The Humboldt Current affects both Peru and Chile, casting endless clouds over the coastal cities for nine months out of the year. Hence one of Lima‘s nicknames, “La Gris” (The Gray), which alludes to its lack of sunshine for most of the year.
Arequipa, which sits three hours inland from the coast, gets the reverse end of this fortune. At an altitude of 8000 feet, sunny and cloudless for nine months a year. During the summer, it is overcast with occasional rains. During those three months, Arequipeños visit the beach en masse when it is sunny. Nightlife in Arequipa is rather dead from December through February because all the young party people go to the beach every weekend.
I recently spent a couple days in the beach town of Mollendo in southern Peru with the wife and baby. I had only been to Camana before, the preferred destination for young singles. It was interesting to see how segregated the beach scenes are. You certainly see families in Camana, and there are young people getting drunk in Mollendo. But for the most part, Camana is for rumba and Mollendo is for families. Mejia, the third option, is far enough away from Arequipa that those who do not own a car and must travel by bus will always choose Camana or Mollendo. And given only 20-25% of Peruvians own cars, Mejia is the upper-class beach destination in southern Peru.
I always went to Camana because it was the party town. It is the closest I have seen a Latin American beach come to what I saw in American Spring Break in Panama City, Florida. Lots of beautiful young singles, and lots of them get absolutely trashed. You see vomiting, you smell marijuana, you never go too long without some young Indian girl passing by with beer to sell.
I did not end up drinking much at the beach in Mollendo because I was not offered much beer. Instead we were hounded with children’s toys and snacks. Granted we were in town on Monday and Tuesday, but the few bars and dance clubs were mostly dead. There were a couple groups of drinkers in the plazas late at night, but nothing like Camana.
While Camana has little more to offer than partying, Mollendo has a water park (shown in the pictures below), a significant history, and is the major seaport of southern Peru.
In the 19th century, windfalls from the Guano Era (which amounted to more revenue for Peru, adjusted for inflation, than modern petrostates receive from oil) were used to construct railroads from Mollendo into the interior cities of Arequipa, Cusco, and Puno. Today those lines do not carry many passengers, but I saw trains of oil and coal leave the coast every day.
Mollendo was invaded by Chile in the War of the Pacific.
The architecture of the historic downtown is beautiful and ancient. It reminded me of Callao, but without all the locals warning me of gangs and to return to La Punta. Outside the tourist district, it looked rather uninspiring however. Brick-upon-brick with a backdrop of desert — like much of Peru.
I was surprised to see the statue in the central plaza was a dedication to Chinese immigration in Peru, who helped build Peru’s railroads as they did in the United States.
Below are pictures of the beach, the historic castle overlooking the coast, the port, the Malecon Ratti, Plaza Miguel Grau, Plaza de Armas, and some streets from the city center. For slideshow viewing, see the Mollendo, Peru album on the Expat Chronicles FB page.
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