I stepped off the bus onto the bustling main strip in Mancora town. 20 hours on a coach and my spine felt like a wire pipe cleaner that had been bent into the shape of a seat. I hobbled to the hostel with my backpack teetering on my shoulders and checked in, itching to feel sand in my toes and wash off the bus and the sleepiness in the Pacific ocean. The beach wasn't the most breathtaking I'd ever seen, but then Watamu and Diani beaches have set the bar almost impossibly high. Mancora has a pretty well shuffled deck - backpackers, surfer bums, kite surf nutters, bongo playing hippies, middle class Peruvian families on their jollies, the local crazies, middle aged Westerners on summer break. Everyone is happy to groove to their own tune and rub shoulders when getting food or slurring conversations at the bar. There is a lot of slurring in Mancora.
I found the nearest kite surf shack and introduced myself to Skip - a blunt, no nonsense Aussie whose marriage to the ocean had obviously been a violent one at times. "Yeah baby the winds looking sexy, let's go" he said as we bundled into the back of a beat up Land Cruiser with all the gear and drove up the coast a few kilometres. Having not been near a kite and board since wobbling about in Kenya at Christmas, I spent this first day swallowing a lot of salty water. Skip wasn't the most conventional, politically correct instructor, and every time I dragged my aching body back up the beach, a few miles from where I set out, I was met by a tirade of profanities and manic arm gestures. Perhaps it was because I didn't fancy being called a "f`###ing idiot" for the hundredth time, or because the water was so unforgiving every time I plumeted off the board, but by the second day on the water I was crusing. Going out and coming back to the same spot, and mastering the transitions. I came back from that second day on an absolute high, and had earned the right to have a beer on the beach with the other kite surfers.
But my bubble was burst the moment I had to set foot back in my hostel for the evening. It was a relentless, booze-fuelled chlamydia pit where all sense of time and place dribble into nothing like the dregs of froth from a fallen beer bottle. I could step from a kite surf haven in north Peru to a package resort in Magaluf in the space of 5 seconds.
To make matter worse, for some irritating reason I haven't been able to haul myself out of my early bed, early rise routine that I got into in Kenya. No matter how hard I try I cannot fend off the craving for sleep that creeps in at around 9pm, nor the joy that comes with seeing the sunrise in the morning. This makes me a freak of nature at 22 years old, especially in the eyes of the red eyed hostel cult. AND to add insult to injury, I had high hopes of finding an escape in a book I was reading. But no luck, the first chapter was as dull and thick as the smoky air above the hostel bar. I had to get out.
On the morning of my fourth day I was on my way to town to look for a refuge when I bumped into Declan, who I'd last seen in Cuzco. He was in the same mindset as me, and he'd only done one night! So we went together to look at a few hostels, and found a gorgeous little bungalow up on the hillside by the lighthouse. It looked down over town and out on to the beach and the endless ocean dotted with bobbing surfers. Rising above the throng of town gave the place a totally different feel, and Dec and I agreed to share the bungalow, and I changed my bus ticket to Ecuador to give me a few more days in my newly discovered Mancora, and see if I could get back into that book.
The one good thing that did come out of staying in The Pit was an oxymoronic meeting with a Peruvian buddhist, who was staying there. He took me to the local market and the best local cafe's, and introduced me to the secrets of the town. We exchanged stories of healing and spirituality, and compared the drastically different cultures we were from. Through him I got to know my favourite local places to eat and get a drink, and was in Mancora so long (in backpacking terms) that I started to feel like a pseudo-local, and developed a pseudo-inhabitant routine.
I'd get up in the morning with the sun, have breakfast, half heartedly try a page of my book, and pack my sea gear. Scramble down the hill and through the alleyway, past Scabby and Half-Ear, my two favourite street dogs. Walk through a yawning town, dragging itself awake from the previous nights fiesta's and getting ready to sprawl out in the sun. I'd go to a little shop in town that sold fresh fruit smoothies. I'd meet people I had come to know in the street and exchange words of the surf or the wind or the tide times. Then head to the kite shack and hang around on the deck waiting for the wind, getting under Skip's feet and recieving one word answers to my incessant questions on kite equipment and technique.
Gradually other kite surfers emerged from the beach. Brian would turn up, an ex-US military man finding therapy in the wind, and a guy who I got along great with. Him and Skip were my kite surf Dad's, each teaching me new things every day, in their own very different ways. Then Renzo would swan in, a local kid who could charm the hind legs off an alpaca, and who split his life between the water and the dancefloor. He would bounce from table to table on the beachfront and come out the other side having had a free meal, smoked free cigarrettes and nabbed a pair of sunglasses. He could rob you and leave you smiling, and was a very skilled kite surfer.
Like the rest of town, the wind woke up at around 11.30am, ready to party again. All the waiting kites on the beach would be ready to dance and one by one all take to the ocean, untill the sun went down to serve another part of the world and the wind went with her. Then cold beers would appear dotted on the beach and the smells from beachside restaurants would drift through the crowd and tempt people away. And I would walk back past Scabby and Half-Ear, scrabble up the hill and wonder what to have for dinner.
I never got past that first awful chapter of my book, but once I got into the characters and the plot of my Mancora book, I had to admit it was a pretty damn good read.