Trying to capture a persons' whole essence and the spark that is felt when in their presence is not an easy task. We recently concluded a magical weekend in Paracas with our host Amin, who is our friend Anahís' dad. I will do my best to give him and our stay with him the life they deserve and take you on the wild ride that was our weekend.
As tempting as it is to tell this story out of order, I think it's best to start at the beginning, of how we met Amin.
Anahí invited us to go to her dads scallop farm several hours south of Lima for a weekend at the beach before we had ever even met. She had heard that we were in Lima from her boyfriend Kyle, who is a friend of ours from San Francisco. He put us into contact with her, and just a few short days later we were all set to go. We had originally planned to take a bus, leaving early Saturday morning with travel time estimated to be around four hours.
On Friday afternoon, Anahí told us her dad was coming to Lima for some errands and to get his car looked at. He would be able to drive us south the next day, picking us up around noon and we were super excited since the drive would be much shorter in a car.
Around eleven am on Saturday morning Anahí let us know that he was running late and was expecting to arrive closer to one. We decided to go to her house at noon anyhow, since we had nowhere else to go in the meantime. Four hours and who knows how many cigarettes later, he finally let us know that he was just around the corner and that we should come downstairs.
My mind was in a light haze when he arrived; hours of relaxed conversation and secondhand smoke had gotten to me. As we crammed into the backseat of an overflowing SUV packed to the brim with supplies, I caught my first glimpse of a man, smoking a cigarette and wearing a fedora and sunglasses behind the wheel.
As we meandered through southern Lima, Anahí and her dad caught up in Spanish leaving Joe and I to ponder our surroundings. From ramshackle homes, to industrial parks, it was quite a different side of Lima than we had seen so far.
Joe soon dozed off, and I took in the scenery, lulled by the rhythms of their conversations. Around the second hour, the car began to misbehave and we pulled over, engine smoking. As we slowed to a stop, Amin started yelling into his phone in lisping Spanish. I looked around at the vast empty landscape wondering how long help might take to come. However after a few minutes of checking various fluid levels in the engine while we got out and stretched our legs, Amin hopped back in and started the engine. We proceeded on, careening down the highway, car roaring, trailer bouncing, praying to make it the rest of the way.
Brown and gray desert rolled past the windows, shanties and half completed construction projects dotting the countryside. After a few more stops to fill up on petrol and propane (I had no idea that most cars here run on propane,) we finally arrived in one of the most chaotic little towns I have ever been in.
Chincha is the most peculiar blend of poverty stricken and luxury branding that I have ever seen. Audi dealers next to shacks, luxury shopping malls and stray dogs lining the streets. Little rickshaws with no apparent concern for traffic laws zooming here and there, garishly decorated with neon blinking lights, always within millimeters of their next collision.
We stopped here and had a light snack of beef and artichoke empanadas which were either insanely delicious, or we were just that hungry, and ice cold beers while mechanics had a look at the car.
We were back on the road within no time. While stopped, night had fallen, and we suddenly found ourselves in Pisco. A small coastal town that still hasn't quite recovered from a massive earthquake in 2007. Most of its buildings had been destroyed and have since been rebuilt, or haphazardly patched together.
We stopped for dinner here, at a little restaurant that was blasting American dance hits. It was 9:30 at night on a Saturday, and yet we were the only patrons in the place. Amin explained that it was too expensive for most of the people in the area, it was most likely located in the wrong neighborhood for the vision they hoped to create. The meal however was fantastic and was our first introduction to "lomo saltado" a regional classic that is a bright expression of the Chinese and Native influences in Peru.
We continued on our driving tour of Pisco into Paracas after dinner, with Amin excitedly shouting out "bank, bordello, cemetery, nightclub" as we passed many of each in both towns. He knew we were contemplating coming back to spend a few days in town, and I think was working to persuade us to continue south after our weekend with him. We eventually did skip a return visit, realizing that there was still a long way to go for complete recovery of the area.
While explaining the devastation of the earthquake, Amin also told us of the accompanying tsunami that washed over the area as well, in some place extending as far as a mile inland. With no elevation or hills to stop the water, what had been started by the quake was finished by the waves.
Boats were hurled into houses and flood waters reaching as high as many roofs. As we drove along the coastal highway, he pointed out where he had been in his old Volvo when the water washed him off the road and swept him into a side street. He laughingly described how he was "dishwashered" around with no concern in his voice, his daughter shaking her head as she translated.
After a long stretch of coastal highway we arrived at the the peninsula he lives on, and as we passed enormous mansions he pointed out those who belonged to friends of his, some of whom he has known for close to thirty years.
The lights soon faded, and we were left amidst rolling dunes on a small road with no lights. If we thought his driving had been questionable before, now we had no doubt. Here and there deciding to randomly go off the road to careen over mounds of sand and laughing as he cracked a beer and lit another Marlboro red.
We made it in one piece to the cliffs above his home, where he parks his cars. Descending down stairs carved into the rock, he explained that his generator had gone out a few days before, so we had just the light of our two flashlights to get by. We unloaded the cars, with his helper rousing from sleep to assist.
Making our way down the steep staircase and past an outhouse, Paracas nothing more than faint twinkle of stars on the far horizon across the darkness of the bay. We put our belongings in the tent which would be our home for the next couple of days and sat down around the light of a single candle, drinking an anis flavored spirit and smoking into the night.
His stories are one of a kind, a born storyteller, excitedly sharing his life and experiences with those around him. It was such a pleasure to just listen to him and his daughter who translated when we couldn't understand.
He was the first man to begin farming scallops in Peru. Able to live within the nature preserve of Paracas because he was the first to apply for a permit to raise scallops in the bay there. It was was a novel idea at the time, and many others have since followed suit, though only a handful of others are able to live on the beach as he does. His nearest neighbor was a speck in the distance.
He sells his scallops to many top restaurants in Lima, driving the live scallops there himself multiple times a week. Over the years he has built quite the following, clients of his knowing that he has great quality and is continually making sure that his scallops are up to par.
The next mornings sun woke us at seven am, the heat and light of it making the tent unbearable. We stepped out into a morning that was white with light, the suns intensity reflecting off the smooth waters of the bay. What had been hidden in the darkness was now revealed to us in its full glory. The beach was littered with purple scallop shells, as well as clumps of a green jelly like sea grass, three small boats moored just offshore, Amin's fleet.
As we walked towards the light blue brick cabin, we were greeted by two large dogs and a cat rambunctiously "playing" in the morning sun. Amin preparing a breakfast for us of fresh guacamole with rolls, and hot coffee. Gregariously greeting us in stilted English "good morning".
We relaxed for a couple of hours in the shade, preparing for a long day of sight seeing and scallop diving in the sun. Finally deciding it was time to go, we loaded up and headed out. We were shown a side of the area we might have never otherwise know about.
From a secluded beach in the middle of the desert, accessible only by a thin staircase, pristine azul waters and only the tiniest of waves caressing its golden beaches, to immense cliffs soaring over a raging ocean and vantage points with which to view the lobos de marinos (sea lions) below.
A man who marches to the beat of his own drum, he is a colorful character who takes signs and postings as suggestions as opposed to absolutes. One particular instance that come to mind is when we went to go look at the "Chapel" a landmark that is viewed from atop high cliffs onto the stone formations below.
As he drove to the edge of the cliff and parked, we saw attendants waving their arms with their mouths moving quickly. He let let us out of the car as he lit a cigarette and made a phone call. As one of them drew nearer, the engine of his pathfinder suddenly roared to life and he spun around heading back the way we had come, leaving us behind in a massive cloud of dust to deal with the upset woman. As the she finally reached us, looking deflated, she scolded us for parking so close to the cliff and cautioned Anahì to not litter her cigarette butt.
Racing across empty desert towards destinations unknown was an incredible and exhilarating way to spend the day. No music ever needed to occupy the airspace. Silence punctuated by ripping wind through open windows and brief conversations about what we were seeing was the only soundtrack required.
After returning from the mornings sights, we were visited by one of the park officials. He was looking for some scallops from Amin, for a dinner party he hosting later that evening. Since we were already planning on heading out to gather some for our own dinner, there was no issue in harvesting some extra. We all loaded into the officials red zodiac and raced away from shore. Looking back to see Amin behind the wheel, I made sure to have a firm hold as he zipped this way and that in the little speed boat.
Upon reaching the area of water where his farm is, we tied the red boat to Amins which was already out there with a diver preparing to go down. The water is just 12 feet deep in most of the bay here, with un-characteristically cold waters caused by the Humboldt current that make this an ideal area for scallops . Within minutes of going under, he quickly came up to surface with a netted basket full of the bi-valves. One more dive was all it took to ensure that both boats were teeming with clapping scallop's, the passengers in the other boat thanked us as they pulled away.
Soon after returning to shore, we had four courses of scallops to contend with. From raw, to baked with butter and cheese, to a pasta with red sauce and finally finishing with an incredible ceviche that had been cooking while we ate everything else. We were so full that we all dozed off within minutes of finishing the gargantuan meal. Joe in the hammock, Amin inside and Anahí and myself on the beach, only to be roused shortly after by the rising tide nipping our fingertips.
It was an incredibly laid back day, and we were all exhausted from the food and sun. Bedtime came early, and we woke up to a final morning on the beach. As we packed our belongings, we decided that we had to come back to this magical beach aptly named "el paraíso", before we left South America.
As we were readying to leave, it was decided that Amin needed to bring his ice box into town to be looked at. So we loaded it onto his trailer before driving down the rocky beach towards the road. The tide was high, and I looked out of my window knowing that if I were to open my door, water would come rushing in. Soon after, the car began to make a funny ticking noise, and ground to a halt. This was a strangely familiar scene, us and the refrigerator stranded in the middle of the desert. Joe napped as we waited for Amin to return with help, while Anahi and I chatted and smoked cigarettes. An hour or maybe two passed and our saviors arrived with an extra car, while towing ours away.
Looking back on such a memorable weekend full of surprises and mishaps, what really speaks to me is the measure of absolute hospitality we received from a family we barely knew. We were welcomed into their life and home, no questions asked, and shown what life is like for a local fisherman. It is an experience that I know we will remember fondly, and having just lived it, can't believe what a blast it was. A huge thank you to Amin and Anahí, thank you for making us family.