Ride the Reed
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.
nice article Sheena. you look great. keep it up, and have fun
Comment by gary on November 25, 2012 at 5:26 pm
nice write-up Sheena, love all the pics of the cool street art in ol’ chaco
Comment by James on November 25, 2012 at 5:30 pm
the beauty of those photos is only surpassed by your colorful description…
what are you trying to do, convince us to go all the way south to peru? =)
bryan and jen
Comment by brydanger on November 25, 2012 at 9:45 pm
G’day from Melbourne Australia . .
Really enjoying your blog, so sorry to hear about the robbery .. anyway alls well now, love the pics and commentary.. Keep it up guys !!
BTW. we have just come back from a camper trip thru the South Island of New Zealand.. we had a brilliant time
John & Judy
Comment by John & Judy on November 25, 2012 at 11:22 pm
Awesome Sheen, the beauty of connecting with such different type of cultures and the people so unique, their customs make them like our culture. I see respecting and appreciating their lifestyle makes you so comfortable with them and really seeing beauty of where they are. Keep going, its your life on continuation of the unknown but where you go and when you leave their land the respect like no other. I know you have touch so many readers, I believe the people of course you have met will turn back and ponder with respect and yes and you both will do the same. So very proud of you both!!! X0X0X0X0 Mom
Comment by Barb Wieber (Sheena's Mom) on November 25, 2012 at 11:43 pm
The photographs of the locals and the paintings are fantastic. Great job Sheena. Godspeed on your travels to the Andes. The travel mojo is with you both, all needed repairs and breakdowns happened well below treeline and freezing temperatures. Thanks for the great read over this morning’s coffee.
Comment by Gonzo on November 26, 2012 at 9:09 am
Once you get back to sea level, what’s the avg temperature like at this time of the year?
Comment by Kenneth on November 26, 2012 at 10:17 am
Congratulations on a Great Adventure. I Have been silently following from the beginning. Been really enjoying the photo’s and stories from the places you have been. Picture labeled Mural #3 is my new screen saver – Have you got a hi-res you could send? Keep Safe and enjoy.
Comment by Chris on November 26, 2012 at 4:18 pm
Comment by ernesto on November 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm
Great blog, feel like I was there, love your pictures, hope you get the camera replaced soon.
Comment by Ernie Wieber (Sheena's Dad) on November 27, 2012 at 11:10 am
Sheena, excellent photos of the local graffiti/art… surprised the streets are so clean where you are.
I am that guy you and Brad met in Porto Lopez, Ecuador.
BTW-You left out the spit part of chicha.
It’s the spit that make the corn turn to alcohol. In the old days, it was the women who made the chicha; they chewed the corn and spit it in a bucket.
In Colombia it smelled and tasted about like barf. I only saw it at the festivals.
That stuff makes me do crazy things! Dance like a maniac!
My Indian friends ended up passed out, laying in the gutter.
Comment by Terrance Maloney on November 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm
Thanks all for the nice comments!
@Bryan and Jen: Am I suggesting you should head down to South America? Oh yes, absolutely! Brad and I both enjoyed the South American leg of our trip over the Central American portion by miles (with the exception of Mexico).
Also, I just saw on your website that you are a painter! I’ve been trying to paint as well but have been struggling. Not enough time I think. :)
@Kenneth: The temperature has been all over the place. We are at 2400 feet right now and it is hot. The sun is intense, temps in the 80s. Looks like the temps are in the 70s along the coast.
@Chris: So happy when ever we hear from the silent followers. Brad sent you a high resolution photo of the skulls. I like that mural a lot too – uniquely strange.
@Terrance: I remember you of course! The chicha you are thinking of is different than the chicha I mentioned. Chicha de jora is the fermented beer. Chicha morado is not fermented and is just made of purple corn. We did however try the alcoholic version in Ecuador. Yes, very interesting process. As natural as it gets. :)
Comment by Sheena on November 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm