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Published: June 14th 2008
: We made the journey to Guayaquil over a week ago, but soon found ourselves overwhelmed by the sweltering heat, pollution, and chaos of Ecuador´s largest city. So we boarded a bus in search of greener (and cooler) pastures. Crossing back in to the Andes, we settled into a gem of a city at Cuenca, in the south of the country. After taking a day to explore the area´s cobblestone allyways and quite plazas (and idling by the town´s meandering river with a carton of chocolate milk and not a care in the world), we were enlightened by the friendly vendors at the Casa del la Mujer (Women´s market) about their crafts and wares and seduced by a brilliant sunset over the Andes. We stumbled into the party scene that night and mingled with Germans, Americans, and Ecuadorians alike before making our way back to our hostel in the early hours of the morning. As we neared our lodging, we became aware of some commotion in the vicinity. Turns out a colonial building across the street went up in flames, along with many years of history. We watched from the safe distance of our building's roof as the flames cast
a brilliant orange glow against the rear of the cathedral. By the time the firefighters were able to douse the blaze, the building was nothing more than a burnt out shell. June 5
: Left Cuenca the next day with our sights set on Peru. The mountains slowly melted into coastal plains, the rugged forests retreated, and an arid scrubland set the stage for the small frontier town of Huaquillas. Formalities were straightforward (if a bit odd, for the customs buildings for each country were 3 or 4 km apart). With fresh stamps in our passports, we hopped in and out of the town of Tumbes, Peru to Piura for a family reunion. Ryan´s mother is from this sunscorched city in Peru´s far north, and Ryan has returned here every year or so for the past half decade to be in the company of his tios, primos, and (former) novia. We were treated to a great dinner by his uncle Armando, who is a partner at a hotel just outside the city center, and given very comfortable lodging at his splendid home.
We were thrust into the weekend the following day when Ryan´s friend invited us to a very
large party for the University of Piura. After making our way through the mob ouside, we were greeted by a pair of supermodel hostesses who asked for a picture with the only two - well, one and a half - gringos at the event. Thinking they were going to charge me, I refused their offer, only to be told later that they just wanted to be seen in the company of a "rockstar" gringo. Not deterred, I was able to dance with a few flirtatious University girls, who confirmed the rumor that gringos have no rhythm.
The next morning, Ryan´s uncle took us for a tour of a few of his properties, including the space where the party had been held the night before. Devoid of partygoers, the place looked completely different. Exotic creatures chatted and chirped from large cages: on my count, two parrots, a hawk, two boas, and many other animals exist on the property, apparently. Verandas shaded spacious and peaceful patios where once there had been raucous dancing and drinking. We were taken into a small office, where we met the world champion in mathematics (apparently he is employed as an accountant for Armando's enterprises), who
performed outrageous calculations that we devised for him. Asking me for the digits of my birthday, he promptly stated that I was born on a Friday (correct), and after given a series of large numbers, he quickly provided their product and sum (verified with a calculator). Spent some time contemplating the universe's great equation on a hammock the rest of the afternoon. In the evening, we were taken to another party - appropriately titled "Noche de Fuego" - and with a couple of salsa lessons under my belt (thanks, Anate), we moved until dawn.
Woke up late the next day, spent some time catching up on the news with the BBC and went out with friends. At some point, a taxi blew a tire in front of the apartment of Ryan´s friend and a couple of women stared blankly from their brokendown chariot while Oasis´s "Wonderwall" played over the vehicle's radio. A surreal moment.
Thanking his cousins, uncles, and friends, Ryan and I left Piura decidedly partied out.
We brushed up on the beach life in Mancora for a brief time, met a couple of Argentines who were financing a slow trip to Mexico with self-made jewelry
and street performances, got eaten by mosquitos in the night, and paid too much for a cambi out, ending up in the city of Chiclayo the following day. The city itself was shabby and uninteresting, but the ancient Moche ruins of Sipan were nothing short of fascinating. We visited the Royal Tombs Museum in Lambayeque, which is beautifully organized and offers an amazing collection of recovered artifacts from the King of Sipan´s tomb (and the bones of the old chap, himself) and a vast array of information (all in Spanish). In the late afternoon, Chiclayo yielded a surprise of its own with a colorful (and enormous) Marcado Modelo sprawled along the north reaches of town. We chatted (and maybe flirted a little) with hairdressers and belt vendors and walked through spice markets, flower markets, meat markets (where you could by just about any part of any animal), herbal markets, fruit markets, bucket markets, cloth markets, and an incredible labyrinth filled with small passages, stalls, and people. Having been seduced by markets all over the world, I found this one enthralling: the smells, sounds, sights and sensations stacked up to the Zanzibari bazaars and Togolese voodoo marts recollected with fondness. The
next day, we took a cambi to Sipan and stared into the excavated ruins of the Moche temple complex.
Finding no reason to linger in Chiclayo, we boarded a bus for Trujillo, our last stop before Lima. Although I´ve been here for only five hours, this town seems much more pleasant and inviting than our more northern destinations. The streets are cobblestone, the houses are orderly and brightly colored, and there is positive energy about the place. It´s late, and I must be off to bed. I´ll write again from Lima. Hasta Luego.
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