Category: ruins

CouchSurfers redeemed

Our “overnight” bus to Chiclayo was really more of a half overnight bus. We left at 8:00 pm, and arrived at 4:00 in the morning. Our CouchSurfing host, Edgard, had said that he would pick us up. Unfortunately, though, I had told him we’d get there around 6:30. So we had several hours to while away in the bus station before he arrived.

Just when I had given up hope that he would come, he finally showed up. And boy,  it was worth the wait. As bad as the CouchSurfer was in Huaraz, Edgard was the total opposite. He has a large, lovely house – although he lives with his son, father, cousin, and aunt, we still had our own room all to ourselves. After letting us rest for a couple of hours, he fed us breakfast and then took us into town.

The first order of the day was to buy our bus tickets to Lima – although Caro and I were going to different places, we both had to take flights from Lima. Determined to get us the absolute best price and departure time, Edgard took us all over town to see the prices of every single bus company. Although it was tiring, it worked – I ended up paying 49 soles for a bus ticket that normally costs 110. I’m not really exactly sure why it was so cheap but hey, when fortune smiles on you don’t ask questions! 🙂  I’m used to paying more as a foreigner in Peru, so it was nice to experience the opposite for a change.

After buying our tickets, Edgard and his cousin Fernando took us out to lunch at a seafood place. They ordered a bunch of plates that they thought we should try, answered all of our questions and taught us plenty more that we didn’t even think to ask, and paid for everything. Truly swell, swell guys.

Edgard actually had to leave that evening for work in Lima. But before he left, he made sure to treat us one last time, this time to a fancy dessert. It was all made with stuff native to Peru – lĂșcuma ice cream and chirimoya cheesecake (both tropical fruits only grown in Peru) and pisco sour, the national drink of Peru that’s made of fermented corn and lemon juice.

Edgard had just enough time to take us there and pay for the food, and then he had to go catch his bus. So we were left on our own, enjoying the food and marveling over his hospitality. After we finished, we found a lovely little walkway in the middle of the city called the walkway of the muses. It has meandering paths and plenty of well-kept shrubbery, but it gets its name from the marble statues of the nine muses of Greek mythology. This place was also recommended to us by Edgard, and I’m really glad we found it. It’s amazing to me the things of beauty that can be literally right around the corner, but if you don’t know about it you may never find it. The only downside to the paseo de los muses was the clown that was walking around talking to people. Although for me, it was more funny than anything else – while I dislike clowns, Caro hates them, so it was rather amusing trying to distract the clown from her while she ran away and hid :D.

The next day, Thursday, we had the pleasure of seeing Robert, our friend from Chachapoyas, one last time. He was passing through Chiclayo on his way back home to Lima, so we met up with him and spent the day at the beach in Pimentel. Although it was a cloudy day, it was still fun. We walked around for a while, just seeing the sights – my favorite was watching a traditional fisherman go out into the water on his little reed boat.  After that, Robert and I started a 1-on-1 game of soccer while Caro wrote in her journal. He said that I played well, but I think he was going enormously easy on me. After a while we caught the attention of a couple of Peruvian boys, and we got a 2-on-2 game of volleyball going. Without a net it was a little strange, but I still enjoyed it. After all of the hours sitting in buses, it was really nice to do something active.

The next day, Fernando took me, Caro, and his aunt Irlanda to the ruins of Tucume and the museum of The Lord of Sipan, about 20 miles away from Chiclayo. I must admit, I think by that point I was a little spoiled. If Tucume had been the first place I’d gone to, I’m sure I would have loved it. But the fact that is already seen so many other impressive ruins I think left me a little jaded to the ruins of Tucume. I will say, however, that as interesting as all of these ruins have been, I’ve still seen all of them with a touch of sadness. The main focal point of pretty much all of these archeological sites were either temples or sacred sacrificial sites. None of these people knew the Lord. The fact that so many thousands, even millions, of people have died not even having a chance to know God really breaks my heart.

I wish there was something I could do to change that. But we can’t change the past, only work to make the future different. There is still so much darkness in Peru – “religious freedom, but spiritual oppression,” to use the term a friend coined. By the end of my time with Caro, I was really desiring to do something to change that.  And, would you believe it, but I got an opportunity to do just that before I even left the country!  Our plans changed drastically towards the end of the trip – rather than going to the jungle together, Caro flew down to Argentina and I went back down to southern Peru to translate in a medical mission trip.  It was truly the highlight of the trip – better than Machu Picchu, better than the great CouchSurfers, better than seeing Mario.  Make sure to read all of the details in my next few entries!! 🙂

The canyon of the “thin rivers”

We arrived in Cajamarca late afternoon on Thursday.  We had found a CouchSurfer to stay with there, as well – I was determined that my first exposure to CouchSurfing wouldn’t deter me from trying it again.

This was a much better experience than the first time. Hebert and his French girlfriend Anaise (who spoke impeccable Spanish – I was super impressed) were incredibly nice and accommodating. We had a lovely chat with them the night we arrived, and they gave us lots of information about the city and places to see around it. We ended up only staying two nights there because we really didn’t like the city itself, but at least the accommodation was very nice.

Nevertheless, it was still a little strange. I have decided that CouchSurfing is kind of a package deal – you get a free place to stay, and also pretty much always an interesting story, as well. With Herbert and Anaise, the weird part was that they actually hosted us not in their house, but in their office. They have a little room in the office with a bed in it where they keep their surfers, and we just hung out there after they left work and went home.  I must admit, though, the 3 deadbolts and 2 padlocks that Herbert trained me on locking before he left was a little unnerving…

The weirdest bit about the CouchSurfing experience in Cajamarca happened the afternoon before we left, when we met Aaron. Aaron is an American from Wisconsin who is traveling for like six months on a SUPER tight budget – hitch hiking and CouchSurfing all the way, basically only spending money on food. Anyway, he was waiting outside of Herbert’s office when we got back in the afternoon. Said he had been traveling with a Russian girl who had gone on ahead of him, and left a note for him to meet her there. Except she wasn’t staying with Herbert, and thus ensued a complicated endeavor to find the mysterious missing Russian girl, with Herbert calling the other CouchSurfing hosts in Cajamarca (yes, the town is small enough that he knows all of them) to try to figure out where she had gone so that Aaron could meet up with her, and with me playing translator, since Aaron doesn’t really speak any Spanish. I found it rather comical, actually, although I’m sure I wouldn’t have if I was in Aaron’s shoes.

The day after we arrived, we went on a tour of Cumbe Mayo, an ancient pre-Incan civilization. It is believed that the name “Cumbe Mayo” is derived from a quechuan phrase meaning “thin rivers,” and there is even today the remnants of a quite sophisticated drainage system that allowed water on the bottom of the channel to continue flowing while the uppermost water remained still.  However, by this point the majority of the ancient remains have disappeared, and it is mostly just a really cool canyon. But it was still fascinating, very different from most everything we had seen before. Plus we met a very friendly couple from Trujillo, George and Anita, who made me nostalgic for the lovely city I had so recently left :).

But other than Cumbe Mayo, Cajamarca didn’t have any pull for us; add to that the fact that more CouchSurfers were coming to Herbert’s house the next night from Germany, and we decided to go ahead and move on to Chachapoyas.

Going through the little tunnel to get to Cumbe Mayo:

Kids walk for hours, unaccompanied, to Cumbe Mayo because they know that tourists will be there.  They go in the hope that they will be able to pick up tips by begging or selling things or singing or taking pictures with people: 

Reconnecting with my love of travel

As I previously mentioned, instead of staying in Chavin we decided to go straight to Trujillo. We got in around 4:30 am on Monday morning; rather than mess with a CouchSurfer, we just checked into a hostel that Caro’s guide book had recommended. That was the best thing that we could have done. Due to the harrowing weekend that we had had before, I found myself at the end of my rope by Monday morning. I was this close to changing my plane ticket and returning that very day. But we were able to rest in the hostel, take it easy for a few days, and by Tuesday or Wednesday I was feeling worlds better. I’m sure that the shower – my first in 5 days – also helped enormously :).

So Monday was a pretty low-key day, basically just recuperating from the weekend. I spent a lot of time in the main square of Trujillo (which is absolutely lovely – definitely my favorite city yet), just writing, taking pictures, and talking to people. People say I look Hispanic, but I still think I stick out like a sore thumb – I’m constantly having people coming up to me trying to sell me something or ask where I’m from. This can get pretty annoying at times, but it also is an excellent way to meet people, if you choose to look at it that way.

That is, at least, how I chose to look at it, and I really did get the opportunity to meet quite a few interesting characters.  I met CĂ©sar, the indigenous man who was admirably persistent in trying to sell a tour to me. At first I didn’t mind talking to him, because he was keeping his distance; but over the course of the afternoon he kept coming back and getting closer and closer. When he tried to give me a kiss on the cheek even though I was obviously and quickly walking away from him was around the time that I left the plaza for the afternoon.

But not all of the people I met left a bad taste in my mouth like CĂ©sar did. Take Israel, for example, a cop who was stationed in the plaza that afternoon. I’m not really sure why there were so many policemen there – there was no threat of violence or unrest. Poor Israel looked so bored, I think he was just looking for an interesting distraction.  But he was very nice, and more than happy to show me where to exchange money, or find cheap artisan shops, or recommend good restaurants, or just tell me a little bit about himself. I really enjoyed talking with Israel.

I met George because he was, not surprisingly, trying to sell me something. When I made it clear that I wasn’t interested, he decided to just sit down and tell me the whole history of Peru, Trujillo, and the central plaza de armas. I suspect that he was doing it because he wanted a tip, but it was still a fascinating story. My favorite part was his description of the symbolism that the fountain in the main plaza has. The central figure is a youth holding a torch that symbolizes liberty. Around this youth, there are other figures that represent the stages of liberty – first, the oppression of the indigenous people, second, the fight to break the chains of slavery, and finally freedom in the end. In between those figures, there were also smaller ones that represented the great things of Peru, such as education and its beauty. It was really quite an impressive fountain. I love symbolism.

Monday was a much-needed day of rest, and also a reminder to me of what I love about traveling – connecting with people. But by Tuesday Caro and I were back on our whirlwind sightseeing tour. We went to two different sights on Tuesday, called Huaca de la Luna and El Brujo. They were both incredible. Constructed thousands of years ago, even before the period of the Incans, and made from simple adobe mud bricks, it’s truly amazing to me how much of these structures are still standing. The same goes for the 200 kilometer square complex of Chan Chan, which we saw the next day. Although we took tours to Huaca de la Luna and El Brujo because they were obligatory, we went on our own to Chan Chan, and spent hours wandering the complex ruins. The site itself was very impressive, but the area around it was rather strange, actually, and we spent a long time wandering the marked paths around the ruins looking for the museum that was supposedly right around the corner.  But we never found it – all of the paths just led to dead ends, so eventually we gave up and headed back into town (maybe it’s a marketing ploy to try to get you to buy a tour – only the tour guides know how to get to the museum! Hehehe…)

It was with great sadness that we left Trujillo on Thursday morning. Trujillo was by far my favorite city yet. The plaza (and city in general) was lovely, the people were friendly, and I even got to go dancing on Tuesday night! If I ever go back to Peru, Trujillo is definitely going to be one of the places that I visit. Maybe by plane this time, to avoid all of the time in buses :).