Monday, January 6, 2014

Punta Parinas and Cabo Blanco, Peru

We had intended our first stop to be the famous La Brea Tar pits but were disappointed to find that there was no evidence, no signs, nothing to indicate where they are. What we did find was oil wells, lots of them, some abandoned but most working, pumping, collecting one of the commodities that run the world economy and half of Peru’s domestic consumption. Striking out on the tar pits, we continue to the coastal town of Talara and head back south down a gravel road to our next stop which is the westernmost point in South America. Punta Parinas is just that, a point with a working lighthouse. There is a cove with a small beach where we can park and stretch our legs, however to get to the lighthouse is quite a trek and a climb up a cliff. Westernmost point it may be but we simply did not have the time for a possible 3 hour round trip hike across sand and up a cliff just for a few photographs and a pat on the back. So, after some photos with a zoom lens, we headed for our next interesting stop, Cabo Blanco. Starting in El Alto, we leave the Pan American again to start a steep descent of some three miles to Cabo Blanco, with all immensity of the ocean in front of us. Everything seems stuck in time, back in the golden age of the 1950s, when Cabo Blanco was known as the world Mecca for sports fishing, and for playing host to the international jet set. Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Rockefeller and, most famously of all, Ernest Hemingway, are among those who visited here. Hemingway resided for more than a month in this tiny town to write part of his novel, The Old Man and the Sea, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1953. The sea around Cabo Blanco has a peculiarity that makes it unique in the world, as it is here two great currents, El NiƱo and the Humboldt, meet. Providing a diversity of marine life, it also ensures that the water is neither cold nor warm, meaning that marine fishing is available year-round. Fishing for black marlin, swordfish, turbot, tuna and sailfish are still one of the major draws for the laid-back town and fishing competitions are held regularly. In 1953, Alfred Glassell Jr. caught the IGFA all tackle world record black marlin, weighing 1560 pounds and 650 pounders (300kg) are still recorded here, although large tuna are the most commonly caught. The town is undergoing somewhat of a “facelift”, with a new promenade featuring brick inlay work, a playground, outdoor fitness equipment and a modest statue of Ernest Hemingway – a bust set on a granite pedestal with a plaque honoring the great writer. A new concrete pier has been built replacing an older wooden one which was destroyed by the high surf that pounds the shore. According to many surfers, Cabo Blanco has one of the best waves in Peru, a hollow powerful left-hand break that reaches four meters in height. Called the “Peruvian Pipeline”, referring to the “Banzai Pipeline” in Hawaii, it demands a certain level of experience so as not to end up crashed on the rocks. This wave is joined by another, at the southern end of the beach, whose name says it all: Panic Point. Swells from Hawaii does in fact go on to reach Peru; and one of the best ways to get a surf forecast is to monitor via internet the Hawaiian surf and whatever swell they have will arrive here about 5 days later. The wave inspires a kind of fanaticism among surfers. Crowds of surfers are drawn to the wave from Lima and from around the world. With modern swell forecasts and the internet, it's easy to know when swell is on the way and the surfers once there all pack into a single tight takeoff zone, despite other waves elsewhere in the area. Looking out towards the horizon, in addition to a flotilla of fishing boats, are oil rigs which resemble metallic mushrooms. A blight on the landscape or an inevitable necessity? Environment versus economics. Unfortunately, this stretch of the Peruvian coastline is where they extract the most oil and currently economics wins although there is tight control because of the fishing revenues in the area. Economics again! We are tempted to stay overnight but the only viable spot is at the end of the beach, close to the pier. It is not the prettiest of places nor the best smelling with scores of discarded, rotting fish littering the area, so we once again decide to keep driving in our quest for those swaying palm trees.

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