This summer, my husband and I took our fluffy dog-child on a vacation. We woke up early, piled the whole family into the car, and started driving north. We exited artsy little Barranco, inched our way through deadly city traffic, and finally burst out onto the open one-way highway threading through the desert. A few hours of sandy mountains later, Ivo veered down a barely marked side road. Although in the past we’d spent a long weekend with friends in Tortugas, this time we turned off the highway a bit earlier: Truquillo, a much smaller beach, was our destination.
Ivo travels the way I cook: He googles the goal for a while and then wings it. What leads to disaster in cooking, though, tends to result in adventure on the road. Our little car bounced us down the rocky dirt “road” into the beach area, where we learned that we were vacationing far too late in the summer: It was a ghost town. Ivo’s desired hostel was closed; the owner was hours away visiting family, confident no tourists were weird enough to show up this time of the year. A few curious fishermen pointed us towards another hostel, but as soon as the owner saw Pulga waddle into the driveway, he shooed us out. Apparently his own dog would eat her.
After another chat with the amused fishermen, a trundling drive up to a restaurant on a hill, some shouted directions from the equally amused owner there, and what I genuinely feared might be our sandy death as we nose-dived down another hill, we discovered Asia Norte Bungalows. The owner was home and, go figure, a bungalow was open! Ivo and I had a good laugh at the bare-mattress bunk beds (nobody took top bunk; there was also an adult bed to the side), but hey, our little bungalow had electricity even at night and running water for the bathroom, which included a shower.
If it’s an off-the-beaten-trail beach stay in Peru, just brace to be dirty. If there’s running water all day and night, be grateful. If there’s enough water pressure to actually take a shower, that’s a huge win. Hot water doesn’t exist. Don’t even hope for it. In terms of electricity at night, that tends to mean just enough to see by; our bungalow was able to flick on a single low-watt bulb for the bathroom past sundown.
You have to realize that these vacations aren’t in the city. They’re out on the edges of a vast, mountainous desert. And that desert is still pretty much empty land. The owners who have sacrificed the city for the benefit of affordable oceanside living give their summer guests access to everything possible, but it’s a huge challenge to get water and electricity to these remote pockets of civilization, which are roughly at “village” status in terms of size.
So why go there, then? Sure, we could pop our budget and stay someplace with mints on the pillow: It’s not like luxury doesn’t exist in Peru. But yeah, I’ll yield this one to the hippies: There’s something special about these undiscovered beaches. There’s no internet. There’s no sitting in your room watching tv. You’re there for the sun and the sand and the water. You’re there for the beer and the seafood, and you’re there for the conversation. It feels raw. It feels free. It feels like the adventuring you did as a kid without a cell phone sneaking off into the woods. It’s just the right combination of dangerous and fun.
Our view from the bungalow looked out across a stretch of yellow sand and toward some of the craggier rocks framing the start of the beach. Once we’d gotten settled, we let one hyper pup streak out of the bungalow and lead our trek to the string of restaurants across the bare sandy stretch.
We trudged our way across the sand to the strip of open air restaurants. After some deliberation, we picked the only one that was open: Olas Nocturnas. Turns out we made an excellent choice. Each time we took a break for more food, the family working there was happy to bring out whatever had been caught that day on a plate. Since they were dog lovers too, they even piled on a few extra boiled sweet potato slices for Pulga. Somebody local pulled their van up to the front of the restaurant and blasted music for us all as we hung out.
The doggie factor of our doggie beach vacation was thrilled. Pulga got filthy. She played with the restaurant owner’s dog and dug in sand. She got tossed in the ocean, sprinted out, barked at Ivo for throwing her in, then dried off by running up and down the stretch of beach till she had to come dunk her face in her water bowl.
When afternoon started hinting at evening, we walked with a local up to a small area of undeveloped land that he was working to turn into beach houses. Now that Peru is doing well economically, there’s been a demand for vacation places again, and a lot of city folks are happy to escape to the ocean. What we found was nothing short of a magical collection of natural pools created by the rock formations along the cove. You had to be careful clambering around the rocky edges, but once you were in, the soft bottoms were made of crushed rock “sand” and you got a crystal clear look at the silvery minnows and bright starfish populating the coast.
Our fur baby went straight to the vet for a bath. “Wow,” they exclaimed when we picked her up afterwards, “She didn’t make a fuss at all.” Turns out a day and a half of sprinting up and down beaches and exploring rocky pools had actually exhausted what we had thought was an inexhaustible four-legged machine. Pulga zombied out in my arms on the way home from the vet, and as soon as she got back home, she was happily snoring, presumably dreaming of the beach.