Here are some more of my musings on the variety that is South America. Read about the street food, the security and the wheelbarrow boys in this, the second in my series of Funky Facts.
1. Wheelbarrow boys
Wheelbarrow boy for hire
At the local market there is no need to lug heavy bags home or look super-weird trailing one of those granny trolleys behind you. Here you just need to hire a wheelbarrow boy. They will follow you around for a small fee, collecting your bags of dirt cheap fruit and veg and then come to the edge of the market where you hail a cab and load everything into the back. Seemingly hundreds of them scoot about the market at top speed in their welly boots, yelling at you to get out of their way. They come in all age and sizes so you can pick one to suit – just make sure that you keep clear as they come barging through.
2. Quails Eggs
the best breakfast
One of my favourite breakfasts on the walk to work is quails eggs. Ladies sit at their carts with hot water in a pan and peel, peel, peel. For one sol (23p) they will pop six eggs into a tiny plastic bag, squirt in some eye-watering aji (chilli) sauce and hand them over to you with a cocktail stick. Totally scrummy. And guaranteed to make passers-by chuckle as you splutter on the sauce
3. Personal Space
There is a complete lack of awareness of personal space. People will crash into you on the sidewalk (OMG, I have been around Americans too long; I typed that without even thinking of the word pavement), they will stop dead and have a conversation whilst blocking your way or taxis will stop right bang alongside you on the kerb and let passengers out rather than drive on an extra metre. On buses there is no backing off to allow someone space to breathe. People are packed in, groins thrust in faces and I have even had my bottom stroked for the entirety of one journey – although that was less about personal space as somebody having a bit of illicit fun. Children and teenagers drape around each other in bundles, in classrooms they sit as close as possible and nearly everybody greets and leaves each other with a kiss on the cheek and a hug. I like it.
At traffic junctions there are no annoying people waiting to pounce with their buckets of bubbles and squeegee mops. In Peru we have jugglers and break-dancers. I have even seen a little ten year old stand and sing although quite how he expected to be heard above the incessant horns I don’t know. People are very generous and many will give a coin or two before the lights change. Jugglers and dancers at traffic lights are good.
5. My most favourite fast food EVER
I have fallen head over heels in love with Papa Rellanas. These deep fried potato treats are sold on the street for a sol or two. Sometimes they are filled with a little bit of minced meat, occasionally fish and usually with a smattering of chopped boiled egg or some shredded cabbage and an olive inside. Handed out on a tiny tray with a side of shredded white cabbage and of course the ubiquitous aji I could eat these forever and forever. You can keep your McDonalds or KFC – a papa rellana is all that I need for complete food happiness
They are everywhere. Security guards in the parks have them. Cops fondle theirs lovingly. And they all have belts of shiny bullets to go with them. You kind of get used to them although one day that I walked past the bank was rather unnerving. I had hoped to call at the ATM for some cash but a massive armoured truck was parked outside; presumably there was a cash delivery or collection in progress. There were guards everywhere and not just eyeballing the street for threats. No, these were pacing, guns drawn, fingers on triggers, daring anybody to have a go. I decided not to queue for the ATM. Not because I was scared of being accidentally shot but of looking like a complete idiot. If a passing car had backfired as often happened, I would have hit the deck. And as usual there were about thirty people in the queue for the bank along the railings by the ATM – all just waiting and watching for me to dive quivering to the floor. I walked on by that time,
an ice cold raspadilla
I have already mentioned the quails eggs and papa rellana but everywhere you look in Peru there is an enterprising vendor with a little cart, a supermarket shopping trolley or simply a cool box selling food or drink. Raspidillas – shaved ice coated in sickly sweet yummy fruit syrups drip tantilisingly coldly and attract wasps, and the similar cremoladas – slush puppies for grown ups flavoured with fruit juice are everywhere. Frozen fruit juices and fruit squash are sold in twists of plastic bags for just a few centimos to cool people down and of course melons, pineapples and mame are piled high ready to be chopped and sliced for you.
Rice puddings and jellies gleam jewel like in the sunshine, slices of pigs hearts barbeque smokily on skewers on street corners and milk sits in churns – to be ladled into plastic bags whilst people everywhere are juicing fresh fruits.
my attempt to buy a greeting card
Corner shops or bodegas have metal grills across them. Rap on the iron with a coin and the shop keeper may or may not bother to come out from their house behind. If you don’t know the word for what you want point, but even something simple like water is a pantomime. You can’t go in and browse, but need to know the correct brand, size and whether you want it chilled or not. I bought a greetings card once. They were displayed in a nice carousel at the back of the shop. I could see the carousel. Would the shop keeper bring the carousel to me? Of course not! I had to tell her what I wanted the card for and she chose for me!!!! She brought me three different cards making three different trips to the back of the shop. I gave up in the end and just bought the third one regardless.
I can tolerate spiders, snakes and beetles. I don’t mind flies or bees but I detest cockroaches. And the volunteer house was alive with them despite regular dousing with roach killer. Ceckeroches as pronounced in Spanish would jump out of a saucepan as you pulled it from the cupboard or dive at your feet as you lifted the rubbish out to the bins. Monsters would cruise along the skirting boards and baby ones would run around the bookshelf. They no longer make me scream, just shudder.
10. Wolf whistles
creamy rice puddings for sale
I remember being mortified when I had to walk past builders or the mechanics in the garage during the ‘70s and being subjected to wolf whistles or cat calls from the men. Here in Peru, the audible appreciation of the opposite sex is alive and well – some car horns have even been adapted to produce a whistle as drivers pass girls in the street. Hissing and kissing sounds are common and nobody is exempt. It is just a fact of life here. Just don’t react. Walk with your head high and do not twitch jump or snarl.
a rather cool post box
There are few rules regarding health and safety and few security issues, however you have to jump through hoops to send a parcel abroad. I needed to supply a photocopy of my passport and my fingerprints, as well as a full description of what was in my parcel. I later discovered that I wasn’t supposed to seal the parcel until the lady behind the desk had verified the contents. A shop opposite the Post Office in Trujillo does a roaring trade in passport photocopies and a kiosk inside will sell sellotape and glue so that you can reseal your package. There is a desk where you can ask somebody to sew your parcel securely inside what appears to be a pillow case – your stamps and the address are stuck on the outside of the cotton and this apparently renders your parcel tamper free. Inside the Post Office in Trujillo a lovely brass lion’s head constitutes the post box – with letters and cards deposited through his mouth and then taking four to six weeks to reach Europe
slices of pigs hearts ready for the barbeque
Everything travels by bus. From the large, rather posh luxury coaches with their full cama beds in which you can recline almost horizontally and which have individual TV screens set into the seat-back in front of you, down through the local town buses with their pumping salsa music, holes in the floor and screwdrivers jamming the gearstick into place; to the micros or combis – think a beaten up camper van which is painted in garish colours and with a conductor who hangs out of the side door calling for more passengers even when there is nowhere to physically squash anybody else, buses are the life blood of the South American transport system.
I mentioned the postal system earlier in this article, but many people use the buses to transport goods and important documents. The better bus companies will accept a document or a parcel and for a nominal fee will transport it in the belly of the bus or balance it on the roof of the combi, to be collected the other end by a nominated person.
- Papa is Spanish for potato
- Rellana is pronounced ray-anna
- Cockroaches are truly the most disgusting beasts on the planet
Climb into the back of a monster 4X4 pick up truck. Hang on tight. Ignore the fact that you only met the five Peruvian men who are sat in the cab half an hour ago. There is only one rough single track down the mountain and it took the combi nearly an hour to stagger up it. Look at fellow travellers who are gamely smiling. It is either this way or walk and it would probably take six hours to get down. Hope that the driver picks his way down carefully, avoiding the loose gravel on the countless tight hairpins, the donkeys which are grazing on the occasional verge and the ten thousand foot sheer drop on the right……………………………………
twisty mountain track
We arrived at the bottom within twenty minutes after the most exhilarating journey of my life. Maybe the driver was on drugs or drunk, or maybe he was just your typical machismo Latin American hombre, but he floored the accelerator ALL the way down. The g-forces pinned the three of us to the metal floor and we shrieked and grinned like idiots all the way down. I was flying! I didn’t care if we flew over the abyss into the space beyond; I was completely and utterly relaxed and just wanted the driver to find more speed from somewhere. He drove aggressively and confidently, twisting the truck round the short, tight bends only slamming on the brakes at the occasional speed bump. We got out at the bottom and couldn’t believe the coincidence – he had parked bang outside the little restaurant that we had intended to try to track down for our lunch.
This adrenaline ride was part way through our week long holiday which came at the end of my time at SKIP, but every day is a fantastic adventure.
topiary in Huamachuco
Following a crazy final week which ended on the Friday night with a party, plenty of dancing and some very sad goodbyes as more volunteers left, five of us set off up into the mountains on a little minibus on the Sunday morning. We had a four hour drive through some spectacular scenery up to the small town of Huamachuco in the Andes. We found two rooms in a quaint little hostel right on the Plaza de Armas with its strange topiary bushes cut like rabbits, llamas and birds. Me and my Christmas travel buddy M were joined on this trip – or for the first leg of it anyway, by another lady – K and two guys – Ky and A.
Humachuco is a small community where many of the women wear large cream coloured hats and coloured skirts over trousers. There is a feeling that nothing much has changed here for centuries and as we wandered in to the stadium to watch a local football match which was taking place, judging by the curious stares that we received, they hadn’t seen many ‘gringos’ for centuries either. The weather was noticeably chillier than the heat that we had left behind on the coast but by gum, did it rain. It hammered down in torrents, flooding the streets and the deep gutters and channels which were cut into the roadsides. Our evening meal that evening was eaten whilst we had our feet tucked up on the rungs of our chairs as water bubbled up through the floor and flooded the building. We continued to eat as the staff gamely fought a losing battle to sweep the deluge out of the door, but this was obviously just the normal routine and one of the consequences of living in the mountains.
spinning, hats and chatting
a (spectacular) hut
The following day I was introduced to the delights of emoliente for breakfast by K from a street trader. The vendor theatrically poured some evil smelling hot liquid from great heights between two jugs, added some stuff, stirred, poured some more and then watched as I tested it. It smelt OK and it didn’t taste too bad but had the consistency of phlegm, all gloopy and sticky. Apparently I only had to tell the vendor what ailments I had and he would mix a special potion up for me to cure all. Suitably fortified, the five of us set off on what was marketed as a twenty minute hike to some ruins. This turned out to be an hour’s trudge to some walls that were cordoned off so after watching the local miners run around a field and play football during their lunch break (complete with hard hats) we then we jumped in a combi to visit what was supposed to be a spectacular lagoon. Sat at a table by the lakeside with the cafe owner’s damp washing hanging limply above us we ate lake trout in the chill and pondered the choice of adjectives from the tourist information office. It was pretty. It was peaceful. It was decidedly not spectacular.
Day three and us ladies did a turn around from our choice of the thermal baths and joined the chicos on their jaunt to find some more ruins at Marcahuamachuco.
the view from the top
Boy, were we glad that we did. A bone shaking taxi ride took us an hour deeper up into the mountains along tracks that according to the Lonely Planet should be impassable by vehicle and then we arrived at the site of Marcahuamachuca which stretched along the mountain top.
The tourist information office had been very helpful and friendly but so wrong. The hike that they recommended took us twice as long and the lagoon was not exactly spectacular but these ruins, which they suggested may be worth a look if we could brave the journey, were totally awesome. Sprawling along the top of the ridge with ‘wow’ views on every side, these ruins for me, were not far short of the ones at Machu Picchu. Granted the buildings were not intact, the grass not neatly manicured and devoid of other tourists, but these things all led to the magic. Crumbling walls and secret doorways and windows were all battling against nature and the elements to remain standing proud against the skyline. The five of us explored for a good hour before reluctantly wandering back to our waiting taxi driver.
exploring the ruins
We then split up with K and A heading back to the coast and three of us moving on to the smaller town of Cajabamba a few mountain peaks to the north. I loved this place. It had a real nice cosy feel and probably received even fewer visitors than Huamachuco. We initially had a VERY strange hostel here – hostel might be stretching the fact that it was a very strange room within a very strange home; but the next day we checked out and moved around the corner to a little gem of a place built around a pretty courtyard with lemon and lime trees and a very friendly owner. From here we took the combi which was mentioned at the beginning of this post up to visit the Cascadas de Cochacorral. A waterfall roared down the side of the mountain, tumbling down numerous rocky steps in a shallow valley. The walk to find it was quite long but again, we had the most spectacular scenery and we also had the place entirely to ourselves apart from the five Peruvian guys who were to give us a lift back down the mountainside later.
Cajamarca from Mirador Natural Santa Apolonia
Another long bus journey the following day took us into Cajamarca. This was the finale of our trip. It was Carnival time in South America. Cajamarca is billed as the carnival capital of Peru and we were intending to participate. Many hostels were overpriced or already fully booked but we found a room with three double beds just one street away from the Plaza de Armas. Over the course of the next few days we took local buses to visit the Ventanas de Ortuzco which are ancient tombs cut like windows into the side of a hill and the the Baños del Inca – hot thermal baths in dating from Incan times and in which an Incan King once bathed his war wounds and are now a thriving spa. We puffed to the top of the hill for eagle eye views down over the town from the Mirador Natural Santa Apolonia and we explored the Belen complex. We became regulars at the Van Gogh art cafe and each evening sat and chatted over dinner with the Dutch owner, listened to his inebriated musician (who actually had a brilliant voice but was also determined to enjoy Carnival) and we were entertained on the guitar by Ky. Myself and M accompanied Ky and the inebriated singer on the musical eggs (think maracas). Walking back to our hostel we came across pre-Carnival Friday night in the Plaza which was a surreal experience. The Plaza was packed with little groups standing in tightly packed circles around their bottles of beer and pisco. Each group contained a drummer and most also had a trumpeter. All were beating out the same rhythmic sound and all were singing the same hypnotic song – but all at slightly different times. It was primitive, basic tribal stuff.
Banos del Inca
We smuggled a couple more friends into our hostel room that night – we had large beds after all so it would have been rude not to share – and then we hit the party on the Saturday morning.
nothing was spared the paint
It started innocently enough with little kids and their super-soakers aiming at us, but then people began dumping entire buckets of water from their balconies and groups were roaming around with buckets of paint. As far as I understand it, the groups were divided up between the barrios (gangs) from the different areas of the town. Each contained a drummer and a trumpeter or three, plenty of paint, much booze and they danced and sang their way around the streets. Every so often, they would stop below a balcony and loud chants of ‘Agua, agua’ would go up until the occupants obliged with buckets of water which were poured down – only to receive a barrage of paint sprayed straight back up at them, Not a car, bus or motorbike remained untouched by paint and then the groups danced off to the stadium for free food.
We ended up dancing along with the barrio from Combe Mayo who were thrilled that we had decided to pick them and we were treated like celebrities, given free drinks and we were whirled around wildly to the music.
It was odd coming back to earth after the wildness of the day but very funny when after showering for at least ten minutes each, we all discovered that the green paint was not to be shifted!
imposing walls of Marcahuamachuco
Last weekend I was sat on thirty hours worth of buses over a period of two days so that I could get from Peru to Ecuador – and in the week prior to that, I spent approximately another fifteen hours on buses and crammed in vans. I used the time wisely and wrote up my next three blog entries.
I edited and formatted; I added images and I checked my spellings. And then somehow, my phone decided that because I had moved to a different country it should request sign-ons for all my email accounts and folders – and in the process, it wiped the memory.
So my meticulously written report on working for the NGO, my write up about Carnival and the document which detailed my adventure around the Andes have all gone.
One of the little ones
I initially got mad, I was raging about and then after about three minutes I looked up from my netbook. I was sat in a beautiful garden fronting onto the Pacific Ocean and the soft creamy sand was being pounded by thunderous waves. The sea beyond the foam was sparkling in the sun and pelicans scooted around on the water, whilst black angular frigate birds circled alarmingly overhead. Why was I allowing myself to get angry? It was my own fault for not backing up my work. So, I hate rewriting work – life is too short. I may or may not now tell you about the soldiers who boarded our bus and the paint throwing at the Carnival, and I may leave out some of the smaller details. I am sat by the Pacific Ocean in Ecuador.
This is the shortened reworked version of my time with SKIP
I came out to Peru in November and I began working as an English teacher with SKIP. Supporting Kids in Peru is a grass-roots organisation which works on the margins of the city of Trujillo. I have written about the district of El Porvenir before so I won’t repeat myself but I never cease to be amazed by the resilience and the enthusiasm of the majority of the children who are a part of this tough community. The police refuse to go into the area at night and gunshots are not uncommon. The vast majority of the children are squeaky clean and they take great pride in their school work, have impeccable manners and are delightful.
Swimming with the primary age kids
I was lucky enough to try my hand at several things. I taught English to both primary and secondary level children, I worked as a teaching assistant for the Group One ‘babies’, I helped out at the swimming pools for both primary and secondary, I sort of helped at the sewing workshop for the mums (this was limited because of my lack of Spanish) and I went along to the beach for our treat for the secondary aged children.
I took time away at Christmas to explore much of Peru and Bolivia, took weekends away to visit more local sights and I have met the most fantastic people.
Volunteers come from all over the world and I have worked alongside people from Australia, the UK, Spain, Argentina, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Canada and the United States as well as Peru itself. I KNOW that some of them are friendships made for life and I also know, without a shadow of a doubt that I will bump in to some of them again, somewhere in the world, (unless of course they change their address and not tell me). I have never been a bridesmaid but I even have high hopes of being a matron-of-honour one day!
Sand, sand and more sand
My working day varied, but when I was teaching at SKIP it usually began with a twenty minute walk to the volunteer house through the parks and backstreets of the city, where the volunteers would gather on the pavement and begin the daily performance of persuading cab drivers to take us to the SKIP building in El Porvenir. Hailing cabs with the taxi waggle (hold your arm out at right angles to your body, slightly above the horizontal, palm down and limply flap from the wrists) – then when about three or four cabs are lined up, these are negotiated with for the cheapest journey. Cram aboard as many bodies as can be tolerated and drive the fifteen minutes or so up to the area where our work is based. Once we pass the market with its stinky smells and the rubbish dump where piles of crap burn with toxic smoke by the side of the road, the sand takes over. The graveyard is a vast, desolate, sad sandy pit and pavements are no longer a feature. Houses are smaller and more basic, roads are sand or a mass of rubble and people have planted crops of maize or potatoes in the patches of sand between their front doors and the roadway.
The cabs arrive and generally a gaggle of kids charge over to take our bags off us and help us in through the large steel sky blue door. Inside the high walls exists a little sanctuary from the poverty which is outside. Maria is always to be found sweeping; not for one minute will she allow the desert sand to take over her beloved yard; and the basic classrooms are prepared for the children. Not a day goes by that as I enter this building I don’t think back to the schools in the UK with their carpets, shiny desks and seemingly unlimited resources. Here in Peru the walls do have pictures and posters on but whether because of the dry atmosphere or the cheap paper, they always look tired and sad. We are always scraping around for pencils and paper, desks are very old and rickety and chairs and wooden benches uncomfortable and some on their last legs. I have been into a school in the more affluent city centre of Trujillo and things were not much better there – classrooms are simply large spaces with desks and chairs and not a lot else to stimulate or encourage. But as I said, the children are keen to learn and just prove that you don’t need to pay a fortune for the latest digital classroom aids.
There are of course petty office politics within the NGO which happen as they would within any business or organisation and these can be frustrating, and are no doubt amplified because of the intensity of working and living together in such close proximity. Some characters clash but generally everybody rubs along well together. If there is a drama, everybody pulls together and supports each other. It was very tempting to stay longer but I knew that it would just be harder to eventually leave.
just waiting around
Trujillo can be a dangerous city and many of the volunteers have experienced some level of crime or hassle. However, it is important to note, this is not just because we are foreigners – many Peruvians have also been subjected to robbery and mugging. I was lucky and didn’t have any problem apart from in my first week when I was followed but I managed to lose the two men. There was also an almost-incident in a cab when myself and another volunteer were decidedly suspicious about the motives of our driver who looked like a gangster with his cap on backwards, gold teeth and giant gold chains around his neck. We whispered that should he pull a gun on us we would leg it – and we almost did dash for it when he opened the glove box and pulled out a black object – only to collapse with relief when it turned out to be the remote control for his radio!
Several volunteers have been relieved of their possessions or subjected to a random attack and often at gunpoint, although I have felt safer walking around Trujillo than when I was walking around my home town back in the UK.
waiting for the party to start
My final week at SKIP was the very best. It was very emotional and saying goodbye to many of the children and my friends was hard. We had parties for the volunteers and parties for the children as well as outings to the beach. We were allowed to take photographs at SKIP in our final week – some I shall share with you now but I hope to place others within another entry in the future.
If you would like to support SKIP either financially or with your time, you can check out their website at www.skipperu.org or follow them on Facebook. I was privileged to be a part of these children’s lives for a short time and I am sure that some of them will go on to change their world
having fun at the beach
As you read this I will hopefully be somewhere in the Andes on a little adventure with some of my friends from the NGO.
I can’t believe how quickly the last three months have gone working with the NGO. Peru has got under my skin and whilst it would be so nice to stay here for a bit longer that would be the easy option and I have to leave soon.
My next port of call is Ecuador but not before the raucous madness of Carnival, Peruvian style. Provided the expected route across the mountains goes smoothly you can look forward to finding out what this entails, but I have heard that water and paint feature strongly. I have my oldest, most hated pair of trousers with me for that day and the tee-shirt which has been in the swimming pool with me each week during Club Vacacional.
It was extremely hard to say goodbye to the children at the NGO who are all amazing but together with my co-teacher (Danish L) I had the most fantastic final day at the beach with the kids.
Future little gems for you to look forward to reading about will include a full report on working for the NGO, the time I spoke French during a ceremony with the Peruvian Scouts, and of course my adventures during the next week.
There has been a small mix up concerning my onward travel plans, but all being well, in two weeks time I shall be writing to you from the beach in Ecuador.
Whilst I have always dreamed of coming to Peru I have to admit to being pretty ignorant about what is here to see and do. I knew of course about Machu Picchu and that there are vast areas of jungle here. I knew that the cities would be chaotic and that there would be poverty. I knew that there would be hints of the colonial past with Spanish influences and I expected some buildings to look similar to those in Cuba but there is so much more here. I did not appreciate quite how vast and diverse a country it is in all respects. The architecture, landscape and people differ widely from region to region but unlike Cuba many of the historical buildings are well preserved and cared for, parks are lovingly tended and armies of litter pickers sweep their brooms around, or in the case of Trujillo, mop – yes actually mop the floor in the Plaza de Armas.
Of course there is poverty and dirt and squalor but there is also plenty of pride and self respect. Teenagers are as fashion conscious as any the world over, the dogs on the street are for the most part well cared for and loved and the beggars appear to receive regular donations of money and small gifts.
The north of Peru is famous for its cuisine too. The food here is usually very tasty although there is a tendency to serve ginormous portions of rice with everything. I certainly have not lost any weight as to date I have yet to be ill and when lunch costs just £1.10 …….
I was surprised to discover that the desert coast in the northwest of the country really is desert. It is on a par with the deserts that I have seen in Egypt and Jordan and is vast with large dunes and flat sandy plains sweeping down to the Pacific coast. I was also very surprised at the amount of architectural wealth the north possesses Mainstream tourists head for Machu Picchu but the Huacas del Sol y de la Lunes, Chan Chan and Túcame are fascinating too.
Chan Chan lies on the outskirts of Trujillo on the coast road to the surfers paradise of Huanchaco.
This complex is vast, hot and sandy. It is the largest adobe city in the world but only a tiny portion has been investigated – the rest lies tantalisingly submerged under sandy humps which stretch for as far as the eye can see. The part that has been excavated consists of sand coloured adobe walls with intricate brickwork and murals carved into them. The complex is ancient but due to the hot dry climate is remarkably well preserved and fresh looking and as I was led around the open air courtyards and corridors by our guide it wasn’t hard to imagine the place full of priests and workers in olden times
I went off to Chiclayo for a weekend with my friend ‘S’ who comes from Switzerland. We had a lovely time together and thanks to her amazing language skills (Spanish is her third language) we negotiated a variety of combis and cabs to visit two amazing sites.
After checking in to our very cheap hostel in Chiclayo we were straight off to catch a combi for the site of Sipan. We decided to tour this by ourselves rather than hiring a guide and first went in the little museum which explained what we would see and then walked in the searing heat to the temple. I use the term temple loosely here but like the Huacas and Chan Chan, time and the desert had taken its toll. Constructed of the usual adobe bricks the pyramid shaped complex had been buried under the sands and collapsed in parts but careful uncovering had unearthed plenty of the ancient adobe brickwork which was on display in the museum,
The following day we were off and out of our hostel by seven thirty as we had a longer journey to the site of Túcame. The journey consisted of a taxi and combi and then a bici-taxi but wow – it was worth it. This vast site once consisted of twenty six separate pyramid shaped huacas (temples) and whilst now many were large hills of sand, walking amongst them you could appreciate the sheer scale of them. We hired a local guide and for three hours he walked us around the museum, along the paths and up to the top of a large hill from which we could look down over the entire site. Hernan E Pozada Campaña’s passion for the area and his work shone through and as well as giving us the history of Túcame he told us about the plants and the birds and the animals. In Spanish! And I am very pleased to report that I understood more than half of what he said whilst S gamely filled in the gaps for me. We then took a combi back to the town of Lambayeque which included a man with a bag full of chickens on his lap AND a crowing cockerel.
One of the 26 temples at Tucame
After a brief menu stop we were off to visit the Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipan (Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan). Housed inside a grand building we wandered around three floors of treasures which had been found. There were various skeletons and the paraphernalia of the burial ceremonies but also items of gold and silver from the time. The conquistadores did so much damage when they destroyed or melted down the majority of the items, ceremonial and everyday that were in existence for centuries prior to their arrival in Latin America. Most of these civilisations didn’t keep records in books or on manuscripts but they passed their stories down by word of mouth.
Modern day Peru
There has been a campaign to encourage the Peruvian people to consider themselves one nation and a logo for Peru was cleverly designed. Free tee-shirts were initially given away to launch the brand but now people happily opt to buy caps, sweatshirts and all manner of items marked with the swirly ident. Peru has branded itself and whilst the logo is used to promote tourism the far more important issue was to bond the population.
“No images were used for the new logo. The word Peru is enough, according to the campaign. It is uniquely short for a country name, it has a universal pronunciation, and the accent mark over the letter “u” stands out.” (wwwlogodesignlove.com)
There have also been a series of government sponsored advertisements which encourage people to act with compassion towards each other. A bus journey often resembles a game of musical chairs (don’t forget the salsa music playing) as people offer seats to the elderly, pregnant and those with small children. I love to watch this game as the bus passengers shuffle around, judging among themselves who is the most needy of the seats. Apparently it wasn’t like this a few years ago but the advertising campaign has encouraged people to care for and consider each other. Maybe the people who drop a few coins into the beggars’ hands are all too aware that without a robust benefit system (or to be honest any system at all to speak of) they or their relatives could all too easily be on the streets
The long corridors of Chan Chan
If you are considering your next destination, I encourage you to dip your toe into the delights that are Peru. I am lucky that I have been able to live and integrate into the community here and I have the support network of the other volunteers but I have fallen in love with this country and its people
A day out to Otusco
The Cathedral in Otusco
It was time for another mini adventure so this weekend myself and M decided to take ourselves off to the Andean town of Otusco. Billed as the Faith Capital of Peru the guidebooks and friends recommended that we should go and see the statue of the Virgin de la Puerta (Virgin of the Door) which is housed behind glass on a small balcony on the outside of the cathedral above the huge wooden doors. There are also some good walks to be had in the surrounding countryside and the town itself is said to be quiet but pretty.
Flower lined climb
We set off on our two hour journey and after negotiating the army of yelling, arm waving touts who were all trying to get us to choose their combi we settled into our chosen mini bus. The first bit of excitement was to discover that the vehicle actually had seat belts but it was soon to be dashed when we realised that they were not adjustable and therefore totally useless. An hour later as our driver was attacking each hairpin bend with gusto at top speed, often whilst overtaking a huge truck and accompanied of course by the rhythm of loud Peruvian cumbia music, I did wish that my seat belt worked but I also reasoned that if we were to plummet over the edge I would need a lot more than a little strip of material to save me. Our driver obviously knew the road like the back of his hand and I do believe that he had a little challenge of his own going on inside his head – to shave a few minutes off his personal best journey time. We did eventually arrive in one shaky piece and found Otusco to be a delightful little town. The views from the top were good and the steps up between the little houses were colourfully lined with the yellow and red blooms of the striking flowers that are a feature of so many parks out here.
We bought and wolfed down snacks of tortitas sandwiched with condensed milk and honey and had a coffee in a very strange little backstreet cafe whilst we waited for the cathedral to reopen. We checked out the profusion of little stalls which were set up outside the cathedral selling candles and images of the Virgin, visited the church and the statue……and then decided to come back home. We had planned to stay the night but the place was dead. And not dead in a relaxing calm way either but as if some sort of plague had hit and half the population had checked out.
The Andean foothills
The journey down the mountain was even more scary then the journey up as this minibus driver was not only trying to beat his personal best but he was obviously going for the overall record in the mountainside championship. We hurtled down the hill with M gallantly trying to take photographs of the view out of the window whilst not actually looking as she endeavored to keep the contents of her stomach where they belonged. I focused intently on my Spanish homework in the vain hope that trying to conjugate verbs would distract me from the sight of the river in the ravine far below.
We did however survive the journey and celebrated life by heading off out later that evening to a Latin dance club where we shook our stuff until four am.
Getting into Peru
Some guide books and travel agencies recommend that you buy a return flight for Peru as some over zealous customs officials may not allow you entry and may just pop you back from where you came on the next plane
Despite not knowing how long I wanted to spend in South America I decided to take the advice of my travel agent and I opted for a return flight into Peru and out of Rio. This worked out cheaper than two single flights, and for a small fee I will be able to alter either my destination date, my departure airport or both, although my agent also said that technically this may not be enough as you need to evidence leaving Peru not the continent.
Many of the people that I have met in Peru arrived on a single ticket and they have booked flights as and when they have decided to go home; but I also have friends here who have come unstuck. And the problem has not been at the arrivals desk in Peru but at the outgoing airport. At Madrid airport two friends were told that they had to prove onward travel out of Peru before the official would issue them with their boarding passes despite having a return flight from Brazil. They then had to spend a frantic and stressful couple of hours in the airport trying to connect to the internet to book a bus ticket which would take them out over the border, without knowing anything about alternative routes or their options. Somebody else had a similar experience at Gatwick and ended up booking an onward flight out of Peru but within South America which cost almost as much as their original single trans-Atlantic ticket.
My advice to anybody intending to travel into Peru on a single ticket would be to do some research first from home. Check out flights and onward bus routes and have the web addresses handy somewhere about your person. That way, if you are prevented from travelling you can at least get online and book something relatively quickly and cheaply and eliminate some of the stress.
candles for sale outside the Cathedral