February 23, 2010 12:54:04 | in Ancash - Huaraz
By Jane Silcock
Before I arrived in Chimbote all I heard of the city was that it smelled like fish. As my bus rolled into the terminal more than a year and a half ago, the first sight I had of the coastal city was the thick white fish-smelling smog pumping out of the nearby factories. Chimbotanos are immune to the smell, saying, "When it smells bad, Chimbote has money.”
For the largest fishing port in Peru, located just six hours north of Lima, the fish meal and anchovy industry is everything. It was the reason the population increased from 2,400 in 1940 to 170,000 in 1970. Now more than 400,000 call Chimbote home. Despite the population growth, development didn’t follow the pattern like other coastal cities such as nearby Trujillo. Chimbotanos sometimes describe their city as disorganized and chaotic. But Chimbote is changing.
In January the first major Peruvian chain opened, Plaza Vea. There are still no foreign chains that I know of, but there are talks of building a shopping mall complete with a Ripley and McDonald’s. Chimbote is the only place I’ve lived where donkey carts pass by brand new SUVs alongside bright blue mototaxis blasting reggaeton and rusted old brown Buicks work the public transportation circuit. It’s not uncommon to see a netted bag filled with guinea pigs for sale on the corner or live hogs tied to the back of a moto.
It’s rare for gringos to walk the streets. Those that do stick out and become accustomed to shouts of “Gringa!” But the people in general are very welcoming and curious what brings us to their city. Most foreigners that find their way to Chimbote are not tourists but come to do some sort of development work or pursue a business interest. I came as part of a two year contract with Incarnate Word Missionaries
, splitting my time between human rights NGO, la Comisión de Justicia Social
, and journalism NGO Cecopros
Chimbotanos are proud people: proud of their fish, food and music. There is always a celebration. Because Chimbote is a young city, the population is very diverse, made up of people from all parts of Peru. In my neighborhood, 21 de Abril, I’ve joined in celebrations of patron saints from small pueblos in the sierra. My neighbor Lucha from the jungle treats me to her region’s traditional food juanes
, which is chicken and rice wrapped in banana leaves. An energetic nun with hair braided down her back from Puno enjoys singing in Quechua at social gatherings.
Despite the hustle and bustle of downtown Chimbote, the city offers a number of treasures. My favorite place to walk is along the malecón where I stop for a ceviche at Mar y Luna. I watch the old fishing boats pass by, as I sit enjoying my ceviche bathed in a special rocoto cream sauce and sip on my Cusqueña beer. Chimbote claims to have the best ceviche in Peru, and from what I’ve tried, nothing tops it.
Venture out of the city a few minutes and you’ll find secluded, breathtaking beaches. Besique beach boasts beautiful blue waters surrounded by mountains that also form islands, jarring out of the sea. A cave is located on the beach, known by locals, as “lovers’ cave” and makes for a fantastic view. Besique has a few delicious cevicherias, but the appeal is its natural, untouched beauty. To get to an even more secluded beach, Caleta Colorado, one must first take a combi on a dirt road then hop on a boat. The journey is well worth it. The sand is glimmering gold and the water turquoise green. (Recent news that Caleta Colorado has become Peru’s first nude beach turned out to be a hoax or publicity stunt
.) There are absolutely no restaurants and it is a beautiful experience to visit a beach that has no commercial development. And a 30-minutes drive south of Chimbote brings you to Tortugas, a peaceful black-stoned beach home to hundreds of pelicans.
The homes of thousands of Chimbotanos were uprooted when an earthquake struck in 1970. After the earthquake people moved 15 minutes south and established Nuevo Chimbote: a cleaner, more organized, wealthier city. The Plaza Mayor in Nuevo Chimbote boasts a beautiful newly constructed Cathedral, designed by an Italian architect. There are some enjoyable cafés and restaurants to spend the afternoon chatting with friends. Some nights musical groups visit the plaza making for a great place to hear cumbia beats and eat anticuchos. The air fills with smells of fried food and stale beer.
Thankfully the fish smell usually does not linger past the entrance of Chimbote. When I do pass by the fish factories, I laugh and tell my Chimbotano friends I can smell money. Much of Peru overlooks what Chimbote has to offer. As I tell everyone who asks, my favorite parts of Chimbote are the people and the food. It’s cheap, has excellent ceviche and pretty beaches. If you are on your way up to Trujillo consider stopping by Chimbote. In just six short months I’ll be saying goodbye to the fish capital of Peru. Leaving Chimbote, near the bus terminal and fish meal factories, there’s a sign that says, “Take Chimbote with you in your heart.” I’ll forever hold the smells and smiles of this peculiar but promising part of Peru.
Follow Jane Silcock's blog Mis Aventuras en Peru.
tags : Chimbote Huanchaco Tarapoto Arequipa Iquitos Caleta Colorado
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