From the High Andes to the Dry Pacific Coast

We had a good time in Cuenca, and celebrated our final night visiting favourite eating and drinking holes.  We now have to travel to northern Peru, via Loja in Ecuador, over the border to Piura in Peru, and then on to Trujillo on our way south.  The bus journey to Loja was, according to the guide book, about 5 hours over narrow and twisty mountain roads.  But, when we heard of a mini-bus option which would take only 3 hours we signed up quickly, despite it costing us an extra 6 dollars or so each.  The minibus was almost new and exceedingly comfy (in contrast to the large public buses we usually take) and set off bang on time with only six passengers.  However, as we left the depot we were told in Spanish (and then repeated again in English) that if anyone asked we were part of a tour group and we had hired the minibus for $120 group fee – mysterious we thought, especially as our $12 x six passengers didn’t add up to that amount.  On the outskirts of town we were stopped by the police and although that in itself isn’t unusual, they were really probing the driver and female “tour leader” about the passenger licence and what sort of tour we were taking.  At one point we were described as ‘friends’ but unfortunately that explanation fell flat when we didn’t know one another’s names J  There was a lot of arguing and hand gestures and it seemed likely we weren’t going any further – at this point money changed hands ($100 apparently in favour of the chaps in uniforms !) and we sped on our way.  An experience, but the bus was very comfy and the views of the Andes and the Paramo, a type of high-altitude moorland, were outstanding.   Comfy is good, as over the next couple of days we have to go a long way on the bus, and every little helps.
We arrived in Loja and booked into a small hotel in the centre of town.  We wandered around a bit and had a bite to eat.  Nothing to interest us here apart from a small dress shop which, curiously, was also a money exchange.  The rate seemed good so we changed dollars for Peruvian Soles without any written records being generated J  This would save Diane haggling with the money changers at the Peruvian frontier tomorrow.  There was not a single other tourist in town that we saw.
The next day’s journey over the border and into Peru was billed to be much longer, and was by public bus, so we prepared ourselves for another day of eating mainly crisps and biscuits.  This bus would take us the whole way from Loja in southern Ecuador to Piura in northern Peru in about 9 hours, and would wait for us whilst we dealt with the border formalities.  The border crossing was quiet and calm, and was made even easier by the Peruvian official being a fan of the Beatles: one advantage of us both having Liverpool as our town of birth on our passports !  Here’s Paul looking quite happy if a bit tired (and there’s still about 5 hours to go!).  For those who are counting, Peru is country 10 on our trip.
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After the border the scenery changed from fertile highlands to hot and sticky lowlands.  We arrived in Piura, booked into a small hostal at the second attempt and again the town didn’t really having anything interesting going on to write home about.  The temperature was uncomfortably hot, and we found a nice hotel on the main square with an air-conditioned bar: nice, we thought.  Until we got the bill, that is: all that aircon costs L
The next day was a double anniversary:  a few years of marriage (who’s counting?) and six months of this trip, on the same day.  Well, guess what, we were on a bus again – this time to Trujillo, and a mere 7 hours.  As usual we arrived far too early for the bus and this time we practiced our Spanish translation of the notices in the bus station:  for example it’s quite easy to take excess or unaccompanied luggage here – fancy taking a gas cooker (20 Soles, about £5) or a large table (15 Soles) ?  As we left Piura the humidity reduced and the scenery changed almost immediately to sandy windswept desert.  In some places it looked like they had been using the flatlands to burn rubbish rather than landfilling it, and in fact they have.
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There was also a rather un-picturesque cement factory, but they’re seldom works of art, are they ?
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We arrived in Trujillo wondering what we would find.  The guidebook we’re following didn’t rate the town, but we found a hostal near the main square with a nice room on the top floor overlooking the central courtyard.  This made a nice change from the last couple of grungy nights.
We wandered around and began to like the town, which immediately had a friendly feel.  The temperature was warm and dry rather than humid, so we were happy.  Somehow they even knew it was our anniversary!  (Actually, this was just one of the many casinos in town, but we stuck to the traditional alcohol-based celebrations.)
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The main square was lively and surrounded by beautiful buildings.
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Our hostal was also a tour agency, so decisions were easy to make and we went on three excursions to a number of nearby pre-Incan sites, all of which are old but only relatively recently discovered.  Chan Chan, the ancient capital of the Chimu people, the Huacas del Sol and Luna (pyramids of the Sun and Moon), built by the Moche people, and El Brujo, where a mummy of a queen of the Moche was discovered recently, buried with many gold artifacts.  The majority of other tourists were Spanish-speaking, so our limited language skills were tested a little.   Mostly the locations involved minor conservation of the adobe brick structures, hence the photos here aren’t very colourful!  Here is a selection of the archaeology just to give you an idea. The museums were also exceptionally interesting and the ceramics superb.  What a treat to visit sites with so few people around and at the infancy of their conservation.  Here are just a few snaps.
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Diane hams it up with a museum display.  They used a lot of nose ear-rings, as our guide called them, which dangled down in front of their mouths.
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These are store rooms for offerings to the temple: the criss-cross design represents fishing nets, and also allows air flow into the rooms.
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Anyone remember the Homepride men (Graded Grains Make Finer Flour) ?  You have to be a certain age, I guess.  This is one of two guarding part of the main plaza in the old city of the Moche and is about six feet high.
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Here’s a view from the top of a huaca, looking towards modern Trujillo, which has pretty much overrun the site.  As you walk around, there’s a lovely smell from the massive chicken farm next door.
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Paul and the guide look at the decorations on the walls of the huaca.
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Here’s the facade of the huaca showing the six levels, each covering the one before, so the huaca grew and grew.
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They were big on human sacrifices here, to ensure fertility of the fields.
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Another interesting sight is the Peruvian hairless dog, which accordingly to the guidebook was traditionally used as a body warmer by people with arthritis, though think I might prefer a hot water bottle myself: they don’t bark !  We saw a few, but this was the cutest with a quiff of hair on his head.
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We went to the beach at Huanchaco about 8 miles south of the city, formerly a little fishing village and now popular with surfers.  Over the last year or so we’ve travelled down an awful lot of the Pacific coast, and seen many surf towns, in the US and further south, and they are all strangely similar.  These places start out as little fishing villages reflecting their local customs, but after the surfers have arrived, they tend to the same look: beach-front bars with sunset happy hours, often called things like “The Surf Shack” or “Sunset Bar”, hostels offering surf lessons, and restaurants selling pizza and burgers.  I guess that’s what surfers want.  The local fishermen here, though, still use traditional boats, called totoras, made from reeds.
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We stayed here longer than anticipated: we liked Trujillo.  Next stop Lima on the overnight bus.  If you want you can also take it all the way to Buenos Aires or Santiago de Chile in one hit!  Our trip to Lima is only nine hours: BA is over 3 days away.  As for us, we’re still enjoying a slower itinerary:  Six months so far,  Mexico to northern Peru – will we make it all the way to Rio in only another 5 months or so ?
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“El Placer de Viajar en Bus”, by the way, means “The pleasure of travelling by bus”.  Hmm.  Ask us in another six months.

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