The bus trip from Trujillo to Talara takes up most of the night. I swallow a powerful sedative but still struggle to sleep through the journey. The sun is rising as I watch the desolate streets of Talara roll by. There are taxi’s waiting at the bus station, and I manage to direct one to Lobitos. The drive in isn't any more inspiring, but when the ocean appears, it is a striking shade of deep blue. The sea sparkles as the morning sun blazes down, and all I can imagine is its cool crisp bite washing away the weariness from the overnight travel.

I surf the main point at Lobitos over a few days. The wave has an almost mechanical quality to it and the wind is always offshore. But the locals are not very welcoming, and finding waves when it’s small requires patience. I keep an eye on the forecasting websites. It looks like there is some solid swell coming.

I get up early the following day and climb a nearby sand dune to check the waves. The ocean is alive with energy, and there are consistent lines wrapping down through the points. I grab my board and paddle back out at the usual spot. There’s a lot of water moving and occasional big wash throughs. Paddling to stay in position is a constant battle. Larger sets hit further up the point, and there are already a few hardy locals out there having a go. I see one guy make a ledging vertical drop and pull into a sizeable barrel. He makes several sections before it shuts down. Another surfer paddles for the next wave, and this time the drop is beyond vertical – he throws his board and tumbles down the face as the wave folds over him and explodes in a mountain of white water.

I spend most of the session dodging sets. Trying to find the good ones is tricky; many waves swing wide and shut down. I manage to stick a few steep take-offs, and I’m rewarded with the occasional sandy barrel. When I don’t make the drop, I soon find myself being dragged along the sandbank. My arms and shoulders burn during the long paddle back out.

The swell settles over a few days and the crowds return. I walk along the coast to check some less popular breaks. There is no greenery anywhere; it’s all grey desert right up to the shifting blues of the ocean. As I make my way up a small rise, I notice several tired-looking oil pumping stations rotating slowly just ahead. The scent of heavy industry is thick in the air; it settles in the back of my throat when I breathe. I watch a set roll through in the distance, and the swell looks like it’s dropping. It might be time to continue my journey up the coast. I’ve got to keep on moving.

I catch a local shuttle from Lobitos back to Talara and then a bus to Mancora. The palm trees swaying in the wind make a nice change from grey sand dunes. The town itself is quite touristy, but many of the tourists seem to be locals visiting from elsewhere. There is a consistently festive atmosphere down on the beach, with several games of volleyball and football going on, and a couple of guys playing bongo drums. The beats are completely infectious, and they bring on thoughts of carnival. As I gaze across the sand, I can almost see a conga line of beautiful, tanned women wearing G-Strings, shaking their hips to the rhythm.

I check into the town’s main hostel just after lunch. It’s predictably full of young people and most look like they are pretty hungover. I've been noticing a difference in the hostels as I've been travelling. Some attract a really diverse set of individuals, but the hostels that have a party vibe are usually filled with younger types. I guess this makes sense, but I feel a bit uncomfortable when I am surrounded by people half my age. I don't really have that much in common with them, and the conversation usually only extends as far as recent travel experiences. I'm also conscious of how I must appear. A washed-up corporate outcast, clinging to youth by sleeping in dorm rooms and drinking 2 for 1 cocktails at happy hour.

I spend the afternoon doing some further wandering around town and joining the locals for a cerveza on the beach. Then I head back to the hostel at dusk to meet a couple of the guys from my dorm room at the bar. They’re mostly younger lads but there’s also an older looking guy in the mix. It turns out he is 66 years old, and he has many stories. In a more recent adventure, he was robbed of everything down to his underpants and socks. He tried to walk home and was eventually picked up by the police. He initially claimed he was drugged prior to the robbery but then confided that he had been on the tequila’s leading up. I can’t help thinking that the Tequila was probably responsible.

The hostel has a two strikes policy on recreational drug use. By 9pm every member of the dorm room apart from myself is on one strike. There are some vigilant security personnel patrolling the grounds on the lookout for any suspicious behaviour. Discretion will be key going forward. I carry out some low-key surveillance before sneaking to the bathroom for another cheeky line of marching powder. The music from the James Bond movies is playing in my head as I exit the toilets and expertly lose myself amongst the crowd. Caught up in the moment, I strut up to the bartender and order a Martini, shaken not stirred. He just gives me a look of blank confusion and then points to the half-price rum mixers on the specials board.

By 10pm the bar area is wall to wall backpackers. I get talking to a young fellow from Sydney who has just returned from Colombia. He speaks of Salsa classes full of beautiful women, he speaks of steamy nights in Salsa clubs, and he speaks of making passionate love to his one-time Salsa teacher as I listen on in mesmerised fascination. We wander around and chat with a few ladies. They’re all much younger and I’m mostly being ignored. The drinking continues and the dance floor soon resembles a mosh pit. We head to the beach where the local contingent is continuing the party.

All of the nearby beach bars are very busy. Amongst the crowds, I get chatting with some local guys who invite me to sit with them and play a drinking game. The rules are confusing and I’m soon coming off second best. I seem to be either sculling cerveza or buying more cerveza, while everyone else sits around and laughs at my misfortune. I decide I don’t like that game and make a swift exit.

It’s getting late. A few empty beers cans go sailing through the air leaving a thin amber vapor trail in their wake. The previous celebratory vibe is replaced with something less jovial, and raised voices echo through the night as a fight breaks out amongst some angry locals. I end up singing songs with a group of Argentineans. I obviously struggle with the lyrics, but do my best to make it up with a rousing rendition of the chorus.

 

-------------------------------------

The writing above is an excerpt from a recently published book…

Eyes To The Horizon

One man’s psychedelic journey into dating apps and perfect waves on foreign shores

Written by Ben Simon Smith

Available on Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play and with other good eBook retailers