Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I spent last weekend -my second in Peru- away fro Lima again, this time up north, visiting Susana who is living in the seaside town of Huanchaco and working in nearby Trujillo during her summer break from school.

Huanchaco is a quiet little town at this time of year, when many of the businesses are closed for the winter. It was once principally a fishermen's town and a port for the loading of sugar cargoes from the hacienda owned by the Larco family - the former loading pier has been turned into a pedestrian walkway with a gazebo at its end.  Today, it seems mainly to subsist on tourism, as the weather is mild all year round, it has a very pleasant beach, and is part of Peru's surfing and backpacker circuits.

Fisherman using a caballito de totora

Huanchaco is also rekown for the locals' building and use of caballitos de totora (lit. "little totora horses"), reed boats that have been in use for centuries.   In fact, depictions of caballitos have been found in 1,500-year old Moche pottery.

The totora plant grows in wetlands and standing water, which is possible to achieve even in northern Peru's coastal desert plain because in the area of Huancacho the water table is only a few meters below the surface of the ground.  The ancient Moche dug pits where they grew the totora, and many of these are still in use today, maintained -often by the same family- over many centuries.  Though the totora plant is crucial to family substistence for many of the locals, the totorales are increasingly threatened by urbanization.

The caballitos themselves are handmade by local craftsmen and fishermen, who gather the totora stalks, dry them, and tie them into bundles.  Each one has his own style and preference of materials, which -in addition to its placement- allows each fisherman to easily recognize his own boat.

Being a seaside resort Huanchaco, of course has plenty of establishments form which to choose from for dining, thirst-quenching, and just plain sitting and enjoying the view.

On the beach front, near the pier, is a place called Jungle Bar Bily, which has a sort of jungle/tiki bar ambiance.  It is open late and draws the more bohemian -and hard-drinking crowd- in  the late hours of the night.  They do serve a mean caipirinha.

One that has turned into a favourite of Susana and her companions is a small place a few blocks from the town's Plaza de Armas, called My Friend.  At My Friend there is offered a selection of several dozen spaghetti dishes -on the menu it's labeled a "Spaghetti Festival", which has become a catch phrase for Susa and her friends- for a very reasonable s/. 10, and on Thursday nights drinks are only s/. 3 each. We ended up there almost every night of my visit, as we found ourselves feeling "festive".

There is also, of course, no lack of seafood choices of varying price and quality, in terms of both flavour and ambiance. (The three examples below are from a restaurant called El Mochica.)

I arrived in Huanchaco on Thursday evenning and stayed until Sunday night.  In the intervening days, besides enjoying Huanchaco, I was able to meet Susana in Trujillo and tour that city for an afternoon, take a tour of the nearby archaeological sites of Chan Chan and the Huaca de la Luna, and take part in a cleansing ceremony by a local curandera, or traditinonal healer.  I'll write about those experiences in future installments.

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