Friday, January 28, 2011
Welcome to the Pacific Ocean!
Our new life on the Pacific Coast began in Peru starting with Mancora (Pop 10K, Sea Level), a small surfie town with tuc-tucs and souvenir shops everywhere - very reminiscent of Asia (Thailand or Bali) but without the "essence". It is weird seeing the tuc-tuc drivers not looking Asian and speaking Spanish.
The great thing about the Peruvian coast is the low humidity - much lower than Asia and even Queensland given the proximity to the Equator! Sun is hot and it reached 28C on both days we were here. Our hotel was individual style bungalows with palm thatched roofs - very large with hammocks at the front! I enjoyed a fabulous coastal run and big swim in the green coloured Pacific amongst the local fishing boats. On both evenings we enjoyed Ceviche (featuring the non-soup version of raw fish marinated in herbs, onion and lime) and
Parihuela (crab, fish, squid and scallops cooked in a spicey yellow-curry style broth). The restaurant was on the beach and we enjoyed magnificent sunsets (a-la Phuket) whilst sipping the local brown ale beer (malty with hint of honey sweetness). Peruvian wine is not that great so we experimented with the Chilean "Carmiere" grape (a lighter version of peppery Shiraz) for our pre-dinner drinks around the pool! It is here we met two dudes from Finland literally "surfing" the world - they had just spent 6mths in Asia so we figured that they must be funding their trip with drugs! We also met a history teacher from Liverpool England, living in Lima for the past 6yrs!
The 25JAN saw us climb aboard 1 Tuc-tuc, 2 Buses and 1 Van to travel 11hrs door-to-door to our coastal hotel in Huanchaco (Pop 18K, Sea Level), 12km from Trujillo. The landscape between Mancora and Piura (3hrs on the bus) is like an elephant's back - sandy dunes with small scrubb-like bushes that look like African Thorn Trees. It is hot and dusty - but still not a lot of humidity. It is semi-arid here and you can sense the desert of Atacama in Bolivia starting to take shape! At Piura we changed buses for another 7hr ride to Trujillo via Chiclay.
The land in between was weird: flat, dry and dusty with scrub and what looked like Ozzie salt bush. At times it was just all sandy dunes then suddenly you see rice paddies and even a few vines then its back to desert. I used this time to write this blog and catch up on "sta-stis-tis" (statistics) such as total km travelled to date (almost 45,000km including all flights from Sydney or 32,000km within South America including flights). I will easily exceed the 40,000km I predicted within South America at the launch. After arriving at our sea-side hotel in Huanchaco at 8pm we set off for a fresh seafood BBQ dinner cooked on hot coals and washed down by Peruvian Negro beer. We slept like babies!
The following day we rented a taxi and the four of us set out to discover Trujillo and two ancient ruins. I call Trujillo, "The Cairo of Peru" since it has two huge mud-brick pyramids just outside the city in a dusty barren landscape that resembles the Pyramids outside Cairo in Egypt.
Our first stop was 22km away at "Huaca Del La Luna" (Temple of the Moon) which is a huge adobe mud brick pyramid structure of 5 levels built by the "Moche" peoples between 100-600AD. This temple was used to worship a number of Gods including human sacrifices of losing warriors in armed combat. Every 100yrs, the Moche would add another level to their temple identical in layout to the one before. You can see the total of 5 levels in this huge site with plenty of unearthing still to occur! There are rooms and intact friezes of lions heads everywhere with a very impressive 7 layer entrance wall.
Approx 1km away we visited the second temple of "Huaca Del Sol" (Temple of the Sun). This is more intact, the largest ancient structure in Peru built with 140million adobe mud bricks and has walls that slope 77deg. This place is also home to the furless Peruvian dog which actually looks like a giant rat! It has such a high body temperature that the locals use them as leg warmers on cold nights!
Our second stop was the "Plaza De Armes" at the centre of Trujillo city (Pop 682,800, Elev Sea Level, Est 1534 by Francisco Pizarro). This is the best plaza we have seen to date. It is filled with pastel coloured, black painted wrought-iron, huge suspension lamps, colonial Spanish buildings, church and fountain. It is also very clean.
After observing a Catholic student demonstration against the evils of the internet we walked down the main foot-mall drag with colourful musuems, shops and fountains every 200m. This city was a pleasant surprise and the third largest in Peru.
Our third stop was the historic city of "Chan Chan" (Sun Sun) built around 900AD by the "Chimu" peoples (only the Inca's are now left for us to visit). Once again this city is made of adobe mud bricks but the Chimu were less volatile and did not engage in humann sacrifices. Our guide was a nice old guy, barely 5ft tall and reminded us of a Peruvian version of Yoda! Most of these historic sites are worn down but there is enough detail to make you appreciate their size. At its height, Chan Chan covered 20sq km with 100,000 people.
After a quick supermarket stop for more booze we returned to Huanchaco to go for a run and swim. There was a long board surfing competition when we were there with a $30,000USD first prize! The beach has great surf but has dark sand full of small rocks and pebbles. The water was also 17C - I cannot understand why, since we are still above Capricorn and close to the Equator. Not good for swimmers. Huanchaco is also famous for its fishing canoes, made of a long thin buoyant reed to enable passage through the big surf.
Tonight it was back to our favourite seafood place for a nice BBQ fish caught that morning followed by a visit to the local bar to enjoy several "Pisco Sours", the Peruvian signature cocktail! Suffice to say we were a bit crumbly the next morning as we journeyed another 9hrs from Trujillo to Lima, Peru's capital. The only blessing was the big double-deck luxury bus with air-con, business class style almost flat seats, a hostess and even lunch! To top it off was on-board wi-fi which I used to post this blog! Who said that Peru was not up to date!
NEXT BLOG: to cover the final leg of our Peruvian Pacific Coast journey from Lima (incl) to Arequipa (excl) due 31JAN.
PERU FACTS: 1) Third largest in South America covering 1,285,220 sq km (5 times size of UK). 2) Pop of 29.5m with 80% Catholic, 45% Indigenous (highest proportion in South America, most speak "Quechua", nothing like Spanish). 3) Poorest with over half living below poverty line with unemployment so high that it cannot be measured. 4) First settled by nomads around 7000BC with Incas only ruling between 1100-1600 and dominating for only 100yrs. Spanish arrived 1526 took over 1535. Independence started by Jose De San Martin in 1821 and completed by Simon Bolivar in 1826. Up to 2007 nothing but mitlitary dictatorships and corrupt Presidents. So bad that inflation reached 10,000% before 2000. 5) Soccer is no 1 sport but Peru has not qualified since 1982. Next big thing is bullfighting, Spanish style. 6) Peruvian Andes are even higher with most peaks between 3000-4000 and highest being Huascaran at 6,768m! 7) Cheapest country to-date: 640ml beer $1.30, typical restaurant main is $5, Sandwich is $2, 330ml water is $0.50, Canned food is $0.80, Bread is $1, Milk is $0.80, 1GB Mini Laptop is $300, T-Shirts $4 but petrol is $1.10/L.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to Poonan for fliming more crazy Ozzie-dance sequences.
HINTS & TIPS: I am quickly realising how easy it is to rock up and catch buses from city to city in the countries visited to date. I think it is feasible to book hotels and buses once you are here - it is tons cheaper but you do need more time allocated. The wi-fi in most hotels also makes booking the next hotel a snap! So instead of a hire car you just substitute buses and you can do your own trip!
NOTES TO SELF: I beginning to call South America "the continent of unfinished buildings"!!!! Everywhere you go you see heaps of houses and commercial properties at various stages of incompletion.