The hospitality I have received on this trip has been astonishing and it continues it surprise me. Peru has not been any difficult and recently I have been looked after by so many lovely people. In today’s blog I want to focus on Clemente or the Angel of the Desert as many refer to him as.
I first hear about Clemente from a couple of Argentinean bikers who pulled over to say hi to me just south of Chiclayo. All they said was to make sure I stopped for a meal at La Bolsa restaurant at 347km on the Panamericana. They told me this at about 800km so I had a long way to come up with ideas of what Don Clemente would be like.
I finally reached there about 5 days ago and had a wonderful experience. My father had done some research about the area and had found a nice hotel on the beach where camping was available. My plan was to pop in say hi to Clemente and then hit the beach. Well that plan changes as soon as I stepped into his restaurant. La Bolsa is situated 30km south of a town called Casma. Between the two there is nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. When you finally turn the corner and look down the highway stretching ahead and see the little orange restaurant sitting isolated in the sand like a small oasis you are filled with relief.
I pushed my stroller through the front door and politely asked for Clemente. A small friendly faced man sitting at a table on my right stood up and introduced himself while ushering me through to the family table behind the counter. We immediately sat down and before I knew it my food order was being taken.
Clemente is a legend to all those who have braved the Panamericana through Peru. Over 25 years he has collected three books full of notes from those who have stopped by to meet him and share their stories. Most are those on motorcycles or bicycles but then there are those walking, running or driving crazy vehicles. In the 25 years he has been welcoming guest only 5 have been on foot. One being Nacho (who I met in Nicaragua), two being walkers, a chap running around the world and then myself. Other guests include the UK TV presenter Mark Beaumont. He also has a number of books that travellers have published about their adventures though I am not sure he has managed to read them all as they come from all over the world!
After my delicious meal I had made my decision that I was going to scrap the beach idea and speak to Clemente more. I asked if I could pitch my Force Ten tent but Clemente had accommodation taken care of. He showed me through to a room with two beds and its own bathroom. After cleaning myself up and getting a little rest Clemente announced “coffee and cake time”. We sat and chatted for a couple of hours covering his life and how he set up the restaurant 48 years earlier. We discussed others who had stayed and debated who had been the first to inhabit Easter Island.
In the morning I was given a hearty breakfast of Lomo Saltado (essentially stir-fried beef with rice and chips). Before I set off I was given a packed lunch of fried chicken (cut into small pieces to make it easier to eat) and a goody bag of apples, crackers and biscuits.
From the moment I arrived until the moment I left I was treated with the most amazing generosity by Clemente and everyone else who was there. La Balsa not only serves the most delicious food buy accompanies it with genuine interest in what you are trying to achieve and the most heartfelt generosity. Clemente, The Angel of the Desert is certainly a title that is fitting and I hope that many more travellers make the effort to meet you and experience the reception I got. Thank you!