Category Archives: surfing

Desert Drifting : Northern Peru

I love those fortuitous little meetings that happen every now and then on the road.  We pulled into a random driveway in Zorritos and found Casa de Diego. This chance meeting worked out really well for us. We had only planned to stay a night before moving on… but Diego found plenty of reasons for us to hang around. North Peru 01North Peru 02Casa de Diego. If you are ever in Zorritos, you should try to to stay here. 

We had a great time at his amazing beachfront house/hostel, hanging out in the evenings with music and beers and getting some good tips for our route through Peru.  But the best part was having Diego as our personal tour guide.  He took us to the best surf spots, introduced us to all the locals and took us to the best bakery in town. North Peru 03North Peru 04North Peru 05North Peru 06North Peru 07

He left the best surprise until our last night when he took us to the hot springs on the edge of town. “It will be perfect for your aching muscles after all that surfing” he assured us, as if we needed convincing. “And this hot spring is really special at night time.” We couldn’t help asking why. “You’ll see.”

Four of us jumped in the van and Diego directed us through town and onto a random dirt road that we would never have found on our own. When we got there it was completely dark, not even a moon to light the way. “Should I leave the headlights on?” I asked him. “No we don’t need them. I have a natural light here.” All he was holding was a cigarette lighter and a rolled up piece of paper. I was confused.

He lit the paper and held it over the hot spring which lit up with a huge whoompf.  The hot spring is actually an old drill well for oil and gas exploration.  Now, hot water bubbles up from the earth below bringing a bit of natural gas with it.  And this provided our mood lighting for the evening. We had a good hot soak and I don’t know how many times we looked at each other in amazement and said “This is so cool.” North Peru 08North Peru 09North Peru 10

Next stop was Lobitos.  This is an odd little town with loads of good surf spots. It was first settled by British oil company workers and most of the old townsite was abandoned around the early 1900s. So now it is sort of like a ghost town reborn. There are oil wells everywhere, on and offshore. And much of the area is now a military zone. All of this made for a really interesting place to explore. We free camped at the beach for a few days and tried to make the most of the consistent surf. This section of coast is like a wave machine, they just keep coming all day. North Peru 11North Peru 12North Peru 13North Peru 14North Peru 15North Peru 16North Peru 17North Peru 18North Peru 19North Peru 20North Peru 21North Peru  22North Peru 23North Peru 24North Peru 25

The coastal desert of this region has been a real surprise for us. It just stretches on and on. We were driving through bare rock and sand for days, not a tree or shrub in sight.  But, every now and then we would pass through a town, offering a splash of colour and a chance to people watch as we drove by. North Peru 26North Peru 27North Peru 28North Peru 29North Peru 30Kicking rice.  

We eventually made it to Chicama.  More desert and more surf. No complaints from us, we love this style of van life.  We spent the afternoon cruising the dunes outside of town, watching the waves and checking out the amazing bird colony at an empty beach around the point. North Peru 31North Peru 32North Peru 33North Peru 34North Peru 35Boobies

North Peru 36Blue-footed booby

Later in the day it was time to hit the water.  This place is renowned for having the longest left hand wave in the world. Not sure if this is actually true, but regardless it’s a good spot. The swell wasn’t quite big enough for those famously long rides, but we had a lot of fun trading waves with the local grommets during the sunset session. And in the morning I had the place all to myself. North Peru 37 facebookNorth Peru 38North Peru 39North Peru 40North Peru 41North Peru 42

After an incredible sunset we headed into the dunes to find a camp spot with some protection from the relentless wind.  The ground looks firm and rocky, but venture from the well worn path and the soft sand underneath gives way easily.  We know from experience. After getting bogged good and proper we spent a couple of hours jacking up the car digging out the rear wheels and driving forward a few feet on scraps of carpet and planks of wood. On the third try (our lucky number in stuck van situations) we slowly crept up and out of the hole, eventually finding solid ground again… and had the most peaceful sleep we could have hoped for. North Peru 43North Peru 44Dusty but triumphant

North Peru 45Home is where you park it

Driving along the highway we could see what we thought were sand dunes stretching far into the distance. Turns out that they are the crumbled old adobe walls of the ancient city of Chan Chan. We were taken aback by the immensity of it all. It was built around 850 AD and was in use until the 1400s and apparently around 30,000 people lived here at one time. This makes it the largest known city in South America prior to the arrival of the Europeans.

We visited just one small area of the city which has survived the years in pretty good shape. Many of the walls are carved with patterns depicting fish and fishnets which were really important to the survival of the people that lived here.  They also had some form of irrigation and the remnants of an old well are visible still filled with water and full of greenery. North Peru 46North Peru 47North Peru 50North Peru 49North Peru 51North Peru 52North Peru 54The sacred well 

Sechin is another ruin just off the pan-american highway. The old temple found here might be the oldest ruins in South America… maybe more than 3000 years old. The stone walls were covered in carvings and in the museum they had a bunch of artefacts from the area, including a really well preserved mummy, and some mummified tattooed hands. North Peru 56North Peru 55

We had been in the desert for over a week, so as we turned left and headed up the river valley towards the mountains, the green valley filled with fruit trees was a welcomed sight.

As usual, we’re a bit sad to be leaving this area behind. The great surf, the interesting and odd places, the wide open spaces and eating the best ceviche everyday will be missed. But it’s time again for the mountains.

Posted from: Huaraz, Peru

Life by the Sea : South Coast Ecuador

I have a confession to make. So far on this trip we haven’t seen monkeys in the wild. This seems pretty ridiculous given the countries we’ve been through, and it has become a bit of a running joke in the brown bus. We’ve definitely felt their beady eyes on us though, mocking us through the jungle.

Finally, the wildlife viewing stars aligned for us when we stopped in at Sendero Pasaje del Monos, a wildlife reserve on the pacific coast. We were guaranteed monkey sightings and if we were especially lucky, we might even see a sloth. Sloths are particularly hard to spot because they are well camouflaged and as to be expected, don’t move around much. We spent a few sweaty hours in the jungle, grinning from ear to ear and hanging out with a group of cheeky, camera shy monkeys and a very laid-back photogenic sloth.

Monkey 01Sloth 01 Sloth 02

We found a section of private beach near Salango and set up camp for the night, where Mark was able to do a few repairs and adjustments on the van. It was also the perfect place to drink some whiskey around a driftwood fire.

Just as we were settling in for the night, the cops crashed the party. I looked at Mark “shit, we’re in trouble”. We went through the usual routine, the where are you from questions and the checking of passports. Of the three cops, two looked to be about 18 years old and were grinning sheepishly the entire time. I pointed to the fire “una problema?”, no problems there. Our campsite on the beach was fine too.

Turns out, you can’t drink alcohol on Sunday in Ecuador (this was contradicted at the tire repair shop earlier that day, where everyone was wasted before noon). The police pretended to confiscate our whiskey, then returned it promptly saying “para Lunes” (for Monday). Why thank you officers! As my Granny once said, “it’s not a good party unless the police show up at least once”.

Salango 01 Salango 02 Salango 03 Salango 04 Salango 05

As we were back on the coast, it was time to look for waves. We eventually rolled into Playas, which on first impression is a rather uninspiring town. It’s the quiet beaches on the outskirts, that are the draw card here.

Dusty desert landscapes, friendly people, good seafood and great camping about sums it up. There are also a cluster of right-hand point breaks along this stretch of coast, but they were a bit scary for me. If possible I think my surfing got worse. I don’t think I’m ready to graduate from the bunny slopes just yet. 

Playas 02 Playas 03 Playas 04

Nestled between two point breaks, this campsite was one of the best. It was perfect for watching the waves and the sunset.  After two nights here we were told by some locals that robberies are common near this beach. We saw no signs of trouble, but being unable to claim ignorance anymore, we thought we’d do the right thing and move on. 

Playas 05Playas 06Playas 07 Playas 08 Checking out break numero dos.

This other little fishing village seems almost deserted, until you gaze out at the foreshore where over a hundred boats cluster together in organized chaos. It was captivating to watch the fishermen preparing the boats in the morning, and then launching them out to sea.

Men shuffle under the weight of their outboard motors as they lug them on their shoulders down to the beach. The launching process then requires a lot of rhythm and some rolling logs placed under the boats as they are pushed out to sea. They really seem to take a lot of pride in their boats. They are handmade, and painted brightly, usually with biblical names emblazoned along the sides (Jhonny Alberto was our favourite, and one of the few exceptions).

Around 2pm the boats return with their first haul of the day, prawns. We cooked up a delicious feast with some of these tasty suckers for a steep $3.

Playas 09 Playas 10 Playas 10aPlayas 11Playas 13  Playas 15   Playas 16Playas 14Playas 17 Playas 18

This village is also the home of a pretty decent right point break. These photos don’t really do the waves justice, some massive sets were rolling through and the take off was precariously close to the rocks. Mark snapped these pics and it wasn’t long before he had a list of names, and the email addresses of excited locals who wanted copies of their photos.

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For one night only, the clouds lifted and the sky was alight with a magical burnt orange sunset. On the coast, this is definitely my favourite time of day.

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At night the fishermen return late.  This time with fish, their second haul for the day. We camped right on the point and watched the action. Our new campsite also meant that Mark could hit the water for an early morning/smaller wave session. I went for a run on the beach and caught a fish. With a stick. A pretty tasty fish stew was on the menu that night.

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It was time for one last push to the mountains of Ecuador, where we drove up through the clouds to Parque Nacional Cajas.

Cajas 01Cajas 03 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cajas 05

We finally made it to Cuenca and went out for a delicious meal at Salvia, a newly opened restaurant, owned an operated by an English couple in a restored antique house. The setting was beautiful and we were transported back to the English countryside, where we indulged in a phenomenal three course meal and a bit too much wine.

There was much to celebrate though, Ecuador has been truly amazing. Such friendly people, good surf and awe-inspiring vistas. Oh, and it was pretty easy on the old purse strings too.

Cuenca 01 Cuenca 02

So once again, and hopefully not for the last time we yelled “ECUADOOOOOR”. Next stop, Peru.

Posted from: Lobitos, Peru.

From Ponchos to Playa : Northern Ecuador

“ECUADOOOOR”… for some reason we started yelling this as we crossed the border and snaked our way through the mountains of Ecuador. I guess we are pretty excited to be here. My feelings haven’t changed since, and I still have the urge to yell this regularly.


Our friend Dayna (from the San Blas trip) was going to be in Otavalo on Saturday for the market. This was the push we needed to get out of Colombia. It was great to see Dayna again, and to spend all of our pocket money on blankets and ponchos. We regret not buying more goodies in Mexico, and vowed not to make the same mistake again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Best food ever $2 a plate from the cutest lady. Might have been fried blood and potatoes, ignorance is blissss!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA How much is too much?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe brown bus just got browner.

Loaded up with ponchos and blankets, it made no sense to head to the heat of the coast, but that is what we did. We wanted to get back in the water, and I had read that Mompiche has some good waves for learning. Mompiche itself is a little fishing/surf town, with an end of the road vibe. To me it is the perfect beach town, quiet and dusty with a little bit of style thrown in the mix. Bamboo seems to be the wood of choice, and it has been used to fashion a handful of beautiful houses and hostels which line the sandy streets.


The heat was a novelty again. We shed our excess layers of clothes and set up camp for a few days in the car park of a hostal.


The surf was best at the point at low-tide, but it was breaking somewhere all day. Mark was out there at all tides, but in the heat of the day I hid in the shade and snapped some photos.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Paddling with pelicans

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALIttle mid-tide beach break

On the second day, the swell had dropped off so we walked around the point at mid-tide. I love seeing such dramatic changes in the water level, from high to low tide the waters edge must have retreated about 100m. After our surf that day we were both pretty tired, and happy to watch the sunset with a cold beer from the shore. 


And so begins our zig zag through Ecuador. Time to head back to the mountains again.

Posted from: Playas, Ecuador.