• The Mochica Diaries: Riding in a caballito and final reflections

    This is my final week in Huanchaco, and it’s certainly been an interesting and insightful experience. In this post I will write about how I spent my final week and give some reflections on my time here.

    I felt I couldn’t leave Huanchaco without going for a ride with a fishermen in a caballito de totora. Fishermen often take tourists out on the water in the caballitos. It is a fun activity for travelers and a great way for them to experience the culture dated as far as 900 years AD. For the fishermen, it serves as a second income, which gives them more financial stability and it particularly helpful for the days where they are unable to fish, or when there is not much fish to be found in the water.

    I loved every minute in the caballito. It was so fun and exciting, especially riding the waves like a surfboard. Suddenly, the fisherman jumped into the water, and gave me the oar to steer, which I was not expecting. But I took on the challenge and gave it a go.  It was difficult – I hadn’t realized before how much arm strength is needed. It is definitely a skill which requires a lot of practice.

    Both tourism and the caballitos are both key to Huanchaco’s survival – Huanchaco’s economy is based entirely around tourism and fishing. Giving rides in caballitos to tourists is an activity which brings these two things together, but I feel more could be done to integrate sustainable tourism with the caballitos and the Mochica Chimu culture. For example, the fishermen could give tours of the totora ponds, give workshops on totora craft and put on shows of the cultural dances. This would allow the fishermen more financial support, and also provide the opportunity for outsiders to learn more about the ancient culture. Huanchaco is so much more than a beach town and surfing spot, and I feel visitors should be given more of an opportunity to see that. I also believe when the community see outsiders find their culture fascinating, it will foster a greater sense of pride about their ancestry. Tourism in Huanchaco must thrive in a way that is sustainable, supports the artesan fishermen and promotes and protects the ancient culture.

    Having been told I was going to be spending a month working with an Indigenous community, I was expecting a community with less contact with the outside world, perhaps with their own language and system of governance.  However, the Mochica Chimu fishing community have had a lot of contact from the outside world, through tourism, the internet, among other factors.  Of course, many Indigenous communities in Peru, especially in the Amazon, do live in isolation. However, due to globalization, there are others such as Huanchaco’s fishing community that are extremely integrated into the wider society, where its members use Facebook, Instagram, wear jeans and watch football on television. The problem arises when this is accompanied with an erosion of Indigenous culture.

    Speaking to people, I also found that not everyone identifies as Indigenous. This made me reflect on the importance of self-identification, and the big anthropological question of how to define who is an Indigenous person. Is being Indigenous based purely on ethnicity, or is it also being part of an imagined community? Many people I spoke to claimed to have overlapping identities, as Peruvians, as Huanchaqueros, as Catholics, as fishermen and some as Mochica Chimu, suggesting that many people there have a complex sense of who they are.

    However, despite that not everyone identifies as Indigenous, there is still a strong sense of shared culture, and this is based around the caballitos de totora. There is no language to foster a shared identity, so the caballitos are very important in shaping this shared culture. This perhaps the most important reason why the caballitos must be protected, and contrary to other views, I do believe it is not too late. With a three-pronged approach educating young people about their ancestry and culture, recovering lost totora ponds and integrating the tourism industry so it supports the protection of the caballitos de totora, it is possible for this tradition to thrive once more.


  • The Mochica Diaries: Fiestas de San Pedro

    In my third week, I was lucky enough to experience the Fiestas de San Pedro, or St Peter’s festival. There were celebrations all week, with the main holiday being on the 29th June. This is a holiday for the whole of Peru, but it is particularly special for Huanchaco as a fishing village, because St Peter was the Patron Saint for fishing.

    To celebrate St Peter the fishermen of Huanchaco built a big reed boat, called a Patacho. The fishermen have been building this boat for three weeks. Although Huanchaco has been celebrating St Peter for much longer, the tradition of the patacho began thirty years ago. However, there is evidence to suggest that in the Chimu era, 900-1470 AD, patachos were also built for various celebrations.

    The celebrations began on Tuesday when the patacho was finally finished. Upon finishing the boat, the fishermen danced the marinera, a couple dance using hankerchiefs that is traditional in the Northern coastal regions of Peru. The following afternoon, the fishermen took part in a caballito de totora race, where they raced each other in their boats while the crowds cheered. In the evening there was a big street party, with a stage and a live band playing a mix of salsa, jazz and Latin fusion. The fishermen went out on the water in the caballitos with candle lanterns, creating a beautiful sea of lights like fireflies. The evening finished with a spectacular display of fireworks.

    The next day was Thursday 29th June, the main day of celebrations. The day began with mass, and then the fishermen took part in a procession from the Church to the sea, with a model of St Peter with two caballitos de totora either side. The model was then placed inside the patacho. Hundreds of people gathered to see the patacho go out onto the water. Ten fishermen rode inside the patacho while the others followed in their caballitos de totora. The rest of the day was spent with families, bringing an end to the celebrations. Ceviche, Peru’s national dish made with raw fish and lime juice is traditionally eaten on St Peter.

    Catholicism is the dominant religion among Huanchaco’s fishermen, and the religious element was a very important part of the St Peter celebrations, with several special masses at the Church throughout the week. In the St Peter festival, Catholicism and indigenous culture came together, which is representative of modern Peru.

    The scale of the festival in Huanchaco, and the fact that the caballitos de totora were a major part of the celebrations reflects how culturally important the reed boat fishing is for the community. A young fishermen named Gustavo Huamanchumo explained to me “It’s a very important day for us. My favourite part is the fact that all of the fishermen work together as a team to build the patacho”

    In my next and final post I will write about my experience riding in a caballito de totora, as well as reflect overall on my time here in Huanchaco.