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Published: February 7th 2016
Inside the Huaca de la Luna.
So I was on the bus to...Ayahuasca? Huacachina? Ayacucho? Or was it Huanchaco? Huanchaco, yes, that's the one, Huanchaco. Damn all these Peruvian names that sound the same.
So Huanchaco, that was where I was going. On another Cruz del Sur luxury bus, there were no problems with the ride - all comfortable, all good. But this time I was travelling alone, having left my much-missed partner-in-crime Merian back in Lima
. There were many qualities to like about Merian. Her easy-going nature. Intelligence (she is a medical student, after all). She was very independent. She laughed at most of my jokes. She babbled a bit sometimes but then I think I do too and that was perhaps the thing I missed the most - being able to tell someone whatever was on my mind, no matter how inane the thought. Well, I was gong to have to get used to solo travelling again, at least for the foreseeable future.
To get to Huanchaco, one first needs to travel to Trujillo from where a 15-minute taxi ride will have you in the small beach town. It was nice to finally get to a beach with the weather required to really enjoy
it - the first time I have had this opportunity after three months of travelling. It wasn't warm enough the last time I was at a beach, which was in Uruguay
So it was such a shame that the beach was, well...distinctly average. First of all it was really rocky - so just venturing into the water ensured that your feet got cut up. Secondly, it was dirty. The water was a murky, blue-ey grey and there was quite a bit of trash floating on top of it. And lastly, it was really busy. Particularly on New Year's Day when the town was absolutely rammed.
Huanchaco however, is a surf town as well as a beach town and locals and tourists alike flock here to take advantage of the waves. Apparently the longest break in the world can be found just up the coast form here. Yet the place is not overrun by tourists at all - locals are still in the majority and there aren't any brand-name surf shops around either.
Having lost my surfing virginity a few months ago in South Africa
, Huanchaco seemed to be the best place to continue my surfing development!
And this desire played
Probably the most impressive building in Trujillo.
a role in choosing the hostel I was to stay at - one which was pretty cool.
Un Lugar Surf Camp is completely constructed from bamboo, has hammocks galore and is decorated with objects you would find in the attic of your once-seafaring, great-grandfather's house - giving it fantastic character and the feel of a massive beach hut. Located just a block from the beach and with surf lessons available from the chilled-out (as you'd expect from a surfer dude) yet slightly crazy owner Juan Carlos, it felt like the most ideal and stereotypical beach-hut holiday was coming together. A great, basic place to spend New Year's too, just like I often did with friends back in New Zealand when we would often go camping.
With upsides of character, a relaxed atmosphere and an amazing price, the place also did however, come with its downsides.
As the place is completely made of bamboo, the gaps in the structure ensured soundproofing was minimal, to the point where you basically might as well be sleeping outside. There's no such thing as noise control in Huanchaco, meaning that as well as the cacophony of noise in the morning which consisted of barking dogs,
Original carved walls in the Tschudi complex - one of nine royal compounds in the old Chimu city of Chan Chan.
construction work, crowing roosters, loud-talking pedestrians and cars passing through the narrow alley just outside, you also had to contend with reggaeton being blasted out of bars and cars at all hours.
The structure was creaky as well - if anyone in any part of the hostel was to walk around, the nature of the structure ensured that everyone could hear and feel it.
The water often ran out. And not just hot water, but all water. I got caught out twice, where the water ran out halfway through my shower, meaning I had to wipe the soap directly off my skin. Cockroaches aren't nice to see in the shower either.
And lastly, Juan Carlos kept two pet parrots. They could imitate dogs, wolf whistles and people saying "Hola!" which was a novelty at first. But they were really loud
. And when they weren't imitating anything, they were screaming. Really loud
. Luckily they never went off at night. But by the end of my stay, I wanted to kill them both.
As for the surfing, I took a surfing lesson with Juan Carlos on my second day.
My first few waves were good and I managed to stand up with
Un Lugar Surf Camp
Common area of the hostel I stayed at in Huanchaco.
no problems - until I pulled a muscle in my thigh. I also became tired really quickly, since I was using muscles I didn't normally use. By the end, it became a struggle to do anything and every wave was a wipeout. I'm not sure I even lasted the full hour I had paid for. Am I getting too old for this shit? Overall, I definitely think I preferred my first surfing experience in Coffee Bay, South Africa.
Now normally, when one picks up a guitar in the hostel common area, everyone is thinking "Oh God, here we go...", and this was my exact thought when one of the dreadlocked guests did exactly that one night.
We were however, to be pleasantly surprised. He could play anything - Counting Crows, The Cure, a-Ha, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, U2 - u name it, he could play it. He even played all the riffs. The highlight was when he rocked out Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name Of" - an electric guitar song done extremely convincingly on an acoustic. This guy was a legend and could easily be live musician, entertaining bar or restaurant patrons with his awesome covers.
The rather average beach in the beach town of Huanchaco.
For the entire hour he played, I don't think he made even one single mistake.
Hmmm...mistakes. I've made a few. And I was about to make some more.
Perhaps rather strangely, the restaurants in Huanchaco do their biggest trade at lunchtime - perhaps feeding all the day-trippers from Trujillo - which meant that there were few reasonable options open for dinner.
To fill this gap, there are a lot of street vendors with their carts, parked along the beachside 'promenade'. The fare is delicious and the main products on sale are papa rellenos
- fresh, warm, crispy, Peruvian-style donuts. Nice as the food was however, they did cost a bit more than what I was expecting - I had got better deals for meals in both Cusco
Paying for some anticuchos
one night, I was then told the the S/5 coins I was using to pay for it were fake! Counterfeit coins! Who would bother manufacturing those? They were new, 2015 edition coins that looked nice and shiny so perhaps they weren't used to them, but asking a few locals - including Juan Carlos - for their opinion, many of them agreed with the
Bamboo Hostel, Huanchaco
Un Lugar Surf Camp is almost made completely of bamboo.
On the same night, I also managed to lose a S/10 note - I swear it was either snatched out of my hands without me noticing or I had dropped it and it was picked up by someone - I suspect it was one of the kids getting onto the bus back to Trujillo from alongside the stall. Whatever happened to it, I think that the people here are too poor to be honest. Either way, both incidents left a pretty bitter taste in the mouth with regard to Peruvians.
But that wasn't even the worst of it.
As well as giving me fake change, the street vendors also gave me nasty food poisoning - although it was probably more my fault. As well as noticing the constant stench that seems to linger in many areas of Huanchaco, I should've known that eating chicken kebabs cooked on a makeshift street grill from raw was a bad idea. Stomach cramps, diahorrea and vomiting all night then ensued.
Which is not what you want on New Year's Eve.
Now I have had some terrible New Year's Eves in the last ten years - even allowing for the heightened expectations
I wasn't quite sure what this was when I saw it on the menu - turns out that it is stewed seaweed. It is nice, but you can't eat too much of it.
that surround the night, I have had some absolute disasters. Well, I now have another average one to add to the collection. Not being able to eat or drink meant that I remained hungry and sober all night while every else in the hostel got completely blind drunk. Going out later, the streets of Huanchaco were rammed as we witnessed fireworks on the beach before heading to where most of the bars and clubs were. Rather strangely, people were just hanging out or dancing in the streets and the clubs were almost all completely empty - yet the music being pumped out of them was so loud that it was facilitating one massive street party without drawing in any custom for their efforts.
I gave up my abstinence after while and took a few swigs of rum in an attempt to 'kill the bugs'. But it wasn't anywhere near enough to catch up with the others - not when my hostel-mates were literally being dragged to bed or carried unconscious into the hostel. One of the hostel workers was still drinking and was still completely shitfaced at 10am the next day! The one thing good to come out of all
this I guess, was that my dignity remained well and truly intact. Oh what a night!
On my penultimate day in Huanchaco, I made a trip to Trujillo to do some admin and to check the city out.
There really isn't much to see in Trujillo apart from a few nice colonial buildings and the main square, so I was done once I had booked my onward journey from here to Mancora and had booked myself onto a tour of the ruins that surround Trujillo - which I did the next day.
Needing to be in Trujillo's Plaza de Armas the next day at 10.30am, the colectivo
I caught took forever. Picking up passengers anywhere and everywhere en route, get a piece of paper stamped and processed at random holes in the wall - it definitely was't running on a schedule. Afraid I wouldn't make it on time, I got off the bus halfway there and caught a cab - paying a fare I had hoped to avoid by taking the colectivo
Not that I should've worried - the tour of course, was running on Peruvian time and even after getting on the tour bus thirty minutes later
Huaca de la Luna
Carved and painted temple walls inside the Huaca de la Luna.
than scheduled, the bus duly circled Plaza de Armas picking up passengers several times before the tour finally got underway.
I thought that Northern Peruvian service and organisation was just about summed up in that one morning.
There were two civilisations that existed in the area around Trujillo that have left their mark - the Moche and the Chimu.
The first site that we visit are the Moche ruins of Huaca de la Luna, which was built around 600AD. A few hundred metres away, is the Huaca del Sol. The museum that we visit first sheds light on the culture and practices of the Moche - human sacrifices are once again prominent as is the practice of ritual combat - extravagantly dressed warriors engaging in one-on-one combat with the loser sacrificed to the gods. As well as information, the museum also displayed some very ornate pots and carvings that were recovered from the site. As for the Huaca de la Luna itself, it is an impressive complex complete with many full colour friezes. It is explained to us that the Huaca de la Luna was the temple where the priest and other high ranking religious folk lived; the Huaca
Huaca Arco Iris
Intricately carved wall at the Huaca Arco Iris.
del Sol was home to the politicos. The 'commoners' lived in between the two temples in this 'city' of sorts. Both temples were pretty big!
The Chimu - who were around about 700 years after the Moche - have left their mark with a couple of temples in Trujillo's outskirts and with the sprawling city of Chan Chan.
The Chimu temple of Huaca Arco Iris, which we visit first, reminds me a lot of Edfu Temple in Egypt
but on a much smaller scale and with less intricate carvings in its walls. It's location amongst all the modern buildings in Trujillo's outskirts ruins the ambience somewhat.
Originally covering 20 square kilometres, Chan Chan was made up of nine sub-cities, of which we visit one, which is the royal compound of Tschudi. Partially restored, the complex is er, quite complex and the friezes are impressive, as are the old irrigation systems and the royal plazas.
The tour itself was done completely in Spanish, of which I understood about 80%!o(MISSING)f it. As the day wore on however, the more tired and the less interested I got, the less I understood.
Which is the way it is when learning another language - it tires
The ruins of the Chimu city of Chan Chan, dating to the 1300s.
you out which is why I perhaps have not participated in as many Spanish conversations as I could've, despite the regular availability of opportunities to do so. Especially at the end of a day, I am just too tired to be bothered. In saying that, I will need to start engaging in these conversations if I want to improve - although the problem is that because I'm at a level now where I can easily get by, the motivation isn't quite there either, to improve much more.
The tour was the last thing that I did in Trujillo/Huanchaco, with the tour conveniently finishing in
Having had my fill of one Northern Peruvian beachside town, I was now heading to another, once again on a Cruz del Sur bus where I took advantage of my personal entertainment system to watch the film The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a period spy/action/comedy/adventure film which was actually pretty good. Following the film however, I felt my stomach start to go. Rumbling, cramping. I thought I had got over my New Year's Eve food poisoning. Evidently not.
Arriving in Mancora, it was noticeable just how much hotter the weather was here. While waiting
Sunset Over Mancora
Taken from the balcony of my bungalow.
to collect my backpack, I was hounded by a mob of tuk-tuk drivers - who I had read online, might try to rob you. Considering what I had read, I decided to walk to my hostel.
The roads en route to Misfits Hostel were unexpectedly sandy and dirty - so impossible for me to wheel my backpack through, which I then had to strap to my back in a more traditional style. I had thought that Mancora, being a bit of a gringo beach mecca, would be a bit more developed - in truth, it was only slightly more developed than Huanchaco was.
Trudging my way through the sandy streets under the hot sun, backpack weighing me down, taking wrong turns and worst of all, really needing to use the loo to empty my bowels, the 'short walk' was punishing. Should have got a tuk-tuk.
Arriving at the hostel, all I see are a bunch of unused bamboo huts with no visible sign of a reception. Hiding my bag in one of said huts, I then continued to search the compound for the bloody reception. Did I mention that I really needed to go to the loo?
These are the dorms of the hostel I stayed at in Mancora.
finally find it, am told I need to wait a few hours for my red to be ready, and then run to the toilet.
Yep, the diahorrea was back again. Shit. Literally.
The hostel was awesome though. The 'dorms' are basically wooden, two-storey bungalows nestled behind a sand dune just thirty metres from the beach. With sea views from the moment you wake up, all you need to do is walk downstairs and you're on the beach. The lounge/kitchen/dining/reception area is basically under a thatched-roof bamboo hut - and there is no floor, just sand. I don't think I have ever stayed in a hostel directly on the beach before. Chilling out in a deck chair on your own 'private' stretch of beach ensured waiting to check-in wasn't such a chore.
That's because once I had checked in, that was all that there really was to do. Eat, drink, sunbathe, swim, hang out with the other guests and repeat. That was bascially all I did for the four days I was there. Except drink - well, not on the first night anyway, as my stomach was still feeling a bit sensitive.
But just like the hostel in Huanchaco, such
Our 'Private' Beach
The stretch of beach just in front of the hostel. With the hostel away from town, hardly anyone was here so it was basically our beach.
a unique setting has its downsides.
Firstly, as well as getting ravaged by mosquitoes within two minutes of entering my room, insect repellent when chilling out in the common area after dark is a must - my sandfly-bite covered legs are testimony to that.
Secondly, and probably unsurprisingly, there is sand everywhere
. On everything and anything. Even in the tap water which was so salty, your soap refuses to lather and you can't use it to even brush your teeth. I gave up on showers after two days and went for a swim in the sea instead - I felt the same after each anyway.
And lastly, the whoops of gringoes skinny-dipping in the sea and the pumping music from the party hostel next door ensure that getting to sleep is a struggle. Luckily, I'm a heavier sleeper these days than I used to be.
However, in a town reputed for its massive parties, you'd think that it'd be my heavy drinking rather than my heavy sleeping that should be coming to the fore. I've definitely slowed down a bit these days though - the hangovers are much worse these days meaning I have to choose my battles wisely. Also,
View From My Dorm, Mancora
Not a bad view to wake up too...
a night in - especially when you're just chilling on the beach - is a much more comfortable and enticing proposition nowadays. I think this is called getting old...
In fact, the most exciting thing to happen to me while in Mancora - if you can call it "exciting" - was also the most gutting moment of the trip so far.
The main town of Mancora is about a fifteen minute walk along the beach from the hostel and it was on one of the walks back that (relative) tragedy struck.
There is a stretch of beach where the water comes right into the shore at thigh height, during high tide. However, when the waves go out again, you have about a ten-second gap to gap it across the stretch before the next wave comes in. Walking along the beach with Becca, an American girl also staying at the hostel, machismo got the better of me and rather than taking the road back to the hostel, I wanted to sprint across the stretch and continue walking along the beach.
Well, I made it over to the other side easily enough - only to realise that my phone was no
View From My Balcony, Mancora
The main hut where the hostel's common area is located is just ahead - behind it is the beach.
longer in my pocket. In horror, I look back at the stretch which I had just passed - the next wave had just come in and had swallowed up that entire stretch of beach. I desperately walked back over, looking at the sand, looking among the rocks, getting pummelled by wave-after-wave as I prayed that by some miracle, I would find my phone still alive. It was hopeless. The sea had claimed it and is now somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. I never saw my iPhone 6 again.
I was remarkably calm and philosophical in the immediate moments after my loss. I was probably still in shock and disbelief.
"Even if I had found it, it would have been f*cked anyway."
"I knew that I would probably lose something valuable at some stage, so I was expecting. I guess it has now happened. It was always going to happen", I kept telling Becca and myself.
It was only in the hours following that I realised the extent of my loss - those were the moments when I had my head in my hands. Those were the moments when I realised how much it would now cost to replace, that I'd
Peruvian Hairless Dog
These dogs have almost no hair and are known to have a higher body temperature than normal dogs.
have to make an insurance claim, that I wouldn't have music for the long bus rides ahead, that I was now without my Lonely Planet, that I was now without my Spanish-English dictionary, that I now couldn't contact people via WhatsApp, that I now didn't have Google Maps to help get me places and that I now didn't have a handy pocket camera to take random photos. It was in these moments that I came to realise just how dependent I was on my phone. It was everything.
Becca and I sat on the beach that night drinking beer and playing the ukelele, in an effort to drown my sorrows. It almost worked. Becca was particularly good at making me feel better about my loss.
Nice and relaxing as Mancora is however, I was getting bored – especially now that I was without a phone – so I needed to get out of here. I had spent a month now in Peru so I was ready to change countries.
There isn’t really much to Mancora’s town – just one main street with the bus agencies, banks, some shops and some hotels; and one ‘gringo alley’ with cheap eats and
Huaca del Sol & Trujillo
The Huaca del Sol is the terraced mound of dirt on the left; the city of Trujillo can be seen in the background.
shops; and all the bars, clubs and surf schools are located on the beach.
The beach itself has no rocks and is much nicer than Huanchaco's, although the waves are deceptively strong. I still have been to better beaches though.
Otherwise there really is nothing to see in Mancora – it really is just a beach town.
Before I leave Peru, some last observations;
- You have to be an ultra-aggressive driver to drive in Peru. Maybe even a little crazy.
- Peruvians are not courteous unfortunately. Like many places where there is poverty, it seems that everyone is out to take as much as they can.
- I had a hostel full of Dutch travellers when I was in San Pedro
; a hostel full of Swiss in Arequipa
; and in Huanchaco I had a hostel full of Finns. They were all separate travellers too. They were the first Finns I had met all trip and I have not met any since! I also met the first Russians of the trip there too. Funny how I’ve encountered whole groups of people from the same country in specific places, specific hostels.
I’ve gone on a bit too long on this
Streets Of Chan Chan
Inside the Tschudi complex in the ruined city of Chan Chan.
blog entry now so I am going to wrap it up – see you in Ecuador!
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