Huanchaco and Trujillo

Huanchaco and Trujillo
26-27 march 2015

26 March 2015
I wake up in the predawn light with my green Oltursa blanket tangled around me and my feet on the seat next to me which by some miracle remained empty all night. Around sunup I start to see the concrete and brick outskirts of a city, which grows to larger shops and warehouses by the time we reach the bus company’s office where Harmeet and I disembark. To exit the station we have to squeeze through a single door in which six taxi drivers are standing, jostling each other, blocking our way, screaming in our faces and trying to grab out bags. The further north I go, the more aggressive the taxi drivers become. We pace past them serenely and wait for the prices they’re offering for Huanchaco to go down and haggle a little further with a guy driving a rickety station wagon. He drives us through the thick morning haze, out of Trujillo, past the outskirts and the airport, past a huge clay brick Inka ruin, into a small beach town of low concrete buildings, nearly silent in the early morning.

Things are weird at the hostel where Harmeet has a reservation, so I make sure she’s checked in all right and head next door to a different hostel I had in mind, where the owner checks me in early with no fuss and leads me through a lush, shady garden hung with hammocks to a little stuffy room off the courtyard. I sling my backpack on a top bunk and sneak past a few backpackers sleeping with eye masks on to freshen up before I meet Harmeet again for breakfast.

We eat at my hostel, in the restaurant on the first floor with the door open to the ocean. While we’re waiting for coffee we see a wave come rushing in, surging over the little sandback and over the concrete planters, over the curb and halfway across the street. The rough sea seems to be washing this part of the beach away.


Huanchaco looks a little worse for wear – the beach is rough and strewn with large, heavy rocks that clatter in the heavy undertow after each violent wave rolls back. In the morning as we walk south along the sand we see more sand banks eaten away by the waves. They say Huanchaco wasn’t always like this – I read that a few years ago someone built a breakwave – some kind of sea wall – further south and it’s been affecting the currents here, making the waves stronger and more destructive. There are banners up around town protesting the sea wall and in the evening a crowd of about 30 people stand shouting outside the municipal building and parade down the street, blocking traffic in protest.

There’s not a lot to do in Huanchaco except drink, eat ceviche, and surf. Harmeet and I aren’t here to surf, so we spend the afternoon and long beautiful ocean evening in bars and restaurants. The ceviche here is different than in Lima, the fish is denser and richer. I loved the ceviche in Lima, but this is something else, something even better. We bar hop a little, sitting first in a surf hostel with beautiful plush antique furniture, then in a little tiki-style bar. In between we stop at a street vendor for anticucho. I need water so I walk for the first time away from Huanchaco’s touristic main boulevard. One block from the fun, brightly lit and decorated beachfront bars it’s back to quiet streets with concrete buildings and little kiosks – typical residential South America, at least in my experience. It’s familiar. One block past this, things get a little rougher, more potholed, stray dogs looking a little more mangey. I stop at a kiosk planning to buy water, call to the attendant who must be in the back somewhere. I glance around idly as I’m waiting and make eye contact with a guy across the street who wanders out of the doorway to a house holding a little jar half full of liquid. He stares at me and slowly vomits into the jar, never breaking eye contact. I decide I’m not thirsty. “Couldn’t you find water?” Harmeet asks me back at the anticucho stand. “Things got weird,” I say.

27 march 2015
Harmeet and I eat breakfast at the vegetarian cafe Otra Cosa (an omelette and two coffees for me, crispy falafel for her). The owner, a friendly Dutch guy, gives us directions to a bus terminal in Trujillo. An actual bus terminal! This is what I’ve been missing since Ica, where I stopped finding big bus terminals with a bunch of companies where you can shop around for tickets to wherever you’re going. In Lima we had to pick a bus company, figure out where in that massive city their office was located, and go to buy tickets in advance. Harmeet and I pack and grab a bus to town, going to find this mythical bus terminal.

As it turns out, the terminal only hosts bus companies with routes going south, and it’s another two hours and three taxi rides back and forth across Trujillo before Harmeet has a ticket to Mancora and I have mine to Guayaquil and we’re finally sitting down to lunch in a little cafe near the historical center. Neither of us can leave until the evening, so we kill some hours walking through Trujillo’s colonial center, to a strange toy museum with dolls and antique toy cars and dollhouses and rocking horses and marionettes, back out to another cafe with divine espresso, and finally along a pedestrian street where we buy souvenirs and stroll with everyone else in the cool evening air and finally say goodbye when Harmeet squeezes into a taxi to her bus terminal and I wander around downtown Trujillo alone for a few hours before heading to my bus terminal for the midnight bus to Ecuador.

Midnight comes and goes at the bus terminal, but not my bus to Guayaquil, and at first I’m surprised and worried that the bus isn’t leaving on time. By the time one of the guys working at the terminal comes around to tell us it will be another three hours before the bus comes I’ve reminded myself that this is South America and almost nothing happens on time, and I’ve relaxed and tuned up my rusty Spanish chatting with the other two sleepy people waiting for the bus, Alan and Anna, he from Peru and she from Andalucia in Spain. We all sleep on the floor of the strange little waiting room until the bus finally arrives around 3:30.

Impressions from week one

Today is my fifth morning in South America. I’m leaving Bogota to travel to Medellin, and then onward to the northern coast, so I’ll take this opportunity to write some scenes from my first week. That’s what the first week is for me currently – a collection of scenes:

– The rooster starts to crow at around 5 in the morning. Who keeps a rooster in an apartment complex in a heavily populated neighborhood of a major metropolitan city? “Cock-a-doodle-doo” is too cheerful an onomatopoeia for any sound at such an indecent hour. I meant to ask Javier for the spanish word, hoping it would be more appropriate.


– I eat well. Eggs, tomatoes, arepas (little cakes made of cornstarch or flour with cheese) for breakfast (thanks Javier); ajiaco (soup); stir fry and chicken at home; and exotic fruits I’ve never seen or heard of before. I especially like the pitaya, which is small, yellow, and spiky on the outside, mild and sweet on the inside.

– At the museo Botero, Javier tells me that Botero painted fat people (and fat fruits, and fat violins…) because he wanted a way of making his subjects significant, as though through their enormous size they would acquire a kind of grandeur and permanence. The fat Mona Lisa is my favorite.



– Everyone makes me feel welcome. My Couchsurfing host Javier has a guest bedroom for me and threatens to kick me out when I try to help with the dishes. I meet other couchsurfers for dinner and drinks. Everyone is patient, friendly, welcoming.

– We walk through the historic neighborhood La Candelaria – historically significant and also historically unsafe. A security guard rests an enormous machine gun against her hip while she answers a text message on her iphone.

– Despite stern warnings from travel websites and Javier, I find the hike up Monserrate to be well-guarded and heavily traveled, mostly by high school girls. I’m delighted by brilliant flowers lining the path and increasingly impressive views of the city. I make the 2500 meter climb in about an hour, which is great considering the altitude (bogota is already 3000 meters above sea level). I’m told some people run up the trail in 30 minutes or less! At Monserrate I visit the little chapel and watch blue and green hummingbirds among the vivid blooms of plants I’ve never seen before.





It was a strange week. I was comfortable and well taken-care of, yet I didn’t feel like myself – truthfully, I wasn’t very happy. Transitions aren’t easy, even if you’re transitioning to something you’re excited about – maybe I was homesick, maybe depressed.

They’re not pleasant feelings, and I try not to let myself feel guilty for being unhappy (one of the awful things about depression – the depression makes you sad for no reason, and then you feel guilty for feeling sad with no reason, and then you’re depressed again). However, I welcome these feelings, unpleasant though they are. I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore my moods and their meanings. I try not to make decisions based only on my mood, but instead to use my emotions as one of many tools I can use to make choices.

As I write this my mood is shifting. I’m settling in to travel mode, feeling more comfortable and confident. I’ll write again from my next stop with more thoughts.


It was a good decision to take back roads instead of highways on my way from Reno to Wyoming.


Night fell on the backcountry Idaho road I was traveling. Decided to stop for the night and met a fellow family of travelers with fantastic stories of visits to Moscow in winter during the Cold War, Papua New Guinea, and remote areas of Africa.

Grand Teton national park today and for the next few days. It’s just over two years to the day since my best friend and I fell in love with the mountains here. I’ve been dying to explore them ever since!

Farewell to Tucson

The first leg of my trip is coming to an end, and I’m heading for Utah tomorrow.

It’s been a relaxing couple of weeks as I transition out of a typical working life and into a life and schedule of my own choosing.  As the pictures show, I’ve had a few adventures.

thunderstorm over a valley near Tucson, seen from the top of Mount Lemmon

Thunderstorm over a valley near Tucson, seen from the top of Mount Lemmon

I’ve had fun seeing friends, traveling, and relaxing, but it doesn’t feel entirely successful, yet.  I’m still getting the hang of a rhythm – is there even a rhythm to a life with no schedule? Day and night happen pretty predictably – everything else is subject to change, and I’m the one who decides when to sleep, eat, exercise, read, see friends.  It’s tremendously freeing, but also scary, to have so much freedom and so much responsibility together.  I really need to know who I am and what my priorities are in order to avoid being buffeted by the tides of whims, passing emotions, and the desires of others.

night-blooming cereus flowers - they bloom in the desert only once a year

Night-blooming cereus flowers – they bloom in the desert only once a year.  I feel so lucky to have discovered these, entirely by chance, as I found out about the opportunity from the news while watching TV for the first time in probably a year.

Tomorrow I begin meandering back to Reno via a couple of Utah’s gorgeous national parks.  I’ll say farewell to Tucson’s formidable heat (yay), lots of cacti (bummer), old and new friends (boo), and my cat (boooo).  My goal for the next week is to do my mini-road trip Mary-style.  I have a bad habit of worrying about what someone else would do in my place when I’m on a trip.  I worry that I’m wasting my time, or not doing it right, or that if I’d only planned better I could have done something really spectacular.  That worry poisons my experiences.  This week, I’ll try to go a few days without poison.


Sunset over Tucson, midway up the hike to Romero Pools

The Imperfect Drive to Tucson

The first leg of my long travel journey was the trip from Reno to Tuscon to temporarily re-home my sassy cat, Pixel.  It felt like the first step of my long year of traveling, and I had high expectations for everything to go well so I could feel like I’m making a fantastic decision by quitting my job to go exploring.

beautiful open road

beautiful open road

So, of course, it didn’t go as smoothly as I wanted.  Even with all the extra time I took to pack and get ready, there were speed bumps – I managed to leave a lot of packing until the last minute, and had to make frequent stops to check on the cat when she decided to dramatically flop around in her crate like a beached marine mammal (she was faking it.  Drama queen.).

I put a lot of pressure on myself to have this first step go impossibly smoothly, and I put myself through even more mental stress by telling myself I was supposed to be having fun, dammit.  It certainly didn’t make me feel like a cool, confident, seasoned traveler when I didn’t enjoy myself.

But I had an interesting revelation when I looked through the pictures I did manage to take once I calmed down enough to enjoy the drive.  It was a day that was supposed to be filled with adventure and wanderlust and seeing new places, but was actually full of stress, worry, and self-doubt.  The thing is, you can’t see it in the pictures – you can’t see any of what I was feeling. It looks like a perfect sunlit day, gorgeous clouds, blooming cacti, Joshua tree forests, and quirky roadside scenery.


some of the aforementioned quirky roadside scenery

What does it mean? Did the pictures give me an objective view of my experience, reminding me that all things considered, it wasn’t such a bad day? Or is it about the story I tell – as an optimist, I’ll focus on the positive regardless? And what about other travel blogs I read where everything always seems to go right and everyone’s hair is perfectly tousled and all the pictures are perfectly set against picturesque seascapes? What’s the hidden story behind those impossibly beautiful images?

In any case, I would like to offer the following caveat to accompany these pictures: I was worried almost the entire day – worried the bike would fall off the car, worried the cat would OD on the sedative I gave her, worried the car would break down in the middle of July with us far from friends and help – hell, I even beat myself up for worrying about anything at all, telling myself if I were really cut out for this life, I wouldn’t be so anxious. And still, it was an absolutely perfect drive.