A Peanut in Chimbote: “Dangers and Annoyances” in Peru

Did you hear about the peanut that went to the city of Chimbote? She was a-salted.

Get it?

And guess who played the role of the peanut in this scenario? Yours truly. Actually, I’m making it out to be worse than it was. I’ll backtrack and tell you about Chimbote, but rest assured I’m fine and I wasn’t physically hurt.

On Saturday, October 3rd, Sophie and I set out north for the coastal city of Chimbote. It’s not really a tourist spot, but a friend of mine from college is spending the next two years there as an Incarnate Word Missionary and I decided to visit (and, per usual, dragged Sophie into it with me).

Because it is located directly on the coast, the economy of Chimbote relies on its fishing. However, the fishing facilities suffered severely from the earthquake in 1970 and indiscriminate fishing practices have desecrated the fish population. Now, the city is characterized by widespread unemployment and impoverishment.

Plaza Grau. Chimbote, Peru.
Plaza Grau. Chimbote, Peru.

Despite its fiscal problems, Chimbote really has some incredible views. From the Plaza Grau we could see the Isla Blanca (White Isle), the Cerro de la Juventud (Mountain of Youth), and hundreds of fishing boats floating on the bay. For any tourists to the area or people passing through on their way to the more popular city of Trujillo, there are also apparently very nice beaches and the Humedales de Villa Maria, a scenic swamp that is home to many species of animals.

Anyway, Sophie and I arrived in Chimbote around 4:30 in the afternoon. The parish that Jen was working with was putting on a big concert of local bands and choirs, so we saw some of that and then headed back to Jen’s home to clean up a little. When Jen left us around 7:00 to go help with skits that were being performed at the parish, Sophie and I decided to head out to find dinner. Although Chimbote is technically a city, the side streets aren’t really paved and there aren’t streetlights, so it was pretty dark. As we were walking, a man stumbling toward us looked at me and suddenly lunged at me, grabbing at my head. He said something, but I couldn’t make it out. Sophie pushed him and he lost his balance a little. I tried to twist away but he grabbed my head again and repeated the words. This time I understood. “Prestamelos,” or “Lend me those.” He was trying to grab the sunglasses that I had forgotten were still on my head. I twisted away again and this time he managed to get a hold of the sunglasses. Luckily that’s all he wanted and he walked off and I was fine; shaken up and a little fazed, but otherwise fine.

Cañòn del Pato
Cañòn del Pato

We also ran into some trouble as we traveled from Chimbote to the town of Huaraz to meet up with the boys. There are three routes to get to Huaraz from Chimbote. The first is through the Cañòn del Pato, an incredibly scenic route complete with tunnels, ravines, rivers, and tiny bridges. Sophie and I wanted to take this route, but there were no buses heading in this direction when we got to the Chimbote terminal. The second route takes you to the city of Casma, and then from Casma to Huaraz, although the highway on the second leg of the trip is supposedly VERY rough. Since Sophie and I were pretty tired and wanted to sleep on the bus, we opted for the third route. This route takes you south of Casma to Pativilca. In Pativilca you board another bus that takes you back north and slightly west to Huaraz.

We got to Pativilca without incident. The driver and ticket collector were actually very nice and helped us off the bus, telling us that the man in the yellow jacket would get us to Huaraz. We walked over to him, looking for a bus, but there were only station wagons. The man said that everyone took cars from Pativilca to Huaraz and that there were no buses. So we loaded our bags into one of the cars and drove to the gas station next door. The driver said that we needed to pay him right away so he could fill up on gas, and that the ride was 40 soles apiece. It sounded pretty expensive, but there were no buses, right? What option did we have?

As we were sitting at the gas station (NOT getting gas), the driver told me that we had to wait for two more people to fill up the car before we could leave. But, if we wanted, we could just pay for the other two fares and leave right away. I told him that was WAY too expensive.

We waited around the gas station for a while. I saw some people waiting by the road, and I got suspicious. I went over and asked them if they were waiting for a bus to Huaraz. They said they were, but they didn’t know when it would get there. I went back to the driver and asked him again about the bus, telling him the information I had just learned. The driver said that yes, there were buses, but that they weren’t much cheaper. Then he said they were usually full, and that we only needed one more person before we would be off.

At this point I started to get upset, and I started to argue with the guy. (Note: my Spanish improves EXPONENTIALLY when I am angry or think I’m getting ripped off.) I told him I wanted my money back, because if a bus happened to pass before we found another passenger, Sophie and I were taking the bus. Ornery as I was, I think the driver was genuinely amused by me. He would tell me to calm down (“Tranquilo!”) and try to tell me more lies about the busses, and I would tell him that I was very angry and shake my head.

Finally, a bus pulled in for Huaraz. I looked at the driver triumphantly and told him to give me my money back. He gave it back, and Sophie and I took the bus to Huaraz for 15 soles each (where we happened to run into a group of Peace Corps guys and ex-pats on their way back from mountain climbing. We ended up having dinner with them that night, so I say it was all worth it).

If you’ve ever looked at a Lonely Planet book, almost every town or city has a section entitled “Dangers and Annoyances.” It describes all the things to watch out for in the area. Unfortunately, there isn’t one for Chimbote. So this is my little warning to travelers, although it can be applied to any city or town that you are in. Just be aware that things CAN happen; you aren’t invincible; there’s no bubble that protects you and your personal space. The canadian woman we met in Huacachina told us that the night before, someone slipped something into her drink and she didn’t remember anything. Luckily her boyfriend was with her the whole time so nothing happened. Also, be careful in non-tourist areas; if you look like a foreigner you will stick out and be more of a target. People can try to rip you off, or worse.

At the same time, this shouldn’t deter you from being adventurous and going off the beaten path. I don’t hold anything against that driver in Pativilca. He was actually a very nice person just trying to make a living (albeit a dishonest one…). Besides all of the dangers and annoyances, my experiences (especially the unplanned ones) have led me to meet some incredibly warm, welcoming, and generous people who go out of their way to help me; maybe because I look like a foreigner and need help, or maybe because that’s just who those people are.

I guess the big thing to take away from all of this is just to be careful and be aware of your surroundings. But another lesson is, as Justin would say, that there are no bad experiences. You learn and grow from everything and everyone. So, looking back, even the unpleasant times—the sunglasses thief, getting “gringo-ed” by the driver—they’re all somehow worthwhile.

Shannon Bixler

I'm Shannon--I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and went to school at St. Louis Univeristy. In the fall of 2007 I studied abroad in El Salvador, during which time I was able to travel to Belize and Nicaragua. I graduated in December of 2008 with majors in Political Science and International Studies and minors in Spanish and Women's Studies. Since then I've been living at home, working as a waitress, and trying to find a career that satisfies my love for travel, adventure, and adrenaline rushes. I'm so excited to be in Lima and to see and learn all that I can about Peru.

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