There are plenty of things to get addicted to in Peru
A solid swell has popped up on the forecasting sites. It’s going to be way too big for the point at Huanchaco, so I get together with a couple of guys from the hostel and we decide to do a trip up to Chicama.
We catch a slow bus into Trujillo, then an even slower bus to Puerto Malabrigo; the town above the break. The trip takes almost four hours, and I wonder if I could have done it quicker on a bicycle. The town itself is small and only really has one main street, but the spectacular part is walking up to the headland that overlooks the break. When I arrive, the new swell is still filling in, but watching small waves run the length of the point is mesmerising.
We find some cheap accommodation. My bedroom is cramped, and I wake several times during the night because of the heat, but my tiredness falls away when I stand overlooking the break at dawn. Head high lines are reeling consistently down the point with only a few people around. There is an uneven track that runs up the beach and along the base of a cliff. I keep an eye out for sharp rocks as I’m walking out to the jump-off spot. It takes me a while to get into the water, but I manage to catch a few medium-sized ones fairly quickly. Soon I am getting a wave to the beach, ready to walk back up the point and do it all again.
By mid-morning, I’ve repeated this process countless times and caught some really great waves. The crowd has filled in, and there are boats ferrying surfers up and down the length of the break. The waves roll through gently making for an easy take-off, and then it’s off to the races. You can surf for hundreds of metres before your legs start to burn and it’s time to kick out.
I wake early again and walk to the headland. The dawn’s first light reveals lines of heavy swell stacked to the horizon; it looks almost too big with the larger sets closing out and breaking wide. I watch it for five minutes before running back to our hotel. Paddling is out of the question; we are going to need a boat. This takes quite a while to organise, and it’s maddening to watch those more prepared already out there getting waves.
Our boat is launched from the beach and we paddle out to meet it. I’m a bit concerned when I see our driver close up. He must have sprinkled a liberal dose of hashish on his breakfast; I don’t think I have ever seen someone so high so early in the day. We are dropped at the top of the point, and I paddle against the sweep trying to find a decent set wave, while a continual flow of small vessels deposit surfers just above the take off spot. Frustration soon sets in and I end up finding easier pickings further down the line. I’m able to catch a few nice waves that run right into the bay.
Having the boat waiting to pick you up is pretty handy, but the constant drone of outboard engines is at odds with the usual quiet when you’re out in the ocean. It also becomes fairly clear water safety is not really a priority. As the day unfolds, I witness several acts of inexperience and even see a dinghy capsize at one point.
In the late afternoon, we sit on the headland with a cerveza and watch the sunset. I can see other surfers hauling their tired bodies back up the beach and I know they will be slow to rise the following day.
I’m up at 5am eating bananas while I throw my wetsuit on. It’s still dark when I walk down the beach and paddle out. The rising sun reveals a dropping swell, but there is a light offshore blowing and I am the only one in the water. A set rolls in and the first one I catch is absolute perfection. As I take-off, a flawlessly tapered wall of ocean stretches off into the distance. There are no roaring boat engines or people screaming at each other. All I can hear is the wind whistling past my ears and the sound of surfboard flying over rippled saltwater. I catch another two waves that are almost as good before the crowd gets out of bed and joins me.
We’re back at the hostel in Huanchaco for the weekend. Some unkempt looking Argentinian musicians arrive on the terrace just as the sun is setting. Two of the ensemble are on percussion, while a third adds some flute sounds which float nicely over the top. The music continues into the early evening, and I find myself sampling an excellent mulled wine that has just the right amount of spice. The barman, Juan Pablo, suggests I try an Argentinian spirit called Fernet. I am told it has almost claimed national drink status in Argentina, but it reminds me of fermented cough syrup. I decide to keep these thoughts to myself and assume it is an acquired taste.
A few quiet drinks quickly escalates, as a group of resident German travellers kick off a serious beer pong tournament. I sneak away an hour or two later after playing more beer pong than I needed to. It’s a struggle to clear my head as I wander across town. The plan is to catch up with a few guys I met out at Chicama.
They are staying at another hostel, so I head in that direction. This one has more of a surf camp vibe. It’s mostly lads sitting around drinking and telling surf trip stories. The cerveza and stories continue to flow until almost midnight, when a local guy arrives and takes orders for grams of marching powder, much like he is taking orders for pizza. Then a decision is made to head into the nearby city of Trujillo. We pile into taxis and are soon in the line at an impressive looking nightclub. It is equally impressive inside, with tasteful décor, a well-engineered sound system, and beautiful women just about everywhere you look.
The next few hours are a blur of loud music, flashing lights, and hard to hear conversation. I discover the hard way that overindulging in marching powder is a lot less fun than you would think. I spend half an hour with a racing heart, clenching jaw and small droplets of perspiration descending slowly across my brow. Thankfully it wears off, and I resolve to learn from the experience. It takes some time to get my thoughts together, but I eventually get chatting to a local girl in a lovely green dress. After a lengthy effort, I manage to get her phone number. Then I find the other guys and we stumble out of the club and into a taxi. I’m back at the hostel sometime after 5am, feeling washed out and emotional.
I wake to a general vagueness of mind and my nose feels like it spent the previous evening soaking in industrial solvents. I spend a few extra hours in bed tossing and turning while bathed in a light sheen of sweat. Looking for someone to blame, I settle on the ping pong ball wielding Germans from the previous evening. Fucking beer pong? Why would you ever ruin a perfectly good glass of beer by throwing a dusty table tennis ball into it? I suffer through to the early evening then text Miss Green dress from the previous night. She responds with only silence.
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