived from 850 ad to 1470 ad. They seemed to be more interested in making huge buildings with lots of walls than elaborate paintings or pottery. They did do a lot more metalwork, as they found a lot of gold and silver buried with the kings (as well as 40 bodies with one king). The Chimu people were eventually conquered by the Incas and seemed to have just died out. I don’t really know why so many distinct cultures in Peru just disappeared, perhaps I will find a guide one day with the answer. So far it’s either warfare, weather, famine or the Spaniards.

Or the dinosaurs ate them all up.

Things that I miss

I love to travel and don’t mind roughing it, but I thought I’d share a few comforts that I miss back home:

  • Eating the peels on fruits and vegetables
  • Putting toilet paper in the toilet, not a stinky little trash can
  • Sealed windows, indoor heating
  • A hot water faucet in addition to the cold faucet (instead of one faucet: it’s a little different washing plates without hot or even warm water)
  • Not being afraid to get diarrhea every time I eat
  • Drinking water out of the tap
  • Bathtubs
  • A washing machine in the house
  • Having a freezer
  • Red ale and IPA beer
  • dark chocolate!
  • a garden or even a yard
  • toilet paper in every public bathroom (including theaters and restaurants)
  • not having to pay to pee in a hole in a ground

Don’t get me wrong, I’m surviving just fine. There’s plenty of things I don’t miss, like having a car or a schedule or working an 8 or more hour day.


We have been eating rather well and I felt like a warrior the first week in Peru. We did what locals told us not to do (drink the tap water, walk around ruins without a paid guide, walk around at night), not because we’re stubborn or unbelieving, but more so that we haven’t really encountered anything we felt unsafe about. When someone tells you strawberries are poison but you just ate a bunch a few days earlier and were fine, you think people are just being overly cautious of our gringo bellies. We were fine with steri-pen-ing our tap water in Lima, but it tastes horrible in Huanchaco. Boiled, it’s okay. Bottle water tastes a little better, but some brands are just as bad as the tap water.

Anyways, my food warrior days are over, as I have been sick for over a week. We’ve been eating well, lots of rice, beans and avocado (palta). I may have nothing interesting to say for awhile until I start doing interesting things. I won’t go into the details (sorry, Brian) but I had a sore throat and head cold. When I felt better, I went surfing with Matt, which took ALL my energy away. I shortly thereafter had a fever and intestinal issues. No fun, especially since our house at Wilma’s is constantly under construction and she’s noisy (and nosy) in our kitchen at 7am. Today we awoke to the blender, then the insanely loud doorbell, then the painter sanding the walls.

I like Wilma, she means well and is very caring, but the concept of consideration just doesn’t exist. That said, I’m losing a lot of sleep waiting for her husky who lives on the roof to stop barking at everything he sees, then being startled by bells or Wilma. I assume this is a reason I am not getting healthier faster. Regardless, it’s annoying and Matt and I have decided to look for a new place. We waited out 2 weeks and it’s not getting better.

Yesterday we saw La Tribu, which is a very cool bar run by sculptor and philosopher, Luis. He’s very eccentric and interesting but not very to the point. There are 3 volunteers that live there currently and they love it. It’s a nice little community, and Luis cooks breakfast for everyone and the only annoyance may be that we can’t use the kitchen in the evening and the bar may be loud (it usually opens around 10 or 11pm). But it seems chill and that’s an option. There’s no dogs that live there nor is there construction inside (but the neighbors are working on something). The only concern is that it’s a little more expensive, it’s his work area, so it’s quite dusty and there’s big cockroaches. But those are two things you can’t really escape in our town, so we’ll see what the other place will be like tonight. The rumor is that it’s very nice and very clean and is about the same price we’re paying at Wilma’s ($7 a day with a kitchen). But we won’t have people painting the hallway at dawn outside our door or be awoken with deafening phones or doorbells.

Sorry this isn’t more exciting of a post, but I thought I’d let ya’all know what I’m up to. Nothing’s perfect but I’m enjoying the restaurant very much (throw those health codes and danger zone concepts out the window! Stuff is cooked in the morning and sits out all day long. No fruits or vegetables are refrigerated unless, they are going bad. You can’t escape flies here, so they live harmoniously (if you don’t get sick) with the people and the food.)

PS the dog is a Perro sin pelo. A peruvian hairless dog. They look like creepy ghosts to me.