Chasing the sunshine, climbing giant sandcastles and Peru's answer to Tutankhamun

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October 3rd 2009
Published: October 5th 2009
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'Couldn't find a room in a hostel so I've checked into the Radisson....' OK so perhaps not the exact words of the text Shirley sent me but they're pretty close! At the time I was sat at a truck stop halfway through a 24 hour bus journey from Cusco to Lima and facing the usual dilemma of biscuits vs. crisps for breakfast, everything else on offer being, well, meat, meat, meat or.... i.e. not very veggie friendly. As she was only here for 3 weeks Shirley had taken the posh option and flown to Lima, leaving me to the much slower 'el cheapo' option which would get me there a day later. But it seemed she'd arrived to find the hostel room we'd booked not quite as advertised and after discovering that none of the others nearby had private rooms available she'd taken the only possible course of action and called the Radisson!! Not that I was in anyway complaining!! For the first time in my life I arrived at a bus station in the middle of dodgeville (the local guy next to me went to great pains to mime that I really, really, really needed to watch my bags) and jumped straight in a taxi 'to the Radisson darlingggggg'. Seriously the suite we had was bigger than flats I've lived in and I'm pretty sure I've had lounges smaller than the bathroom! Perhaps backpacking and living in dorms isn't for me after all....

We were in Miraflores, one of the nicer suburbs in Lima, for Shirley’s last day before she returned to Blighty. It was a whirlwind last 24 hours spent lunching by the water front, hanging out with locals to watch the colourful evening fountain display at Parque de la Reserva, dining in one of the best restaurants in town and visiting the ruins of Huaca Pucllana. Dedicated to the God Pachacámac this ceremonial site dates from the Lima culture (@400AD) and is built from adobe bricks, something I'd read about in the guide book but didn't quite understand what they were... bricks made of mud apparently. And there were lots of them here! Evidence suggests religious ceremonies, rites and sacrifices all occurred here but perhaps the most bizarre thing about the site is its location - right in the middle of the city and surrounded by modern day homes.

With Shirley gone I stayed just one more day in Lima - there were other things I wanted to see but the weather was vile, grey, grey, grey and, well it could have been London in November. To be honest I just couldn't get the enthusiasm to explore so I booked a bus to Trujillo instead. As far as buses are concerned Lima is a royal pain - there's no central bus station so if you want to compare the prices of different companies you have to visit each of their offices, which predictably are spread out all over the place. With a severe case of lazy-itis I did something I rarely do and used a travel agent instead. And woohooooooo!!!! OK so I'm sure they booked me on the most expensive bus going (with the biggest commission rate to match) but seriously wow!!! With wide comfy seats, nice fluffy blankets and loads of extra leg room it was easily the nicest bus I've taken in South America. It’s just a shame that with Trujillo only 8 hours north of Lima the journey was so short!

I arrived in Trujillo @6am the next morning thrilled at the idea of sunshine again - I'd been missing the clear blue skies of the altiplano much more than I'd expected. Except it seemed I wasn't going to find it here - Trujillo was grey, cloudy, overcast and just as miserable as Lima. So I changed plans, decided to leave the pre-Colombian ruins here for another time and headed down the road to another companies bus station (this was fast becoming a theme I wasn't enjoying) to catch the next bus to Chiclayo.

Some 3 hours north of Trujillo I finally found my sunshine!!!! And it seemed I might be the only foreigner in town, which after the over touristy/commercial nature of the cities in the south was a refreshing change. As I lugged my backpack around in search of a hotel an elderly local guy approached... did I want a hotel? a cheap one?? He knew just the place! Yeah, yeah, yeah I thought here we go, there'll be some 'ohh and here's my travel agents/souvenir shop' line to follow. But there wasn't. He walked me to the hotel and then waved goodbye! There's not too much to do in Chiclayo itself apart from get lost in the huge maze of a market which sprawls for several blocks, stalls selling everything from chickens (some not yet dead) to spices and household goods - there was even a hairdressers shop inside! There's also the main plaza, unsurprisingly called the Plaza de Armas, dominated at one end by a 19th century neo-classical cathedral and laid out with lush trees, gardens and benches where locals seemed to pass the day chatting and watching the world go by.... in the sunshine!

For once it was a challenge to find a tour agency and in the end I settled for a lady with a makeshift stand on the main plaza. As it happened I wasn't the only foreigner on the tour, another English girl had come up from Trujillo for the day and told me that actually, I really should go back and see the ruins there. Darn. This tour though would take us north to the ruins of Tucume where twenty-six eroded adobe pyramids are scattered across a site covering 200 ha. These are the remains of a major regional centre built by the Sicán people who lived here from @1050 AD until @1350AD when they were conquered by the Chimu. The Chimu only lasted until the mid 15th century when they in turn were conquered by the Incas. Archaeologists believe the Sicán built Tucume after burning and abandoning their former capital of Batán Grande and that the pyramids are in fact superimposed structures built in phases, each new ruler adding another even grander level. From the lookout on Cerro Purgatorio you get a great view of the surrounding landscape and appreciate just how eroded (and not very 'pyramid' like) these massive structures are - kind of like giant sandcastles in the desert. The largest pyramid is Huaca Larga, measuring some 700 meters long, 280 meters wide and 30 meters tall. A newer Inca tomb was discovered at the top of Huaca Larga where the scarred body of a warrior was interred with 2 male and 19 female companions.

After a nice lunch where the Peruvians in the group made sure I tried some local (veggie friendly!) dishes we headed off to the museums. First was the Bruning Archeological Museum with an eclectic display of gold masks, musical instruments, mummies and ceramics from the Chimu, Moche and Sican cultures. The best definitely came last though in the form of the amazing Museo Tumbas Reales - shaped like a Moche pyramid it houses the artefacts discovered in the tomb of the Lord of Sipán. The ancient Moche civilization dates from A.D. 100-850 and until their discovery in the late 1980's these tombs had remained untouched, missed by the grave robbers who looted and destroyed so many others. Likened to the unearthing of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt as you walk around the museum you pass one gold, silver or jewelled artefact after another (alas no camera's allowed, perhaps a good thing otherwise I think I might still be there). The Lord of Sipan was an important warrior priest and buried near him archaeologists found the skeleton of a guard, a young man with a golden shield who'd had his feet cut off so he couldn't run away. The Lord of Sipan himself was found in a wooden sarcophagus with the skeletons of two young women next to his head. His body was covered with chest protectors, necklaces, nose rings, ear rings, helmets and bracelets all fashioned in gold, silver, copper and semi-precious stones. His skull rested on a large golden plate. Below this tomb two others were found, that of "El Sacerdote" (The Priest) and “El Viejo Señor de Sipán" (The Old Lord of Sipan). The tomb of the latter predates the Lord of Sipan by some 200 years but with tomb offerings including a gold sceptre, fine gold and silver jewels and chest protectors made with pearl shells it's likely that he was also a man royal of importance.

Next stop, Ecuador!!

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17th January 2010

Blog of the year 2009, for the C and S America/writing category
Check this out. :)
21st September 2010

Amazing experience
Hi wendy, i just accidentally bumped into your blog when i was searching for some write ups on Antartica. You have travelled so much , over 120 blogs and more than 3000 snaps, most of them are just superb. I dont have time to read all of them but surely shall read one by one when ever i find time. I am from India and have visited some places in my country. Do visit my blog and share your views. Ramz.

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