Over the past few days, I had been hearing whispers about an electronic music festival called Selvámonos that was to take place on the southern coast of Peru in Punta Rocas. The festival sounded like a good enough time, so I quickly packed a few things, caught a bus on the Pan American, and made the plunge south.
Punta Rocas; a little section of Punta Negras, situated on the shoreline with a handful of seafood restaurants, several hostels, and what I counted as only one proper neighborhood and a few patches of housing. As I walked down the dirt road leading into town, I caught up with several friends. Our group was comprised of myself and six others: my flat-mate, his girlfriend, our mutual friend Nina, and Nina’s friends; two American girls — one from California, the other from Ohio, and a friendly Brit. We managed to find quarters at a crude looking place that stood adjacent to a similar establishment where a couple friends were already staying.
Stepping through a bamboo archway and into a sparsely furnished dining area, we were greeted by a warm elderly woman, who seemingly ran the hostel. Upon revealing that we were desperate for a place to stay, her eyes seemed to widen like a cartoon cat — I accepted the cold fact that we were to be the mice.
After bringing us up the stairs to the crawlspace she was peddling as a five-person room, we realized we had no other choice, unless we wanted to try our luck passing out on the beach.
As we discussed our lack of options, the woman stood by eagerly, ready to sink her dripping fangs into our desperate, tender skin.
S/. 150 later, we had a room that would make a convict claustrophobic. We were the unfortunate victims of senior-citizen con artistry, but it was alright; we had a room, and that, at least, provided some peace of mind.
We threw our bags down on the cold cement floor and began devising our next step. By this time, it was about 6 p.m., and the festival had already begun shaking the cliffs around 5 p.m.; however, no one wanted to be anywhere near that neon zoo till 10 p.m. at the earliest. So, we decided to hole-up on the pale-wooden deck attached to our room with some red wine and beer.
Some time had passed when we began to notice a steady procession of cars up on the cliff overlooking our hostel, each making its inevitable way to the festival.
It was finally time to get wild.
The festival was taking place at the edge of a great cliff overlooking the ocean. The stage itself was a tall structure, about fifty feet tall, covered with giant chrome light cans that rotated in different spots all over. On each side of the stage were four long lcd screens displaying animated segments of stars, paint splashes, and a myriad of other entrancing neon images that doused the environment in a luminous hue.
In front of the stage was a mass of sweaty bodies dancing feverishly to the rhythm of the DJ. On the outskirts surrounding the stage were numerous tents and booths; some sold drinks and food, others sold non-sensical stickers and jewelry. Squeezing my way through throngs of grooving girls and motley men, I landed at one of the drink tents, in the vain hope of grabbing a beer.
A young man who already seemed half in the bag greeted me as I approached. My request for a beer was quickly shunned as I pulled out my cash, and afterwards, I was duly informed that I could only buy drinks with tickets.
What a tease!
Cursing the air, I pressed on towards the booth across the way that exchanged money for tickets.
“What’s the exchange rate tonight dudes?”
The three staff members stared indifferently, privy to my obvious sarcasm. I handed over S/. 30 to a young woman, and was immediately handed 30 tickets.
When I returned to the drink stand, the young man from before was beginning to come undone, now disbanding any effort to hide the booze he was sneaking from the booth.
“I need a beer, man!” I exclaimed.
“No tickets for beer. Tickets only for liquor. Need cash.” he replied in a slur.
These festival people were messing with me. They wanted me to go mad.
I pocketed my tickets, saving them for the hard liquor they were supposedly meant for, and handed over a wrinkled S/. 10 bill. Much to my surprise, I was handed a sweaty Miller—- you don’t usually expect to see a Milwaukee beer on the coasts of Peru.
My friends were scattered throughout the festival, some were littered along the cliff side above the ocean, while others were dispersed among the bumping crowd. Every hour or so, a new DJ, or group of DJs, would come out and take over, each one bringing their own flare to the mix—- some had more reggae and Latin vibes, while others spun the typical French electronica feel. The break-up in genres did their best to make the night more flavorful, yet they still managed to flounder into that dull point when, despite all changes in sound and feel, the rhythm itself never alters, instead turning into an incessant thump that serves as an ugly reminder of just how much longer you have to endure. Some people love this; staying synchronized with the groove while jumping around erratically until their mouths begin to foam.
At around three in the morning, my perseverance began to waver, and I began my journey back to our room. By that time, many of us had already left; I was one of the last to head back.
Before settling into bed for the night, I took some time to explore the surrounding town; it was motionless like a nighttime painting. There was a hostel situated directly under the cliff that supported the festival stage. It looked like a movie set; completely empty and calm, with tables covered in empty beer cans and dirty plates of uneaten food. On one of the abandoned decks lining the perimeter, a half-full bottle of Pisco brandy sat glistening in the moonlight. I figured the bottle was purposely left out for lonely wanderers like myself, so I snatched it up and took a swig. I walked over to a desolate playground and nestled into one of the rubber swings.
Sitting there with the roar of the ocean behind me, and dawn’s light beginning to break out over the still town, I recalled the evening, postulating on the different moments. Soon I would stumble back to our room, only to lay wide-eyed in thought.
That same morning, I pretended to wake up and made my way down to the makeshift dining room for breakfast. Once again, that conniving elder would mug me for whatever I had—- for what I paid, you would think she had made me lobster for breakfast.
After breakfast, I made my way to the beach to catch some sun and regroup with my friends.
I settled into a tall plastic beach chair and sat motionless with my feet dug into the sand. My eyes were fixated on the hulking crests that crashed effortlessly onto the shore. Losing myself in the scene and sounds around me, I closed my eyes and bathed in the solace.
Zach Davis is a musician and writer from the coast of Massachusetts. You can see more of his work on his blog.