Published: January 19th 2010January 17th 2010
Second stop on the Summer Beach-Hopping tour is Huanchaco (juan-CHA-co) and all I can say is "Eureka!" I was giving up on Peru's desert coastline. Literally, most of Peru's coast is desert and while at first it's quite stunning, after awhile, I found myself longing for palm trees. Both Mollendo, where I spent New Years, and Paracas, are small, dusty towns without much beauty to be found. I mean, I can almost always relax at the beach, don't get me wrong. But the surrounding environs left me wanting more.
Huanchaco is a different story. By Peruvian standards, it is very well maintained. The beaches are clean. The beachfront has a very lovely boardwalk and some of the properties are nicer than beachfront properties in shadier parts of San Diego. It's high season and yet the town is very relaxed and not nearly as crowded as I would expect (note: I wrote this on the first day I was there when it was overcast. Day 2 was sunny and the beaches were crowded. The atmosphere was much livelier.). I felt very safe walking around after dark. And I love being able to wear a t-shirt out a night. It is a
profoundly noticeable difference when I don't have to wear long sleeves or layers. The skin on my arms laps up the fresh nighttime air and relishes it!
Chan Chan, located 15-20 minutes from Huanchaco, is an area I had read about and very much wanted to see my first time around Peru. However, it's about an 8 hour bus ride north of Lima - in the total opposite direction I was traveling previously. Chan Chan is supposedly the largest mud city in the world (as in, it was built using adobe). It's pre-Incan, by about 600 years, and is said to have supported a community of 60,000 Chimu at any given time. Construction on the city began in 850AD and was a thriving capital until the Incas invaded in 1470. A lot of the notable sites have undergone major restoration as El Nino tornadoes as well as earthquakes have caused tremendous damage. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site (as are the Ballestas Islas near Paracas, by the way). More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chan_Chan
Coming to Chan Chan reminded me about something else unique to Peru. No matter what I do, where I go, or how much my spanish
has improved, I constantly feel like I'm getting ripped off every time I step foot outside. For example, my "guide" at Chan Chan ended up being more like a chauffeur for 35 soles (~$12.50). If I wanted an actual guide of the largest site in Chan Chan, who could explain things to me, that would cost me another 25 soles (~$9). It costs 11 soles (~$4) for a ticket to enter 4 different sites. Seventy-plus soles is a huge amount to spend for a day in Peru especially if it doesn't include accommodations or a bus trip. When I arrived at Chan Chan, I asked the policemen out front of the entrance about how much I should expect to pay for a guide. They didn't know how much but suggested I talk to this guy. It wasn't until just before the end that I realized he wasn't even authorized to enter the area. And I specifically asked him if he'd be coming in with me. To which he responded affirmatively. Liar!
I said it before and I'll say it again. I know tourists have been coming to Peru for a long time and the Peruvians must be tired of
it. But I hate feeling like a walking dollar sign. Other than Machu Picchu, where you still have to be careful, I would probably encourage you to go someplace other than Peru. Want incredible ruins that will blow your mind? Angkor Wat in Cambodia will not let you down. Snorkeling and Scuba diving your thing? Belize is close and the food is amazing. And you know how I feel about Colombia. Ironically, most Peruvians I meet I really, really nice. Even my guide, he was a nice guy. But I still felt like he burned me.
Random observation to share. I'm not particularly fond of 10 year girls at home wearing shirts that say things like "Foxy Angel" or "Boyfriend Stealer" in sparkly letters. At 10 years old, I don't want you to know anything about being foxy or having boyfriends. Go kick a soccer ball around or solve some math problems. So, I find it particularly bewildering when people here, who obviously don't know english, wear those kinds of shirts. The girls wear them. But then I saw a woman in her 50s wearing a red shirt that said "Green is the new Pink." Wha? Huh? Oy vey!
In other news, they have a cute little mercado in Huanchaco. "El mercado" being where you buy fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, bread etc. It's usually the one place I feel like I'm not being charged significantly more for being a foreigner. For 2.50 soles, less than $1, I had a fresh glass of juice, fresh bread and "avena con chocolate". I've come to know "avena" as being oatmeal and was curious to know what it was like with chocolate. Plus, that was the only way they served out. Turns out, "avena con chocolate" is a beverage with chocolate powder, water and some oatmeal thrown in. Hmm. Okay!
Full photo sets here:
Chan Chan: http://www.flickr.com/photos/69192286@N00/sets/72157623100564825/
There are more photos below