Some how I found myself in Lomas, a small fishing village on the west coast of Peru. The streets are bare and smell of fish. The side alleys are littered with skeletons of boats, indicating a longstanding yet descending industry. I went down to the ocean to take a few deep breaths of fresh air. This proved difficult due to the large fish processing plant fifty meters away. I was however able to photograph the water fowl, including large pelicans drawn here by the odor and the opportunity to clean the shoreline of rotten carcasses.
So why am I here? I am here on a hunch, a little idea that was given to me by someone that I met in a hostel in Arequipa, a hunch that I might find something incredible. This idea came from a Portuguese photographer who told me about his mission to photograph as much as he could of Peru (taking almost a year and a half). He told me about a little village where he spent time with the locals and did incredible things, including fishing and hunting for fossils. I immediately changed my plans and decided it was time to escape the grasps of Lonely Planet and take a road less traveled in the hope that it would make all the difference. Help me find what I was looking for (I didn’t really know). It was really an epiphany. WTF am I doing heading to a beach town when I could take a risk and maybe have an experience like this guy!
After making this decision, I made my way to the bus station to check departure times to Lomas (or rather Sacaco the town near Lomas on the PanAm). I walked through the terminal asking every bus company about buses Sacaco. No-one had heard of it let alone had buses going there. I went to the info desk and asked to see a map. She showed me a fairly extensive road map and to my dismay Sacaco was not on it. She had however randomly heard of Lomas and told me what bus to catch and when to get off. Great im sorted.
After two bus cancellations, a bit of waiting, someone asking me if I wanted to make the eight hour trip in aisle and a bit of research, I found a bus that was heading in the right direction. After a lot of pleading, I convinced the bus driver to make the unscheduled stop. I was promptly dumped on the side on the road and told ¨Ten cuidado con tus coasa¨ or ¨Be careful with your things¨ It was 430 am and I was at a crossroads in the middle of the desert. I sat there for a few minutes thinking about what I was going to do here. Do I start walking? I have no idea how far it is down that road. I decided I would do what every respectful person would...start knocking on doors. There was only two or three (explaining why Sacaco was no on the map) but I had luck at the first door. The was guy home and was actually willing to drive me for a fee.
With the stearing wheel embedded in his stomach, we screamed toward Lomas. Im not too sure how he was able to see the large potholes in the road as one of his headlights was fixed 45 degrees to the right of the car ( I think it was the left one) and the other was stargazing. He seemed to know when they were coming. Long before I could see anything, I would hear the rubbing sound of wheel on belly as he began to take evasive action. We arrived in town and he took me to one of the two places with rooms. Upon knocking for about 15 minutes, (I wasn’t to sure why we weren’t giving up, perhaps he knew something I didn’t, or perhaps for lack of alternatives) and yelling Paisa! Which is slang for countryman, one of the drunkest men I have ever seen opened the door. We bartered on the price a bit and he showed me to my room, which was for all intents and purposes, under construction.
I awoke very early to the sound of Spanish music blaring from a stereo (I assume the caretaker was trying to wake himself up, perhaps not remembering anyone was there??). I wasn’t sure if the guy was going to remember me let alone remember our decided price on the room. In any event, I walked out the door and was ignored (fine by me).
After walking around for the better part of the day, and asking people about “the guy who goes into the desert and looks for fossils” (My Portuguese friend didn’t remember his name), I found Pizza. He was very excited about the premises of taking me. We decided to head out the next day into the desert to see what we could find. We left early in the morning, caught a car out to the cross roads of the Pan Am and from there headed out into the desert. After a few hours of walking, we started to arrive in a strange terrain. It was blowing like a MF and my skin was burning from the sand. As we walked he explained to me that this whole area was once under water. The whole desert was once a see bed and now the wind excavates fossils every day. He showed me all types of animals that he had found but left in their places. Among some of the most interesting were the Dolphins and whales. Whales! Full skeletons. Massive. In the middle of the desert. As we walked all around us there were beds of fossilized plants and shells. We even found sharks teeth, fossilized, just lying in the desert.
The next few days I spent walking around by myself, along the beach, and into the desert. On the first day, I was snapping shots in the dunes not to far from the town and I came across some bones. They looked fairly large. I wasn’t sure what they were but they sure looked human to me. I kept looking. I wasn’t long before a found myself in the middle of a half-unearthed graveyard, with white bones glistening in the desert sun. Some of them still wearing clothes and some of their skin, others had nothing but gold plates in their skulls (evidently put there by some sort of surgery). Upon returning to the village, I inquired about this eerie place. I was told that it was a cemetery from the time of the Incas, unearthed by the wind and erosion.
Two days ago, I was hanging around on the docks, talking to the fishermen and I was offered a unique experience: to go out with them as they hunted Pota. I wasn’t exactly sure what Pota was but it sounded interesting. They told me that we would be back the next morning around nine. I agreed and ran back to my room to get my things together. The boat left at 3 in the afternoon. At about dusk we arrived at the fishing grounds. The fishermen began to prepare their gear, which essentially consisted of a rather thick line with a device that looks like an elongated egg that glows, attached to a menacing barbed hook. They threw them overboard and began to feel the lines for bites. The first one bit fairly violently. The fisherman fought with it for some time pulling it in bit by bit. As it arrived at the side of the boat, a huge column of water was shot about 10 feet in the air. I looked overboard and saw the Pota. Giant squid. This one was about 2 meters long and very angry. It made sounds like a broken brass instrument as it was pulled into the boat. This process went on all night. Every time one came to the surface it flushed its internal canal of all of its water to try to deter its captor. They worked for about 12 hours non-stop until the hold was almost full, and the sun had risen. When dawn was upon us, the captain of the boat (it was only about 25 feet long). Sat down next to me and said. “Mi amigo Andrés, eso es nuestra vida… es un poco triste” or “Andrew my friend this our life… its a little sad”. They do this every day. Leave at three in the afternoon and return at nine in the morning and repeat.
I left Lomas with a really good feeling about the people and the place. An undiscovered treasure of Peru.