Posted by: Jessie Kwak | December 4, 2009

Wandering gringos: our trip to Buenos Aires (Trujillo)

I’d been dying to get on the neon green “Bs. Aires – Arevalo” bus whose sides are airbrushed with six-sided starbursts. The paint job made Buenos Aires, a little coastal community whose name we’d seen on maps and the sides of buses, look exotic and fun. I was intrigued.

Buenos Aires - Arevalo bus in Trujillo

We took our usual “Huanchaco” bus to the Ovalo Mansiche, a confusing knot of streets and overpasses. We knew that the Green buses passed through here, but we had no clue as to where, so we stood back and watched traffic for a while.

Trujillo’s bus system is a bit less complex than Lima’s, in that each company takes a single route, and all similarly-styled buses are going to the same place, but it still takes some doing to make sure you’re on the right bus.

After ten minutes of waiting for a Green bus, we gave up and caught a white-and-blue bus labeled Buenos Aires. As usual, we were the only gringos on the bus. The wrangler and driver glanced at each other when they let us off at the end of the line.

Buenos Aires has the feel of something that had been built to be much grander than it had turned out to be. The main road is a wide boulevard with palm trees and flower-bordered sidewalks, and on each blog sits an uninviting cement gazebo ,painted garish blue. The garden areas were well-taken care of, the grass carefully trimmed and shaped around the floral border.

The Malecón Colón (waterfront park) also looks as though it has seen better days. A rusting play area sits hopefully, the wood splintered and weatherworn. It’s hard to tell how old it might have been, since with the weather and the salt winds, things corrode so quickly here. The play area is a collection of forts and ladders and bridges that would never have been allowed to exist in the U.S. It looks hella fun.

Playground in Buenos Aires Trujillo

There are a few bodyboarders in the waves, and a few just leaving, dripping wet trails behind them. A couple of families have come to picnic on the beach, which is a narrow strip of sand at the base of the 3-meter high sea wall. For about three blocks the walkway is still intact, stretching alongside sculpted garden areas with dry wading pools in front of empty restaurants.

The long malecón looks more defensive than recreational. To our left the sea wall ends and men with jackhammers are breaking up an eroded and collapsed section, whose foundation has been washed out from under it.

The smell of the ocean is strong here, the vegetable matter of the sea churned up by the waves, rotting dead things at the hide tide mark. I sit on the top of a stairway that leads down to the beach while Rob goes down to take photos; here it smells also of urine and abandoned trash. The cement steps are pitted and corroded, and there was once a railing, but the metal posts have been sawn off at the quick to form rusting pits in the cement, filled with sand. The base of the sea wall is piled high with small jagged boulders and pieces of blood-colored brick, discarded plastic bottles. The broken half-moon of a discarded cement culvert juts through the sand by Rob’s feet as he crouches to take a photo of the waves.

Buenos Aires Trujillo - waves

After a few moments the Seguridad Ciudadana comes by to warn us that it’s dangerous. The officer is a young man with smooth round features and a friendly face. He tells me that here there are people who would assault and rob us, and that although right now it’s not bad, that drug addicts come out at night. He gestures down the coast. “Over in Huanchaco it’s better. It’s calmer.” I thank him and assure him that we only plan to spend a little bit of time here, just a few more photos. He lets us know that they’ll be making the rounds and will keep an eye out for us. He shakes our hands and gets back in his pickup.

The Seguridad Ciudadana pickups are armored beasts, steel grilles welded over all the windows, even over the windshield (though you can flip it up if you need to drive). They drive a few blocks away, then stop. Rob and I are moving slowly even farther down the coast, taking photos.

Pablo and Alan - Seguridad Ciudadana

Only one restaurant is open, and all the others seem abandoned. They are all the same varying shades of dirty white with colorful trim—green, blue and yellow, all the same cool tone, the same matte lack of luster.

Rob is taking a photo of a rusting swing set when the S.C. pickup’s reverse lights come on. I’m vaguely hopeful that they’ll insist on giving us a ride back into Trujillo, but that’s not the case. Pablo (he introduces himself now) is sitting on the passenger side. “Mira,” he says. “Are you planning to walk farther down, or just about to here?”

At the end of this block the malecón ends in a dirt road strewn with rubble and trash. The sea wall continues as a crumbling barrier. It looks like a war zone.

“Just to here,” I say. “Just a few more photos.”

Pablo nods. “You can tell it’s dangerous there, can’t you?”

I agree. They roll along beside us as we walk back the way we came. Pablo asks how long we’re in Peru. Six weeks in Trujilo volunteering, I say. I tell him that we have an apartment in Huanchaco, and he looks satisfied. “Huanchaco es mas tranquilo,” he says again.

I ask him the history of the area. He tells me that there were once pre-inca temples here, and one of Peru’s oldest churches was built here. “In taxi you can get there in four minutes.” He gives me a look. “Si, en taxi van,” he repeats.

I tell him that we expected this to be a rich part of town, and he looks incredulous. I tell him that in the U.S. if there was beachfront property this close to a city it would be quite expensive.

He shrugs. “There are really great people here, really friendly. But also there are the bad ones who would assault and rob you.” He gestures to Rob’s camera. “You need to be careful with your equipment.” Rob nods, sí, sí, sí. It’s a daily warning for us.

Finally we convince them that we’re about to leave and they make their way down the road, waving goodbye. We continue walking slowly, past the dry dolphin wading pool, past the old man and woman sitting beneath the sea-creature print umbrella selling papas rellenas and empanadas from a rusty orange cart.

We catch my Green “Bs. Aires – Arevalo” bus, and it takes us back to the gringo “Huanchaco” line. We’re back where we belong.

Check out Robert’s Flickr page of our visit to Buenos Aires.

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