Time to leave the mountains and head down to Trujillo on the coast.
Our last day in Huaraz and the weather took a turn for the worse. High winds, rain, even snow on the high passes. We loved our time in the Cordillera Blanca but time to move on. The Movil night bus bus left 10.20 pm and went through those snow covered passes! Our ETA was 6.00 am but we fully expected to be late because of the weather. I completely overlooked the fact that this is Peru and nothing gets in the way of a driver and his destination, not even snow. We rolled into Trujillo bus terminal just after 4.00am – 2 hours early!
Rather than risk not being able to get into our hotel in the dark, we hung around the bus station until first light and the got the 7 soles taxi ride to the Victoria’s Suites Hotel. Even at that early hour, they had a room ready for us so we just crashed out for a couple of hours before heading out for brunch. Just around the corner we noticed the the smell of roasting turkey. Too delicious to resist, we settled for a delicious turkey sandwich for brunch.
Trujillo has a bad reputation for safety amongst Peruvians, but we felt perfectly safe wandering around day and night, at least around the central area. This was our second visit and whilst we were less than impressed the first time around, this time the city really grew on us.
Not as classically colonial as many Peruvian cities, it has a very grand Plaza de Armas whose centrepiece is a classical statue, depicting work, the arts and liberty. The splendid cathedral on the square is one of the most impressive we have seen, both inside and out.
From the outside:
and the inside:
When we stopped on the Plaza to admire a particularly impressive balcony, an elderly lady stopped us to have a chat about the place – Casa de Urquiaga. The lady insisted we go inside to have a look at the modern art exhibition and suggested we go up onto the roof for the best views of the plaza and cathedral.
Almost as impressive as the view, was the balcony itself – it must have been 50 metres long!
A couple of paintings from Casa de Urquiaga ( the latter could easily have been a selfie of me after crossing the Ecuadorian border – see below)
In any city we visit in South America there seems to be either a demonstration or a parade happening. In Trujillo, we had both. Brass bands were parading on one side of the plaza providing a pleasant musical background to the workers who were demonstrating outside the government offices on the other. Heavily armed police with riot-shields were lined up outside the government offices clearly to control the demonstrators, a dangerous looking group of ladies; some knitting, some eating, one singing; all chatting merrily away – both sides didn’t look as though their hearts were really in it…
We had already seen Huaca del Sol y La Luna (The Temple of the Sun And The Moon) , one of the major sights in the area and, impressive as they are , we had no desire to make a return visit. Instead, we seek out a tour to Chan Chan for the following day.
Next morning we jump in a minibus and off we set with a bunch of Peruvians and a Spanish speaking guide (so as to force us to improve our Spanish language skills).
Stopping first at a couple of small archaeological sitesin the city incongruously set amid some high rise blocks, passing by the museum itself which was closed (apparently!), then carrying on to Chan Chan itself – which is nicely situated on some prime real estate right on the beach.
Apart from tourists, the main occupants of these sites are the famous “Peruvian Hairless” dogs which we find wandering at will everywhere. Apparently, they are protected by law at these sights. Weird looking – certainly! But also quite lovable in a strange way.
Chan Chan is the largest pre-Columbian city in South America and the largest adobe built city in the world. It really is a massive site, with no less than ten palaces spread out over a huge area of some 20 km². Chan Chan was constructed by the Chimor, a civilization which grew out of the remnants of the Moche civilization and was built around AD 850 and lasted until the Incas came along and sacked it in AD 1470.
It was BIG at its peak it housed 60,000 people in nine cities (or royal compounds), all of which contained massive wealth in gold. Most of the gold was stolen when the Spanish later sacked the cities. Each city contained a massive funerary mound in which was found many ceramic funerary offerings, jewellery etc. as well as the remains of the many young girls which were regularly offered as ritual sacrifices.
Wandering around the site and listening to our guide we gain a very good impression of what life may have been like for these people back in the day – great if you were rich and powerful, not so good if you were a young girl!
This was a civilisation that was very focused upon religion, the afterlife and human sacrifice etc. One can’t help wondering that if they had concentrated more on the here and now, rather than the hereafter, the Incas may not have found them such a walkover!
It is incredible to think that this city was constructed entirely of Adobe – effectively mud bricks. Yet it has lasted for centuries. Although the recent El Niños and the almost unheard of rains they brought, have reeked havoc on parts of the ruins and has necessitated some urgent protective action. This mostly seems to have consisted of putting up corrugated iron roofs supported on wooden poles.
As we walk through the partially reconstructed ruins we find ourselves in the massive main plaza (I think where all the sacrifices took place), the down to a square lagoon (which may have been a giant swimming pool, a ceremonial pool or a water reservoir). Beyond this is the beach.
This place is hugely impressive as it is now. In its heyday when, rather than being dull brown adobe, it was painted in brilliant technicolor, it must have been really something to behold!
To round off the morning we drive out to the beach resort of Huanchaco and have lunch and beer at a beachside restaurant. A lot of development has gone on since we last came and it all seems a lot tackier. Nice to watch the surfers from the pier, but, on balance, I wish we hadn’t bothered.
Chiclayo and Layambaque
It is time to head north to Chiclayo a place we had only ever passed through in the middle of the night before en route from Chachapoyas. This time, after dumping our bags at our guesthouse Villa Santa jumped into a taxi and headed to the centre to have a looks around and to eat. Seemed like a buzzing sort of place and if anything a little edgier and less “safe” than Trujillo.
The next day we forego one of the main sights of the area, the tombs at Sipan and just hire a taxi to take us to the two museums in the neighbouring town of Layambaque. The Museo Tumbas de Reales de Sipan and the Brunning Museum.
We get to the former at the opening time of 09.00 only to find that it’s is closed until 11.00 due to a power failure. Never mind, on to Brunning Museum – which is closed all day!! No reason, just closed! What is it with Peru and its museums??
While waiting for the Museo Tumbas de Reales de Sipan to open, we share a speciality dish of the town for our brunch -a Tortilla de Raya. Very delicious.
The museum opens and we are amongst the first in. No photography is allowed inside, (hence the lack here). The impressive exterior of the Museum is very photoworthy however and we also took a few shots of the centre of Layambaque, which was quite quaint.
The concierge at the museum on hand to greet everyone and proudly proclaims that this is one of the top ten museums in the world. Good? certainly. Top ten in the world? Not a chance!
The lighting and displays are well thought out as is the way the museum is laid out. enabling visitors to see, not only the amazingly intricate gold and ceramic designs but also the re-creations of the tombs themselves, completely with skeletons and explanations of the layout format. The amount of gold on show amazing. Definitely worth few hours if passing through Chiclayo.
Piura and the Ecuadorian border
Piura, on the other hand is only worth visiting if en route to the Ecuadorian border and even then, there must easier ways! We had planned to use a bus company that had a direct route to Loja, purely to avoid the coastal border crossing Aguas Verdes, which the dubious accolade of being “the worst border crossing in South America” with more scams and thefts than any other crossing point.
There is one company that runs the direct service to Loja and we trek several bus booking offices to track it down. As it happens there are two companies that run this route and when confronted with the option of adding just a few hours to our overnight journey (instead of an extra half day) and taking a slightly different route to go straight on to Cuenca, we think this is worth doing. We book the ticket with Super Semperia for 47soles each. It seems a reasonable price for a 10 hour bus ride. There are no VIP reclining seats, just a semi recline, but we get seats on the front row so at least no one will recline on to our laps.
We did not bargain for this “direct” route to have so many stops. Nor the fact that, being next to the door, every stop meant a bag or bottom or elbow bashing into us. Leaving town at 8.30pm, it was not a restful journey, stopping at Mancora and then Tumbes, we arrive at the very same border crossing we had been trying to avoid, the dreaded Aguas Verdes. It is 2am and here we are!
Despite reports to the contrary in Lonely Planet and other guides, both countries immigration offices are in the same building and the actual immigration process through both points was easy, quick and hassle free -it took maybe 10-15 mins. The immigration buildings were modern and efficient and the scams mentioned by Lonely Planet et al, completely absent.
If the immigration formalities were quick and easy, the same can’t be said when we tried to find the bus afterwards. False panic : it was there, only not where we left it, but a 5 minute walk away. Immigration done, both exit and entrances stamps in our passport we expected to hop back on the bus and continue our journey. This is not the case; there is an inspection process to needs to happen. We wait for over an hour whilst the narco-police conducted a VERY thorough search of the bus. They went through, opened and searched every bag left in the cabin and all those in the hold to thoroughly inspect the contents. We travel carry-on only and had taken all our lugguage with us through the immigration process rather than leave them on the bus. A good move as the police didn’t even glance at ours. 20 mins further on we stopped at an Ecuadorian army check point post where a much shorter search was conducted. In all it took just over an hour to get through the border. It seems much longer at 02.0am!
Onwards to Cuenca…