For Sotelo and many other Limeños, the idea of swimming on Lima’s Pacific Coast was somewhat uncharted. A sprawling city of roughly 10 million people, Peru’s coastal capital is wedged between the peaks of the Andes and the churning waters of the Pacific. Despite its natural beauty, it’s often referred to by its nickname, Lima la Horrible, owing to its pollution, traffic-clogged streets, and gloomy winters. For seven months of the year, Lima is shrouded in ocean mist and cloud cover that blocks out the sun. And because the city lies in the pathway of the Humboldt Current, which flows north from Antarctica along the west coast of South America, the water is bracingly cold year-round.
So while Sotelo was born in Lima, she didn’t discover its beaches until she moved back to the city in her late twenties after living abroad.
“The stereotype is that the beaches are dirty and not very nice,” she says. “They are thin, with very little sand, and there are usually highways right next to them.”
However, as Las Truchas grew and Sotelo got more involved, the young photographer started to feel the ocean’s pull. Before long, she was meeting the group at 10 a.m. several times a week to swim and capture aerial photos using her drone. Some days, they’d swim north to the Faro La Marina lighthouse, other days they’d make it all the way to El Paneton island. Groups of dolphins and sea lions would regularly glide by them. No matter the route or the physical abilities of the swimmers, the women always swam together, going only as fast as the slowest person in the group.
For Sotelo, it wasn’t just the cool photos she was getting, or the rush of cold-water swimming that lured her back to the ocean—it was being in the company of a diverse and supportive community of women that spanned age groups, social classes, and political views.
The group included 73-year-old Aida Davis, one of the most decorated swimmers in Peru. She would apply red lipstick before she swam and placed first in freestyle at the Fina World Masters Championships when she was 60 years old. Then there was Maggi Lañas, a 56-year-old journalism professor who discovered her passion for swimming after undergoing ovarian surgery in 2006.