With one deep exhale, I stripped the sheets off and sat up in bed. I tied my hair back, slipped on the previous day’s clothes, walked into my flip flops, and slung the camera over my shoulder. I pointed my body down the stairs, turned left, and walked a block, intersecting with Huanchaco’s desolate beach. The waves crashed down in layers, validating the accuracy of the wave chart tacked up by the pier. Today indeed was going to be a huge day. My tired eyes scanned the waves. The rafts were nowhere to be seen.
Out of commission for the day, the reed rafts, or ballitos de tortora leaned against the promenade. Just the day before, while on a morning run, I ran by and saw a vastly different scene. It was fantastic. In the water, perched atop their Venetian like reed rafts, fisherman floated over waves with upright postures. Sustaining balance, they robotically dipped their long bamboo paddle in the water from side to side. Their eyes pierced through the depths of the water, in search of the fish. Once they were beyond the waves, they straddled their caballitos , dropped their weighted gill nets or line and hook and fished.
A short while later, when I ran back down the promenade, the tired fisherman were on land, congregated along the rock wall where their rafts stood upright, drying for the remainder of the day. Alongside their hips like a set of house keys, skinny fish were strung up on metal cords.
In Huanchaco, this method of fishing has been going on for centuries, with the image of reed rafts even depicted on 2,000 year old Mochica ceramics.
Far past where the sidewalk drops off into dirt, a sandy road continues to an agricultural zone. Wispy strands of reed or wachaque, grow in the marsh. Masterfully bound around two chunks of foam, the reed is shaped into a Venetian style boat, with one end tapering upward, just like the long sweeping curve of a handlebar mustache. On the other end, the reed is precisely cut, dipping down a level and forming a cozy dug out.
As I began heading away from the rafts, a man with kind eyes, chocolate colored skin and a quick smile appeared before me. Long before the sun’s heat leaked from the sky, he had been alongside the promenade, staring out at the sea. Oblivious to the chill in the air, in his warm fleece and beanie, he lingered, wanting to converse.
Quickly he revealed he was a fisherman. With a matter-of-fact tone in his voice, he explained that there would be no fishing today. The waves were too big and the water too turbulent for spotting the fish. He would be back out again tomorrow, fishing, if the sea would allow it. It was clear that while he would have liked to have been out fishing, it was just as well if he didn’t. The act of catching fish didn’t change what he’d be doing for the majority of the day. He’d still congregate along the wall with his buddies until the sun set, talking of wives, woes, and weather. I promised to come back the next day to buy some fish, sold either along the wall or in the market. For the two following days, the waves were harsh and the ocean froth muddled the visibility.
And despite not buying any fish, I did go and check out the market that lay hidden between two massive garage doors. Here, I tried chicha for the first time. Ladled into a small snack sized plastic bag, a deep purple juice sloshed from side to side. With a few quick flicks of the wrist, a straw was inserted in the top and the bag was bow tied around the protrusion. It tasted just like fruit juice, except that it was made from cobs of dried purple corn soaked in water. Come to find out, chicha is so popular in Peru that it even had its own national symbol. If you spot a long wooden branch, pole, or pipe protruding from the ground, and a bag tied to the end of it, you know there is a local concoction of chicha for sale.
With chicha in hand, we wandered the streets splashed with colorful murals, enjoying the day while pondering our next move. The second highest mountain range in the world, the Peruvian Andes were near. It was time to pull out the wool socks and hiking boots and point Nacho to the South.