The fact that the summer heatwave seems to be lasting longer than usual is a good thing in my view. I´m from the Caribbean and I´d rather fry in the heat than mold in the damp of a Lima winter. But the sunny days bring their challenges to my patience and my pocket. Yes, I want to aprovechar the nice weather but I don´t want to endure endless traffic on the Panamericana or the Caretera Central every weekend to go to expensive, overcrowded Asia or Cienguilla. Granted, there is a “beach” in Lima but I am not a fan of either pebbles-instead-of-sand or the Humbolt current. And any sea-based activity that requires wearing a wetsuit is out.
So why not try something a little different? If you have bored children on a sunny day, take a drive to the Muelle de Chorillos. After an easy sprint along the Costa Verde, just before Club Regattas (if entry to Club Regattas is an option for you please stop reading at once – there is nothing to see here), you will be flagged down by eager touts. If you are not careful you will find yourself lured into parking in front of an overpriced cevicheria with a parking surcharge if you order less than two main courses. Resist this. You are here to get your own fish meal.
The Muelle is a bustling, colouful place that simultaneously serves as a jetty, fishmarket, food court, beach and even pelican playground. It is well worth a visit just to admire the range of fish and seafood on display.
You can park on the road and pay the usual propina for one of the street touts to “vigilar” your car or you can pay a minimium fee to park in the off-road carpark. For about half a sol you can pay for entrance to the pier itself and wander along it, admiring the view. You can also buy lengths of fishing line wrapped around bits of wood and garnished with tiny hooks and fish hopefully off the jetty. Many people do this but I have never seen a single fish caught there. It doesn´t seem to diminish their enjoyment however.
If you are feeling even more adventurous you can join a boat tour (S/. 5) which takes boatloads of people for a spin around the area. I can only assume that people taking this tour have never seen the coast before or have an urge to observe how the “other half” live since all there is to see is the fancy floats and installations of Club Regattas from behind a floating rope boundary.
But when my family and I go to Chorillos we negotiate with the many boat people on the pier and rent a boat for fishing. As soon as they lay eyes on me of course the price skyrockets and they expect me to pay S/. 50 an hour for the privilege of bobbing around next to the same jetty where no fish are being caught. No. We pay S/. 30 an hour for a guy in a rowboat to take us along to the rocks directly below the Club. That is where the fish are. We pay S/. 1 for a plastic bag full of mui mui (sand crab) to use as bait, along with some lines and hooks that are included in the deal.
There is no better way to while away an hour or two on a sunny day than bobbing about in a boat, arm over the side, waiting for the telltale twitch of a fish tugging on your line. In my family we have a rule: as soon as you catch your first fish you must do the Fish Dance or else you will catch nothing else for the rest of the day. This of course highly amuses the boatman, who wears his “these gringosare crazy” expression of indulgent mystification.
As Obama would say, let me be clear. This is not big game fishing. You are not going to be bringing home sharks and swordfish and you won´t be starring on Wicked Tuna anytime soon. No, your prey is the humble tramboyo and borracho which lurk along the shallow rocky coastline and are delicious in sudado, a dish reputed to levanta muertos (raise the dead).
Once your hour is up (I guarantee you will ask for at least a half hour extension) the boatman will row you back to the jetty and you get to keep all the fish caught. Take them at once to the fish market where one of the ladies at the gutting and scaling tables will clean them for you at the cost of a couple of soles. You can then ask one of the local restaurants to prepare them for you or take them triumphantly home and Google how to prepare them yourself. Either way, it will be a culinary triumph served with a side of hunter-gatherer self-satisfaction.
Juliet Solomon is a cricket-playing, globetrotting Trinidadian who lives in Lima, Peru where she drinks pisco sour and comments acerbically on life, the universe and everything. She is the author of the highly acclaimed blog-turned-book Yes…But It´s Different Here.