Solar Powered Spirit
Surf + Sand + Sun = Smiles.
I've known for some time that I need periods of beach time to satisfy a part of my personality. I'm happy when my hair is blond and my skin is brown.
It seems like it's been forever since I've heard the intoxicating sound of waves breaking on the beach—Costa Rica, back in July. The wave-less bay and lackluster shore of Taganga, Colombia hardly counts as beach time.
I've found the secret to time travel. Three or four days on the beach fly by like a single, inland day. The days in Máncora, like many beach towns, just seem to melt together.
Máncora is about 2.5 hours south of the border with Ecuador. Traveling here I was rather captivated by how many distinct micro-climates I passed through. I couldn't believe it when I saw rice paddies for as far as the eye could see—the first time since Thailand, 2004.
I sometimes wonder where all the rice comes from. It's big dietary component of most of the places I've visited this year, yet I never see it being grown—a major import product.
I'm in Máncora at the peak of the low season. There's only a handful of tourists in this town of about 2,500 people. The crowds start to pour in during late October, and by November the town will swell to an amazing amount of 15–20,000. Lord only knows where all the people go (camping on the beach is permissible here, but can be dangerous).
This town sits right on the Pan-American Highway, which can be rather annoying. A highway, with semi-trucks and double-decker buses, is not meant to be the main avenue of a town without sidewalks. The street is absolutely clogged with motorbike tuk-tuk taxis—their sound gets under my skin.
Thankfully the beach is only a stone's throw away from my hotel room (where there are blood streaks on the concrete wall from the mosquitoes I've been killing). It's rather temperate at the moment—the ocean is too chilly for me to jump into. There's a constant breeze that kicks off the sea that the kitesurfers are loving.
I'm so intrigued by the little crabs that scurry this way and that. I'm waiting to encounter a biologist on the beach one of these days that can sit and explain all the nuances of their behavior to me.
I'm on the Máncora Diet. I've gone from food Heaven to Hell. Ecuador was smothering me in filling, inexpensive food, but not a trace of it can be found in this beach town. It's worse than Montezuma, Costa Rica. Nothing but restaurants—dozens and dozens of them.
I went searching for cheap eats in the rougher part of town, where maybe 1-in-1,000 tourists will venture, at most (they'd probably call them favelas in Brazil). No luck. I don't get it. There's one woman who shows up to serve paper-thin "hamburgers" for US$0.30 after dark, half way across town, where I've been having my only meal for the day.
The one day I did eat well was last Sunday, when I spent the day with four local Peruvian ladies at a beach-side hotel (which one of them runs). Tasty regional food for lunch, lounging and playing poolside in the afternoon, and an amazing fish dinner with all the trimmings (prepared by the cook).
Mid-afternoon a couple of us walked down to the beach and sliced off bunches of some type of animal attached to a large rock in the surf. I had no idea what was going on—just following orders. We gathered a good amount of the little tubular, tentacled creatures (that popped out of their clawish, clam-like shell when submerged by a breaking wave), and delivered them to the hotel cook. Boiled up and presented on a plate, I was told they were called Percebes, and that the quantity on the in front of us would run about €100 in Spain. Yummy.
I get a really odd feeling about this town (probably a lot has to do with the whole highway rest stop vibe I'm getting). I've been chatting with a few business owners about the town, trying to get a better understanding of the place.
For some reason the crime has really been picking up recently. There have been several incidents of tourists being held up and liberated of their belongs—at least one per week for the past month or two.
In July, an entire hotel (of about a dozen rooms) was robbed as gunmen cleaned out management and the guests; two nights ago gun fire erupted down the street (drug distribution related); and just last night the only official money changer in town had his backdoor broken down, was tied up, and relieved of his supply of cash. I'm amazed this happens in a town that's the population of my old high school.
One restaurateur told me—after a warning not to walk too far towards the local's side of town—how the currents turned sour about 10 weeks ago and some fishermen have turned to robbing tourists to subsidize their income. Just an excuse for unacceptable actions? Yeah, probably.
I'd entertain the notion of picking up a bartending gig here during the peak season (if I was around), but with pay for an entire night of work hovering between $15–20 soles (about US$5–6), I'd probably pass. I'm sure I could make a nice, profitable living by simply selling skewers of grilled chicken on the beach.
I suppose I'll make the big jump to Lima next. I say big jump because I'm looking at a solid 18–20 hours for the bus trip. (bleh)
Will this be my last beach until Brazil? I'm not sure—it sure looks like that might be the case. I don't care much for cold weather, and nothing makes me travel faster than when I'm shivering. South I go.