Published: February 26th 2011January 7th 2011
I arrived in Piura in the North of Peru early in the morning and was startled just how different it was to Ecuador. Asian style moto taxis (Tuk Tuks in Thailand) swarmed everywhere weaving through hoards of people, stray dogs, and rubbish. The town was dusty, dirty, with half finished concrete box houses with reinforcing rods sprouting from the top. My travelling companion Filippe and I jumped straight on the next bus to Mancora.
Mancora was slightly better but nowhere near the paradise I'd been led to believe. Mancora is Peru's most popular beach resort boasting the warmest water and best beaches in Peru, which isn't saying much. Maybe I'm just spoilt by the beautiful beaches of Central America, but I thought it was OK here but nothing special. My mood wasn't improved by a violent bout of food poisoning, presumably from the delicious seafood we ate. This should be the place for seafood - indeed it's famed for it - but you can never tell...
After we recovered we travelled further down the coast to Chiclayo and the following morning visited the Wari ruins and the nearby museum. The museum was the best I've seen so far - meticulously organised by the German creator. It contains exhibits exhumed from the burial sites in the area including a full history of the cultural habits of the pre-Incan Moche tribe that lived here. The ruins weren't quite so exciting - once adobe (mud brick) pyramids but are now just barely distinguishable mud hills.
The next morning I moved further down the coast to Trujillo, spent a day looking around the impressive colonial town centre, and then took the night bus to Lima to arrive a couple of days before Christmas. I spent a couple of days looking around the august city centre and went to an exhibition at the National Museum on the civil war. It contained harrowing photo account of the bitter war between the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the government.
Both sides murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, mainly indigenous campesinos, and caused the displacement of millions more to Lima, whose administration was unable/unwilling to deal with them. No wonder Lima is such a chaotic badly organised, fairly dangerous city, with slums extending miles on the outskirts.
I was staying in the upper class neighbourhood, Miraflores, which is of course completely different to the majority of the city. Malls, fancy hotels, arty parks line the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Further inland rich "Limenos" and tourists peruse the designer shops and party in the expensive bars and clubs. We walk in safety here even at night. I'm told that the council have an arrangement with organised gangs in the area to leave Miraflores in peace. You can even leave your car parked on the street without it being stolen.
I spent Christmas with a couchsurfer called David, his family, and four other foreign couchsurfers. Christmas is celebrated at midnight on Christmas Eve. Around 9pm we went to David's family's house were his four sisters were preparing the traditional dinner. While we were waiting for midnight we joined the other men drinking beer in the street outside the houses. At midnight everybody set off fireworks in the street, despite that they are illegal in Peru. The family exchanged gifts and then we sat down to eat - Roast Turkey with a variety of pasta and rice salads washed down with Jack Daniels and Coke and Sangria. It was a strange experience eating dinner at midnight already half drunk. Afterwards I amused myself dancing with David's sisters and the party finished around 6 or 7am.
Christmas day we spent at David's house in Miraflores drinking Pisco, a local type of Brandy, and playing Monopoly with a few friends. For dinner, somewhat untraditionally for me, we had Anticuchos - cow's heart kebabs. They are surprisingly delicious and tender and a traditional dish of Lima. During the colonial times African slaves were given whatever the Spanish didn't want to eat and had to create palatable dishes, which still remain today.
On Boxing Day, which isn't celebrated here, I went to Huaraz in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Andes. It's supposed to be one of the best trekking/climbing areas in the world with over 60 6000m peak mountains. Unfortunately it was the rainy season and therefore cold, the amazing views were obscured by clouds, and it was pissing down with rain every afternoon. I did one hike to some unimpressive Incan ruins outside of the city and a hike to an impressive lake, Laguna 69, formed from the glacial run off of the huge looming surrounding mountains, which unfortunately I couldn't see for the cloud.
I returned to Lima on New Years Eve in time for the Couchsurfing party. I met lots of people, danced a lot, drank a lot... and can't remember anything after about 2am. I woke up the next day with black dirt all over my T shirt and arms - no idea from where.
I retreated to Eco Truly, a eco-farm/spiritual retreat a couple of hours North of Lima, and spent five days eating healthy vegetarian food, volunteering, practising yoga and meditating. A great place to detox after New Years - there was strictly no meat, alcohol, caffeine or sex allowed. It was an incredible looking place made of traditional adobe structures called Trulys. It was like being suddenly transported to a temple in India.
The place was also a Hare Krishna ashram so there lots of people dressed in orange robes, banging drums, and chanting HARE KRISNA HARE HARE HARE RAMA....etc. Kind of slow brainwashing - it's difficult to get it out of your head. Nevertheless they were very friendly, hospitable and interesting. I was interested to learn about their religion but as with my visits to the Catholic service and the hardcore Christian rally, I wasn't convinced. However, I did learn some things from their way of life.
After that I returned to Lima to re-continue meat, alcohol, coffee, and hopefully....