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.
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
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