“Ocean front suite on third floor with private balcony and hammock. Breathtaking sunsets every night, and dry, sunny weather with lots of good surf every day. Let the sound of waves lull you to sleep and the view of them awake you for just $160 per month.”
And so would read the advertisement for the place we are staying in Huanchaco, a little sleepy beach town in Northern Peru. Sounds like paradise, right? We thought so too. So, sight unseen, we reserved a room in this house and hopped on the next bus out of Lima.
We arrived late in the evening and began walking up a dark little side street searching for house number 306. The monotony of the waves beat the shore to our left. We could hear it, but all we could see was black. The buzz of a motor grew loud behind us and we scooted to the side of the road to let it pass. But just short of crescendo, the buzz suddenly slowed to a putter and lingered at our heels.
Our hearts’ flutter gave the first sign of Tom’s fight and my flight instincts. Then we heard a familiar name in the form of a question, “Tom?” It was Alberto, the manager of the home in which we were planning to stay. Our hearts relaxed at the sound of Tom’s name and it reminded us how quickly strangers become friends when on the road.
So we followed Alberto down the street. He stopped his motorbike in front of a large 3-story house. He fumbled through a ring of keys and when we heard the popping sound of the latch bounce back at us off the plain, empty walls inside, Alberto pushed his motorbike through the front door. He parked it in the living room next to a beach cruiser, the only two items in the large empty space.
No couches, rugs, paintings, or candles filled the room; there were none of the niceties that typically make one feel at home. There was only cold, hard, stark white tile, the faded red motorbike, the rusty beach cruiser, and two sheets hanging over bar-blocked windows. My eyes circled the room and followed a little line of marching ants from a small dorm room size mini fridge to a much-used 2-burner stovetop in the large, but equally empty kitchen. Some uncooked rice was spilled out over the counter top and lazily forgotten.
Having traveled all over South America, hiking, trekking, and sleeping with strangers in hostels, we craved a place to call “home” for a month. You can imagine our disappointment when we arrived to find a house, and not a home.
With nowhere to drop our bags on the first floor, we followed Alberto up an unfinished staircase to the third. Tom glanced over the edge of the staircase without a rail and whispered to me, “well, this will be dangerous after a few pisco sours.”
When we arrived to our room we found two twin beds, a nightstand with a 5-gallon jug of clean water, and a private bathroom. It was simple, but nice, and spotlessly clean, so we relaxed our shoulders a bit, unpacked our bags, and thought to ourselves that this might be okay after all.
To our pleasant surprise the next morning, what was a dark, hollow expanse at night became a beautiful view of the cooing waves and breaking surf just one block away. We settled down on the large, white balcony with a hammock and enjoyed a cup of coffee. With each sip and the crash of another wave, the resemblance of home grew stronger.
Today, one month later, this house has become our home. It still lacks furniture, rugs, and dust-collecting knickknacks, but every morning, Alberto’s whistle fills the air as he cleans the tile balcony; Pirata’s wagging tail welcomes us each time he sees us ascend the stairs from behind his black fur patch; a familiar toothless smile invites us to buy avocados at the town market each day; over broken Spanish with Alberto, I add Peruvian cooking to my repertoire of culinary expertise; and every evening we join our new friends to enjoy a cold one and watch sunset on the balcony. We are a small, but dedicated audience.
After months of not knowing, or even caring, what day of the week it happens to be, we actually are enjoying anew the cadence of a week, a routine, and the fulfillment of doing a little work. Each day, we run on the beach, work from the nearby café with fast Wi-Fi and a great view, read on the balcony, lunch on Los Piños Street, and practice our Spanish with some locals as we slowly redefine our definition of the things that make a house a “home.”
We can spend a fortune with stores like Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel, but in the end those things just make a home pretty, they don’t make the home. And the main thing that made Huanchaco a home for us this past month, were the people. When we walk to lunch and our surf instructor, Erick, spontaneously joins us; when we stand in Alberto’s kitchen and learn to make ceviche; when we toast to another good day at sunset with Herb; we feel at home.
And at an average of $20 per day per person, we could afford to make Huanchaco our home for a long time. But don’t worry mom, we won’t ;)
Because people make us feel at home, it is also people that we miss most about home. We get asked often if, after 8 months of travel, we miss home. The answer is both yes and no.
We don’t miss having a comfortable bed. We don’t miss having a closet full of clothes. We don’t miss familiar food. We don’t miss having privacy. We don’t miss comfort. But we do miss our friends and family. Everything else, we can find some variation of abroad, but our friends and family back home cannot be replaced. We miss you!
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!