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On The Road

April 11, 2012

We haven’t posted anything in such a long time, although there’s been no shortage of adventures to write about. Following are just a few of the places, things and people we’ve seen over the past month. One month on road, and so far so great!

Two days before leaving Lima in our newly built-out van, we met up with Kaori, a friend from New York, with whom I used to work at my last job. By coincidence, Kaori’s taking some time off from her New York life and career to do some extended travelling right now in Peru and Chile. It was a treat to meet up with her and hang out with a familiar friend. She came to the beach with us while we did a surf session, and we later went for lunch at an amazing restaurant that specializes in the Peruvian dish causa.

Causa is made by layering mashed potatoes (traditionally, the Peruvian yellow potato) with fillings such as crab meat, chicken salad or vegetables, and it’s normally served cold. The restaurant we visited, Cesar, has over twenty different varieties of causa on the menu, and we shared three different ones. They were all delicious.

Cesar Ugarte, the owner, used to play basketball for the Peruvian Olympic team, before going on to become a fashion accessories designer in Switzerland, and later moved on to opening restaurants in Lima.

Cesar at a fashion trade show in his designer days

Cesar’s almost as tall as Michael!

We ended up having more errands to run in Lima than originally estimated before heading south, so we stayed an extra day, and that gave us one more free evening to check out the attraction we’d most wanted to see: the Magic Water Circuit in Parque De La Reserva. It’s a huge park filled with more than a dozen different water fountains, some of them interactive, and there’s a laser projection musical show that occurs every night. We went there with Lacey and Luis from Lost World Expedition, and had a blast running through the arcs of water and watching the over-the-top laser light show. It was like something you’d see in Las Vegas.

The next day, we finally took to the road. We only had to drive about 45 minutes south to get to our first destination, Punta Hermosa. There are so many quality surf breaks within 200 km south of Lima! We stayed outside of Bravo Surf Camp, owned by a laid-back guy named Abraham Bravo, and surfed the breaks called Senoritas, Caballeros and La Isla while we were there.

Peruvian pro surfer Sofia Mulanovich has a home at Punta Hermosa, and apparently La Isla is one of her favorite surf breaks in the world.

We were on a leisurely daily driving schedule to meet a friend further south in Chile. Ivan grew up in the Chilean beach town of La Serena but now lives in New York, and he’s one of our surfing friends from Rockaway. We had 18 days to make it from Lima down to La Serena, a journey of 3000 kms (1800 miles). We had mapped out a route that allowed us to stop and surf along the way, driving no more than 300 kms per day. La Berenjenita, our kombi, likes to take it slow.

We spent two days in Punta Hermosa, and then headed a little further south to Puerto Viejo. Puerto Viejo is just a bay with a long row of simple beachfront restaurants serving local food.

We ate at one of the restaurants, and they allowed us to park and camp under their awning for a couple of days. The restaurants have primitive showers and bathrooms that you can pay to use. The wave was waist to chest high when we stopped there, but it’s an incredibly long and fun left point break. There were tons of dolphins swimming around both days that we surfed.

Our next stop was Cerro Azul, a bigger beach resort with another long left point break.

We camped in a parking lot in front of the beach and stayed there for three days. A nice swell came in while we were there. It’s a slower wave, with a lot of room for turns.

Going south of Cerro Azul, we stopped in a few places that didn’t have waves. We spent one night in Nazca, a city off the coast, in order to take a look at the Nazca lines: giant, ancient, mysterious geoglyphs that were drawn on the ground by the Incans, in an area of plains. The different shapes such as a lizard, a frog and a hand are only distinguishable when seen from above.

What was the purpose of these huge drawings that the Incans meant to be seen from on high?

A pretty stop on the coast, but without surfable waves, was a hotel called Puerto Inka, a few kilometers outside of a town called Chala, that had spaces to camp in front of their private bay.

The waves were big shorebreak closeouts, so we hiked over to the ancient ruins that were on the hill above the hotel and checked out the place where the Incans used to dry fish before sending a runner to deliver it to the rulers in Cuzco. That’s a run of 450 miles!

Ruins at Puerto Inka

Driving through southern Peru along the coast reveals mile after mile of desolate desert. Some stretches of coast look a little like Big Sur, in California, but with much less plants and wildlife.

The roads are curvy and steep at times, often with no guard rails to provide any semblance of protection from plummeting down the steep cliff sides. Luckily, Michael is an excellent defensive driver, and La Berenjenita can’t go above 80 km per hour.

Getting across the border between Chile and Peru was easy. We saw two roadrunners while our car was being X-rayed for contraband goods.

I suggested that Michael chase one in order to see how fast they could run, but the border guard waiting with us commented that the area is full of live land mines from conflicts between Peru and Chile in the 80’s and 90’s, so we only got to see the birds in their stationary form.

Our first stop in Chile was camping on the beach at Playa Las Machas, a beachbreak in Arica that can sometimes get surfable but seems to be most popular with boogie boarders because the rides were short.

While we surfed there one morning, a pod of dolphins swam within five feet of us and jumped playfully through the backs of the waves right in front of us! It was the closest I’ve ever been to dolphins in the wild, and such a wondrous sight to see them so clearly having fun.

Our next stop was Iquique, another Chilean surf town. We camped out on the beach right across from a Holiday Inn. It was funny to think that we were getting a better beachfront spot with great views for so much less than we would have paid at the hotel.

The next evening, the view was even better: we pulled off the highway at a rocky, isolated oceanfront spot and had a delicious glass of Chilean wine in front of a gorgeous sunset.

Sunrise over the best boondocking site we've camped at so far

A rocky outcropping 100 meters in front of us held a colony of elephant seals, pelicans, cormorants, and upon closer inspection, Humboldt penguins! Those kinds of wild camping spots are priceles, and there are so many of them along the coast.

We lost our rusted-out muffler somewhere along the way after the penguin spot while we were driving, so we stopped in the next big city, Antofagasta, to see if we could have it replaced. We were returning to our car right after lunch, about to ask around for a muffler shop, when a VW enthusiast came up to us and asked us about our kombi. He turned out to be the owner of a Beetle and a member of the Antofagasta Volkswagen fan club, and he gave us directions to a cheap shop that was able to weld up a new muffler and attach it to the kombi within a couple of hours. We couldn’t believe our luck! There’s something about old Volkswagens that makes their owners part of a cult.

We camped at Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar next, at a beachfront campground. We took a 1-hour hike the next morning to spot guanacos, which are wild llamas, and got lucky with a small herd sighting.

When we finally made it to La Serena, we hooked up with our friend Ivan and his girlfriend Kat, and surfed one of his home breaks, Punta Teatino, several days in a row. We met some of his family and friends, and they fed us two of the best meals we’ve eaten on this entire trip so far. Ivan’s friend Felipe prepared a true Chilean parillada for us on his barbecue: a slew of amazingly tasty grilled meat and sausage. The next day, we went over to Ivan’s aunt’s house where she served us a sumptuous three-course meal of avocado-and-shrimp salad, baked conger eel with a fresh tomato salsa, and poached papayas in syrup with whipped cream and ice cream.  We were living like kings!

We drove from La Serena further south with Ivan and Kat, to surf Punta de Lobos. It’s located in a small town called Pichilemu, full of pine trees and fog, and it feels much like Oregon or Northern California.

It’s autumn down here right now, so the weather is getting cold. We have to wear 4/3 wetsuits with boots in the water, and sometimes a hood, if it’s windy and cloudy. The waves are pretty epic.

The question here isn’t whether there will be waves today; it’s whether the waves will be too big for mere mortals to surf. There were a couple of days when the waves were 15 to 20 feet, and we watched the trials for the Punta de Lobos Invitational big wave contest.

We’ve been on the road for one month now and love it. We’ve paid to camp only a handful of times, mostly just parking for free beachfront in the middle of nowhere or on the outskirts of town. We cook most of our meals on our small gas 2-burner stove, and spend our time surfing, watching the waves from our camping chairs, chatting with people we meet, looking around the small towns, reading and knitting. I got some yarn and needles back in Quito and knitted us both a couple of hats, which are totally necessary at night here. I also knitted a fat scarf out of some nice Chiloe Peninsula wool that’s sold quite cheaply in the shops in Pichilemu. 

Often, at night in bed, we’ll watch a movie or an episode of a TV show that we’ve picked up for the equivalent of $1 at bootleg DVD shops in Peru. Our latest obsession is HBO’s Game of Thrones – we just finished watching the first season and can’t wait to find out what will happen this coming second season.

We’ve heard of some good surf breaks further south of here, and will leave Pichilemu in the next week to check them out: Constitucion, Curanipe, Tregualemu, Pullay, Buchupureo. The weather will be getting colder the further south we go and the longer we stay down here. Getting into and out of our cold, wet wetsuits takes a little courage, but the waves are always worth it. And when we bed down at night under our warm feather comforter in the cozy little Eggplant, we sleep so well.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Lacey permalink
    April 11, 2012 4:38 pm

    Sounds like you are breaking La Berenjenita in in style! Glad you guys are enjoying the trip. You are giving us some good places to look forward to. We’re back at Hitchhikers for a few days for more mechanical work. This place just isn’t the same without you guys!

    • April 13, 2012 3:26 pm

      Hopefully we can cross paths as you head south and we head back up north — Cuzco possibly? Would be great to hang out with you again!

  2. Thomas Volovar permalink
    April 11, 2012 4:53 pm

    Hey Guys ,sounds like your having a great adventure.Really enjoy reading about your travels.Hope you put together a book at the end of your trip.Miss seeing you at dawn patrol and I can’t wait to talk to you in person about all the breaks you visit.Stay safe and keep living the dream. Ciao Tommy

  3. Kazoo permalink
    April 11, 2012 8:25 pm

    Awesome to hear this story of u guys man!!!looking forward to see u guys again!where u going to be in this summer!!!!kazookazoo

    • April 13, 2012 3:28 pm

      Hey Kazoo!!! We will be in northern Peru and Ecuador this summer. Do you have some time to travel then? You might love northern Peru!! Amazing waves.

  4. April 11, 2012 10:56 pm

    Thank you Sweeties, this is a wonderful letter. The pictures are spectacular as well. I love the hats and you knitting the scarf Delphine. I’m getting ready for my acceptance interview for the TM teacher training course. Fun! Love you. Momma

  5. April 21, 2012 8:37 am

    Is this Cesar Ugarte the same one that had a fashion boutique in Gstaadt and used to make and sell very beautifull belts to us in St Tropez and Cannes.

  6. August 12, 2013 4:06 am

    Hello from the UK! It looks like you guys are having an amazing trip – my boyfriend and I have just booked our flights to Peru which kick starts our year long rtw surf trip! I wondered if you had any advice for when we first arrive… are the waves good enough in Lima to make it worthwhile staying around for a week or so while we take some Spanish classes, or do you reckon we are better off hitting the road straight away, either south to hit up Punta Hermosa/San Bartolo, or straight up north to Lobitos? In total, we plan to spend around 3 months in Peru and maybe Ecuador. Thanks and best of luck with the rest of your trip! Fern

  7. August 12, 2013 4:12 am

    Hello from the UK! It looks like you guys have been having an awesome trip, I’m really enjoying following your blog! My boyfriend and I have just booked out flights to Lima in October which marks the first stop on our year long rtw surf trip. I wondered if you had any advice for when we first arrive… are the waves good and accessible enough in Lima to make it worth our while staying there for a week or so while we do some Spanish lessons before we head north, or would you recommend heading south to Punta Hermosa/San Bartolo instead? We’re just looking for a cheap and easy place to hang and surf for a bit until we get our bearings and pick up the lingo well enough to navigate our way through the rest of the country! Any advice would be much appreciated! Thanks and best of luck with the rest of your trip, Fern

    • August 13, 2013 12:11 am

      Hey there! We always love hearing from other travellers, especially surfing ones 🙂 I think if you guys are already pretty good surfers and your main priority on this trip is surfing, you might want to head to Punta Hermosa (or Lobitos) instead of staying in Lima. The waves in Lima aren’t super challenging, except for La Herradura, which is not as accessible as the waves around the Miraflores neighborhood. And if you’re motivated enough, you can pick up Spanish by talking with as many locals as possible and getting a dictionary and small “basics of learning Spanish” book before you leave home. However, if you are interested in culture, food and sightseeing on top of surfing, Lima is a great city to visit for a week. It’s a fun place and easy to get around by bus. I don’t think you would regret spending a week there. Lobitos and Punta Hermosa have much better waves, but they’re small towns (if you can even call them that) and there’s not much to do besides surf and hang out with other surfers in both those places.
      Have fun and we wish you excellent waves. We’ll check out your blog — post pics of the surf!

      • August 15, 2013 3:02 pm

        Ah, amazing! Thanks so much for replying, that’s really helpful. Well, surfing is definitely our main focus but culture and food are definitely up there too. From what you’ve said, Lima seems like a pretty awesome place to hang about for a bit, so I think we will spend a bit of time there before heading off for better waves. Thanks again and enjoy the rest of your trip!

  8. August 15, 2013 3:05 pm

    ah, that’s awesome! Thanks so much for replying, that’s really helpful stuff! Surfing is our main focus, but culture and food are definitely up there too. From what you’ve said Lima sounds like a pretty awesome place to spend a bit of time, even if the waves aren’t up to much. I reckon we will check it out for a bit while we get our bearings and then head off in search of better surf! Thanks, and best of luck for the rest of your trip!

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