When I made plans to visit Canoa I thought I would stay for less than a week. I love the ocean but South American beach towns have been a toss-up. I hated Mancora and so I bypassed Montanita. But then again I loved Mollendo in Peru because there were no foreign tourists.
And after a week I decided I needed to stay in Canoa, I just couldn’t say goodbye. Part of that reason was that locals kept telling me that this weekend was one of the biggest fiestas of the year. The Festival of San Pablo and Saint Pedro is celebrated up and down the coast but it was very special in Canoa.
So said the locals but I couldn’t find anything on it online.
That’s because this festival isn’t hyped up to lure in tourists, it’s a local festival. It’s a two-day festival where the town basically shuts down, even all the beach bars which depend on tourists for the weekends shut down so they can party in the dusty town square where half of the town dresses in all white to represent Saint Paul and the other half in black to represent San Peter.
The details of this festival aren’t really explained well but on the first night everyone goes to church for mass and then they walk around town. Then a duel between the two saints with the custom that the white team wins on the first night and is served dinner by the black team but the next night roles are reversed.
And while this coastal town breaks up into two teams there is a favourite as Peter was a poor, uneducated fisherman from Galilee and so when his black team wins the next night it means good luck all year with harvest and of course fishing.
There were a handful of gringos like me but the square was full of locals. And because they had seen me walk around for the week they were comfortable enough to start a conversation and ask me to dance. Of course no one spoke English but that didn’t matter as after a few canelazos I had the courage to freely speak in Spanish and not worry when I knew I was saying some things incorrectly.
This is why I wanted to stay.
I danced until my feet were so sore I had to sit and had laughed so much my cheeks were sore. People were so gracious and friendly, offering me food, drink and to dance. They were welcoming and I felt like I belonged.
And so I’ve fallen in love with Canoa.
There are moments where things just click. And at this festival things fell into place for me. I feel like I belong here even if just for a little while. This is no typical beach town. And so I stayed out, until 3am on Friday night and 2am on Saturday night.
And the rest of the town? They danced until dawn.