Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Huanchaco - Peru

After arriving in Trujillo we took a taxi to nearby Huanchaco where we found a quiet but well-run hostel called Naylamp after turning down a couple of others; it was right on the seafront and walking distance to everything the small town had to offer.  No sooner had we settled into our room when we were treated to some scaly room service.  It appeared that the hostel was also home to an inquisitive tortoise who loved nothing more than to seek out rooms which had their doors open and wander on in.  The unfortunate thing is that tortoises aren’t the quickest animal meaning that more often than not it would get caught red handed and guests would close the door or pick it up and take it outside again.  Sometimes it just wanted some company and it managed to just about climb up a steep step to where I was using the laptop and it chilled out under my chair.  One guest woke up to it under his bed and chewing on his rubber chicken mascot.  Once settled it was time to explore so we had a nice walk along the beach to find that the strip was lined with restaurants, bars and touristic shops, many of them similar but still great to have options.

The invasion begins

Tortoise room service was unexpected

It certainly was a friendly tortoise

Kate next to the caballito boats by the seafront

Back at the hostel we only happened to bump into our friend Yannis for the third time, we had met initially in Paraguay and then in Boliva and as it happened to be the eve of my birthday and they were leaving tomorrow we decided to have a night out.  Along with some of Yannis’ mates and anyone else staying in the hostel who wanted to join we ventured out along the street and had a bite to eat in a small restaurant.  Afterwards we visited the only bar that was open on this Monday night in an off season holiday town, a cocktail bar which gave us happy hour prices all night.  It was great fun and nice to have good company to see in my Birthday with.  Kate arranged a ‘dirty’ cocktail with plenty of mysterious ingredients along with a birthday cake (bread with ketchup, mayonnaise and matches to blow out) which was awesome and I had a great time.

Cocktails in Huanchaco

The bread cake!!

The man who made all night happy hour possible

The day of my birthday began with a hangover which we endeavoured to cure in the traditional Peruvian way with some spicy Ceviche for breakfast.  Owing to the large amount of restaurants and with it being the off season we had our pick of the bunch and there were offers galore.  We settled on a restaurant with a starter of Ceviche, a selection of main courses and a drink for nine soles ninety nine or about two pound and twenty pence.  The ceviche was pretty good and for a main I opted for some rice and shellfish and Kate had a fish fillet in breadcrumbs.  It was pretty decent and the Ceviche definitely helped me sweat out some of the night before.  We watched the surfers for a while until it was time for our prearranged massages in a nearby salon.  We had an hour long each one at a time and felt thoroughly relaxed afterwards.  That evening we chilled around the communal area of the hostel chatting and having an nice calm evening as my belly wasn’t feeling too great (perhaps it was the bargain seafood or a result of the night out) and the massage had mellowed us out.  Kate had bought me a selection of cakes and a couple of candles which a bunch of us tucked into (not the candles) before calling it a night. 

Hangover Ceviche

Surfin' the waves

Some proper cake tonight!

My stomach was officially in the gutter the next day and it was time to fast until I felt better.  At some point a lorry had overturned along the strip which someone must have lost their job over, we chatted to a British person who witnessed what followed.  Apparently after the truck toppled somebody sent in another one to replace it but they were stupidly driving with the container on the back raised and took out the power lines sending live wires flying into the road, what a calamity.  On the 29th I was feeling a lot better and we had heard things about the nearby ruins and conservation project of Huaca de la Luna or ‘Temple of the Moon’ which was open to the public.  We boarded a couple of the adrenaline fuelled collectivo minibuses where you pay next to nothing for a foot down stop and start ride to a general destination where the driver is honking and his wingman leaning out of the window or door constantly shouting the destination in hope to pack in as many people as possible.  The second bus we took in order to reach the site was full to the brim and I was couldn’t have been happier to get out and straighten my neck.

Toppled lorry

Guesthouse courtyard

It didn’t take long to realise that this was a much more professional and smoother operation than many of the sites we had visited so far, even more so than Machu Picchu.  After buying our tickets we walked a short distance to be greeted by somebody who informed us that a free English speaking guide would be available in fifteen minutes or so during which we could look around some of the stalls.  The guides are students who work on a tip based system and the site is actively being worked on and restored (and has been for a number of years) by professional and qualified archeologists.  The site is large in scale and looks like a big dusty hill from the outside, yet once you get in it is one of the most spectacular and capably preserved (not restored) projects we had seen on the whole trip.

Amazing to think this is preserved not restored fom 100 - 700 AD

The site is a work in progress

The guide introduced himself and in good English took us on an hour or so long tour of the site.  It was incredible to think that we were looking at the original stonework, colours and designs as they were in the Moche era.  Our guide explained the thinking behind the intimidating image of their God and how the various animals depicted represented the Earth, Air, Water and Fire.  He explained that the adobe bricks are made by drying them in the sun not baking and that each brick was marked by the maker’s family branding to ensure that their mandatory contribution to the empire could be recognised as everybody had a quota to provide.  The temple consisted of many levels with the higher ones reserved for the dead of greater importance.  The work was being done on a grand scale and in most parts there were people busying themselves dusting down or cataloguing various things. 

The adobe bricks and their marks from over 100 different communities

The staff working to preserve this amazing site

Near the top of the temple you had the view of the village where the ordinary folk would have lived as the inside of the temple was only reserved for those with particular privileges, usually of high religious stature (not the rich as they didn’t use money).  In the background you can see Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun) which is another temple not yet to be opened to the public and is still being excavated.  As previously mentioned, Peru has so many ruins that it is hard for honest, capable hands to keep up and many have fallen victim to looting.    Our guide mentioned that he used to play football around here until it was discovered, possibly right on top of it!  Now you can see a clear layout of buildings that would have once stood here.  We were then taken to the ceremonial platform which would have been open to the public for special occasions.  Although the Moche weren’t renowned for their brutality, in times of desperation they would offer sacrifices.  Losers of gladiatorial battles would be fed San Pedro cactus, a strong hallucinogenic before having their heads chopped off and this was depicted on the wall designs which surround this area. 

The excavated village with Huaca del Sol in the background

The ceremonial platform

Kate and our guide in front of the murals

A particularly detailed mural

Depicting the gladiatoral losers at the bottom

Following the tour we even got to see one of the famous hairless Peruvian dogs that was hanging around outside.  The guide explained how they have a higher average body temperature than ordinary dogs and have skin which is extremely sensitive to heat and friction, all this going towards explaining why they are so damn ugly but for some reason sought after.  All in all it had been a great experience and one that I would definitely recommend.  I’m surprised that Huaca de la Luna doesn’t receive more recognition as it is a well organised operation and a quality visit through and through.  There isn’t as much to see as Machu Picchu and could be done in little over an hour but the quality of the ruins on offer is definitely on a par.

The Peruvian hairless dog
On our return to Huanchaco there was a souvenir cart which lay vandalised and on its side.  I tried to talk to locals who were passionately trying to explain what happened and consolidate their various interpretations on what transpired.  I’m not 100% sure on the detail but a policeman was responsible.  They said he came from the city and had a disagreement with the female seller and proceeded to smash up her cart, some said she refused to pay a bribe.  They had surrounded the cart with rocks to protect it from being moved and there was a member of the press filming and getting crowd reactions.  It just goes to show how the police are certainly a law unto themselves in this part of the world although the public are trying to make a change.

The aftermath of the poilceman's rage

The broken souvenir cart was left for all to see

That evening we were leaving on another overnight bus, this time to Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca which is a spectacularly beautiful mountain range with lagoons, trekking and many other activities on offer for the budding traveller.     

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