Family, travel
Comments 4

Coming Home

What I thought Peru would be like

What I thought Peru would be like

It was the first time JC had been to Peru in more than three years, and the first time I had been there in more than 20.

it was a pleasure to meet and hang out with his very large and adoring family.  I felt like I knew his kids already from skyping with them, and I had met his mom before, but I got to meet his dad (he cried and told me he loved me), one of his (brilliant and sweet) sisters, and any number of tios, tias and prim(o)(a)s.  They were warm and welcoming, and would say things “your Tio Francisco, who you’ll meet on Sunday, had this crazy experience when he was 18….” to make sure I knew all the really important family stories.  And, I get as many Peruvian recipes as I want as part of the being-in-the-family deal.

As the only child of a Holocaust-surviving mother (she had only two living cousins that I ever knew about) and a father whose immediate family managed to escape, but much of whose extended family were also killed, I’m a lot more used to small families.  15 people now live in the family house (down from its heyday of about 25.) Tio Agustin, a painter and teacher in an experimental special education school, one day noticed that I was out of sorts.  “You’re not yet used to living in a tribe, eh?”

Nearing the end of week two, I needed to get free of Lima — all the people and pollution, the never-ending traffic and mobile fruit-sellers who announce their wares via megaphone starting at 7 am.  We headed to Tumbes, the northernmost department of Peru, which buttresses Ecuador.

The only international border crossing I've been to where there's no officers asking you for ID, just a welcome sign.

The only international border crossing I’ve been to where there’s no officers asking you for ID, just a welcome sign.

JC and his mom bought a place about 18 miles south of Ecuador, in a small fishing village called Caleta Grau.

The village welcome sign

The village welcome sign

The view of Caleta Grau  from the Panamerican Highway

The view of Caleta Grau from the Pan-American Highway

Because it’s winter there (people were positively shivering, what with the only 70 degree weather), the beach itself was pretty deserted, except for the subsistence fishermen, the occasional teenage couple trying to have sex somewhere their family would definitely not be, the Canadian petroleum engineer who lives there two weeks out of every four and goes paddleboarding most afternoons, and me, practicing yoga before coffee as an experimental wake-up method.

The backyard

The view from our backyard

Watching the fishing boats from the backyard

Idle fishing boats

Fisherman paddle back to shore from a day on their boats

Fisherman paddle back to shore from a day on their boats

The next biggest town, Zorritos, is a half hour walk down the beach (or ten minutes in a motor-taxi).  The Union of Artisan Fishermen has its headquarters there and I cheered them on when I found out they had blocked a busy section of the Pan-american Highway, protesting the larger vessels from Peru and Ecuador that have been over-fishing and making it harder for them to eke out a living wage.

Other than fishing, and some agriculture, most people are hoping that tourism hits here.

Rice paddies just outside of Tumbes

Rice paddies just outside of Tumbes

it might take a while.  Caleta Grau doesn’t have trash pick up yet, for instance, so the beach is spotted with litter.  And in the tradition of land invasion, half the home owners (including the ex-Shining Path Leader who is running for Congress) have built past their property lines, so the road into town can’t actually be paved.

Still, there are lots of things to do in the area that makes me wonder about hosting a yoga trip there.  (We could even go up to the Galagopos Islands as an added treat.)

This farm is located on an island in the mangroves and hopes to raise and release 1,000 crocodiles

This farm is located on an island in the mangroves and hopes to raise and release 1,000 crocodiles


La Isla de Pajarros

There's me, always telling the driver where I would like to go

There’s me, always telling the driver where I would like to go

Or we can just drink some pisco sours, and watch the sun go down.


Still, I’m happy to be home — especially to my oh-so-green city and my quaint, quiet apartment.  But I find myself holding open the possibility that Peru will be a home away from home.

Or maybe it already is.


  1. Your story is timely for me too :) Thanks for sharing your voice on your return; I felt a sense of ease settle back in to your writing as you got closer to writing about your home in DC.

    I’ve also been considering a move back home and for the last two months have been making attempts to rekindle the West’s ways; but I’m caught with similar feelings, one’s of living in tribe – maybe constant tribe is the real term here – and one of trying to find my own space. And doing this here is much more difficult with the miles you have to travel just to move from point to point; those East coast cities are simply more walkable.

    I also come from a small family and I recall that when I met my Thai family in Thailand for the first time in 2006 (there were hundreds of them, literally) and experienced the joy of meeting blood-family, of the warmth and communal nature of everyday life; that this contrasted to my desire for freedoms and exploration on an individual level which always looked funny to my Thai family, as if I was getting away, which I was in a way, even though we had just met…

    …so there is something pulling me back to DC too, something about an intellectual vortex, maybe a constant state of intellectual activity that exists which is unique to the District.

    • Hi John! Glad I can now read your beautiful blog and have a conversation before we celebrate our earth days together soon! Yes, I think the question of who we belong to keeps shifting. I love Wendell Berry’s idea that we can also allow ourselves to belong to one piece of earth, and that affection we feel is the difference between being at home and not. (Have you read his lecture on affection?)

      Knowing you and how you both adapt to vastly different places and also keep a centrifugal force of strong practices and beliefs, I wonder if there’s a way to both connect the spaciousness of the West — the closeness to nature, the ease of the getaway to woods that smell of redwood and yarrow and wild sage — with the bikeability of the east, the intellectual rigor and most important, the sense of irony ;-) Seriously, DC has very powerful ley lines, so what might be pulling you back here is the energy of the place. It does make a terrific home base, but it’s helpful to get out of it regularly.

    • Thanks Vitamin K! Hope the Berkshires are treating you beautifully and you’re engaging in lots of vata-pacifying oil rubs :) xoxo

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