A certain set of fishermen who earn their livelihood along Peru’s lengthy coast became known, many years ago, as the cowboys of the water. What inspired this strange name? When these men straddle their steeds – which, unbelievably are made of reeds – they look remarkably like Clint Eastwood.
Caballitos de totora, their “little reed horses,” are designed to be mounted with both legs over the hull, so that their riders can keep their feet in the sand as they make their way, paddle in hand, through the waves and into the clear South Pacific waters where they cast their nets. Some say that these nifty watercrafts represent the world’s first form of surfing.
Caballitos de totora have been ridden in the region for at least 3,000 years. Archaeologists have found ancient clay vessels crafted into the shape of fishermen riding banana-shaped boats, and they’re believed to be legacies of the Moche and later the Chimu people of northern Peru.
Skip forward to the present day and, inevitably, local people are moving away from traditional fishing techniques to newer industrial methods. One of the few places where you can still see them in action is the humming fishing village of Huanchaco in Trujillo city, about eight hours north of Lima.
Huanchaco is likely to be where the caballitos de totora were first made. Reeds for the boats were, and still are, harvested from the wetlands at the edge of the town, which is now an ecological reserve. The impressive legacy of the area pulls in surfers from across the country and across the globe, and over the years Huanchaco has developed a laid-back, easy-going vibe which fits well with the sun and sunsets.
If you’ve set your heart on having a go on a little reed horse try and catch the boatmen when they’ve finished their day’s work, and offer them a contribution for the ride of about $5.
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