After our time in Tacna, we wanted to spend a few days in a tranquil coastal town with a good swimming beach before heading to Cusco. We were told Boca del Rio was nice so we headed there. The bus ride was pretty short, only an hour away. When we arrived, we found a ghost town of closed shops and empty beaches. It was beautiful but without any people, it felt soulless. We walked back to the highway to hitch a ride farther up the coast.
We flagged down a bus which took us another 45 minutes to a town called Ite that Kurt had researched. It is a fisherman’s village, very beautiful and serene. When the bus pulled over, we realized the beach was inaccessible. It was beyond immense marshland and grazing sheep, a stark contrast to the surrounding desert. The town itself was up on a hill at least a few kilometers away. A taxi offered to take us but we opted to get back on the bus and continue up the coast in search of the perfect beach.
As we entered the bus once more, the locals began to giggle at the confused gringos that couldn’t figure out where they were going. It made me smile.
We finally decided to end our trip in Ilo, a port town filled with fresh fish, pelicans and large shipping boats. On our first evening we wanted to enjoy some seafood for dinner. We asked our hotelier to recommend a restaurant. He looked at the clock and told us that it was too late for seafood. Only meat and chicken are served at night. I thought he must be wrong. We wandered around looking for seafood and stopped at a popular outdoor eatery where women were serving a soup from a large pot. We asked a woman if it was a seafood soup and she said it was chicken. Asking her where we could find seafood, she replied, “No, es tan noche.” which literally translates to, “It’s too night.” This made us laugh. Another new cultural lesson: No seafood after dark.
We spent a few days getting to know the city and enjoying fresh seafood for breakfast (something that before this trip I had no idea I was capable of). We spent one afternoon wandering around “Puerto Ingles”, a beautiful cove perfect for swimming except for the Humbolt current which brings cold water from Antarctica. We knew the water would be cold but overcast days made our relaxing beach fantasy only a fantasy. We walked back to town admiring a 100 foot long rotting boat resting on the side of a major road.
Our last morning, we ate fresh chicharones de pescado at the fish market and Kurt inquired about the type of fish. We were told it was ‘diamante’ which literally translates to diamond but we had no idea what that meant. It was delicious. After returning to the hotel, Kurt looked it up and discovered it was swordfish, very high in mercury. Oops! I think we’ll survive.
We wanted to go to the next beach town to the north, Mollendo. We packed our belongings and headed to the bus station but were told that there were strikes outside of Mollendo and all the roads in the valley were impassable. Finally admitting our defeat in our desire for a beachy vacation in Southern Peru, we hopped a bus to Arequipa. From there, we caught an overnight bus to Cusco. We did not anticipate a twenty hour travel day when we left our hotel in Ilo.
As we entered the city limits of Arequipa, rush hour traffic began. We had been on the bus five hours and were becoming irritable. Suddenly a man from behind us went into the conductor’s compartment and asked him something then returned. He unzipped his guitar case and began to sing to us all. This kind of thing happens quite frequently in South America, but today it was extraordinary. As his rich voice resonated throughout the bus cabin, I began to see Mount Misti, a 19,101 foot volcano appearing in the background hovering over Arequipa. It warmed my heart and made me feel like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.