The term "clanning" describes individuals seeking the belonging of a group that shares common causes, feelings and ideals. When a traveller finds herself in a foreign country she seeks many things; adventure, new flavours, beautiful sights, long walks, live music and often, like-minded people. Though we travel to get away from the known and discover the new - duck-and-covering when we hear our native dialect and happily finding photo opportunities in the ways that the local corner store differs from the one at home - and though we can be most content wandering an empty shore lost in solitude - we are only human. Eventually we find our way to friends.
Jihuay is a small, self-sufficient farm hidden away from the rest of the world. It lies on the Panamericana Sur highway on the southern coast of Peru, a 30 minute walk down from the Santa Rosa De Atiquipa village. An isolated beach surrounded by desert cliffs pulled from Planet of the Apes - alien in their rocky form and burnt hue.
A Peruvian man, Álvaro, and his partner Jamie, live here year round and sleep blissfully each night in a tent under the stars. They have chickens, ducks, goats, guinea pigs, rabbits, two cats, three dogs, and occasionally a stray corgie mutt (named Cabezón or Big Head for his disproportion) who, on every day but Sunday (Chicken Dinner Night back home) sticks around to sadly attempt moves on the girl dogs. This is the wonderful company Álvaro and Jamie always keep. The volunteers, however, come and go - presumably as they find what they come looking for.
This is a work-away farm. Volunteers work half days in exchange for room and board and, as we discovered by the end of our stay, a truly meaningful experience. Everyone rises at seven with the sun and sound of the waves and meets for a delicious breakfast at the large wooden outdoor table that became the centre of our days. Cafe con leche, hot oatmeal sprinkled liberally with azucar, vanilla, chia seeds, and sliced banana or scooped granadilla, soft linseed buns with butter and strawberry jam, and fresh black olives picked from the farm. Next we feed the animals; alfalfa is cut, grain divvied up and goats brought to pasture. Work is so light its pleasurable.
The sun is hot and the sky's bright azul almost always untouched by cloud. A quick morning tea in the shade is welcome and we help chop food in preparation for lunch. In fact, most of our time and conversation at Jihuay is spent on the next meal. We couldn't get enough; home-cooked, garden fresh vegetables are impossible to find in most of South America and we ate hungrily in huge portions. Beet and onion salad with queso and lime juice, stews and curries made of peanuts or lentils or squash served over hot rice. And after lunch a fantastic Latin tradition; siesta. Hours are spent swaying in the hammock with a book, laying on the soft beach, or simply sleeping in the breeze.
One might varnish wood, water trees, change a rabbit pen, or carefully dig up sweet potato - though everything at a leisurely pace allowing for the enjoyment of the senses. On days when we could successfully pull ourselves out of the comfort of doing nothing in particular, we might hike around the cliffs in search of penguins and sea lions or rock pools filled with strange crustaceans and molluscs. Sometimes we had to gingerly pick our way over human bones, once pillaged by grave robbers and left in piles to bleach under the sun. The femurs in particular became frequent and unfortunate toys for the Neapolitan Mastiff puppy. The Humboldt Current travels up from Antartica and brings with it some very cold water and crashing waves, however, the beach is perfectly smooth and the sun is strong so quick dips are attempted by the brave. As the sun sets over the water the animals cry out for more food and after feeding is done the group comes together for tea, coffee and a cigarette. Music comes on; songs from all over the world left behind by travellers from all over the world. We watch the sun disappear and chat, maybe hang out long enough to play cards and chop some more food for dinner, followed by a third and final tea before we head off for an early night, peering up at the brilliant stars cut into the black fabric of the sky, inhaling deeply, and wondering if we can stay forever.
We have all come here for a vacation from our vacations. A chance to leave our suitcases unpacked for a while, to do nothing, to be quiet. One volunteer has come back a second year round this time with her paints and easel, intent on teaching herself a new craft. At Jihuay you are free. You do exactly as you wish and nothing more. There is no pressure to perform or get things done. We entered a sort of twilight zone where time bent. There is no wifi, no news from the outside world. Days seem slow and easy but pass in a flash. We couldn't remember what we'd done just yesterday...surely not much. In fact our energy seemed to be spent on each other. The frequent coming together of a group of eight or so strangers to work or eat was an activity we craved. We had found a clan. A clan united by the desire to touch nature, to eat fresh vegetables, to breathe in silence, to reflect, to share stories. A cleanse. Both physically (as some poor souls get the Jihuay Bug: a two pronged attack on both ends) and spiritually as the stunning landscape demanded.
It can't be known if each volunteer came here to purge shared demons or find answers to shared questions, however we all had something in common. Each one had a need for touch. It's silly, we spend so much of travel using only our eyes. We peer out tour bus windows, we wander museums and stare, we squint through camera lenses to take a visual memories. We don't touch. Or not as much as the body wants. At Jihuay we used our hands like eyes. We touched green plants, warm sand, rough bark. We felt animals coats and scratched behind their ears. Our nails were constantly full of earth from plucking tomatoes and wrenching weeds. We thumbed the soft pages of well worn books. We painted. Each of us hungered for the tactile joy of cooking; we squeezed limes for mojitos, we kneaded pillowy dough for pizzas and fresh buns, we stirred chocolate over flames to make moist beetroot cake, we barbecued chicken and fish over a hot grill. Even the washing of dishes became a simple pleasure.
Jihuay is surely a form of paradise and yet we watched as each volunteer before us eventually said goodbye. Perhaps they had found what they were looking for. Perhaps they were once again filled up. The cleanse complete. The questions answered or at least quietened. We stayed ten days. Near the end we became restless. Our minds wandered to distant lands. We had found a clan of travellers, shared food and stories and co-existed in this tranquil place. It was magical and we felt the seductive pull to stay another ten days...20? 60? To stay. To clan. But stronger still was the traveller within each of us. She pushed us, as she always will, back to the road. She said pack your bags, you're done here. There is more to be seen, to be known, to be touched.
Daytrip: Chala Pop: 3,864 Alt: 500m
Chala is a nearby town full of both drunk miners looking for more cerveza and plump vacationers looking for ceviche and sea air. The locals arrive either by colectivo (a shared van of 12), mega bus transit (also the only way to send packages and mail) and hitchhiking. Giant transport trucks cross the Panamericana Sur every two minutes moving goods down from Lima to Arequipa. If the driver has an empty front seat he will most likely pick you up in exchange for a couple soles. Ten feet above the ground, we cruise slowly down the arid coast with the Pacific crashing at the bottom of a cliff that drops sharply off on our right. We pass giant rocks spray painted into billboard advertising, campaign posters and graffiti. We pass "La Mina Caliente" one of two brothels on the outskirts of town. Our driver asks if that's our stop - are we going to work? Laughter makes us hungry and at the local street mercado we fill up on scallop potatoes with cheese, and a fried pork belly called chicharron. A Liman couple sunning on the porch of their vacation house invite us to go get ceviche by the water. They are animated and love this town. She wears aqua blue contacts larger than her irises and he threads his brows, a lot. We sit in the sea breeze listening to stories from our new friends and try the local ceviche mixto; super spicy citrus marinated fish, calamari, sea urchin, and shrimp. Though we're still full from the market we can't get enough and even drink the "leche de tigre" left at the bottom. The cool ocean looks inviting however a glance down the beach reveals a flow of town sewage entering the water. We decide to bear the heat. Pelicans perch by the docks waiting for the fisherman to come in with the daily catch. We are ready to catch another trucker; fit to burst and looking forward to the peace and quiet of Jihuay. As we climb into the cab of a man with a half-smiley knife scar on his face we can't help but wonder what's for dinner back at the farm.
What is Dirty Roads?
We are two girls, dedicated to an elevated travel lifestyle. We trek the Earth with camera and pen in hand to document an experience. We believe in respecting the land and the indigenous cultures we encounter, tasting authentic and delicious handmade foods, challenging our world views, seeking incredible beauty, and above all going beyond our nerves. Travel is not travel without a dusty face.