‘Now let me introduce you to my friend, the Lord of Sipan’

I just had a shot of Peruvian pisco with our hostel owner, and now I’m sitting on the roof terrace watching the sun sink into the ocean as dozens of surfers ride the waves toward shore. Ben, my new friend from Kentucky, is laying in a hammock and plucking at his guitar. This, right here, is what vacation is all about.

The sunset from our roof terrace

The glamorous beach town of Huanchaco

Thanks to the suggestion of Diego, my amazing Ingapirca tour guide, I convinced Aaron and Kyla (the couple from McGill that I’ve been traveling with) that we should stay in Huanchaco, a small beach town several kilometers outside the noisy, and busy, city of Trujillo. His suggestion was right on target — our hostel is dirt cheap, the food is great, and the town is incredibly relaxed. And for 1.50 soles (about 65 cents) we can take a bus right into the center of Trujillo.

On Saturday, we spent the day relaxing at the beach and at our hostel, which has gorgeous wooden terraces that look straight out onto the ocean. We had fresh ceviche for late lunch/early dinner, drank some beers and hung out, then went to bed early.

Today, the three of us made our way into Trujillo and to the Huaca de Luna — a Moche temple built in 500 AD but discovered only 20 years ago because it was completely buried by sand. It was different than any ruins I’d ever seen, with intricate carvings and paintings still mostly intact, and I really enjoyed it. We wandered through the city, found a good lunch place in our guidebook, saw the main plaza then hopped a bus back Huanchaco in time to see the sunset.

Seven layers of intricately carved out stone at the Moche Huaca de Luna (Temple of the Moon) that has survived nearly 2000 years because up until 20 years ago, it was completely submerged in sand.

The Plaza de Armas in Trujillo

On Friday in Chiclayo, we opted for a full day tour of some ruins in the area, since Chiclayo itself isn’t a city with much to do. Our tour group consisted of an anti-social man from Amsterdam who refused to speak more than two words to us (or anybody), a tattoo-covered couple from Australia, a Taiwanese woman living in Pasadena, a German woman from Munich who is living in Trujillio teaching English to elementary school kids, and two families with young kids.. who only spoke Spanish.

One of my tour guide’s many ‘friends’ – aka 1,500 year old bones of the ancient Lord of Sipan

Our poor tour guide had to spend the entire day switching from English to Spanish for absolutely every explanation. His English wasn’t the best, but his Spanish was relatively clear. I joked that I understood about 50% of his English and 50% of his Spanish, so altogether it’s possible I got the whole tour. Regardless, he was a nice man with some funny idiosyncrasies — every time we walked up to a skeleton, he would say “Now let me introduce you to my friend…” — a set of bones from nearly 1,500 years ago. I also learned that Chifa restaurants everywhere in the northern coastal cities aren’t just an attempt at imitating Chino food. Instead, when the rice fields of northern Peru were first established, thousands of Chinese indentured servants “migrated” to this area. I would have never known!

First, we saw the tombs of Sipan, discovered in 1987, ironically, by grave robbers who stole dozens of pieces of gold from the underground structure. In 1988, with the help of the arrested robbers, archeologists were able to uncover a total of 9 different tombs, each one more and more elaborate. The Lords and nobles of Sipan were buried with kilos and kilos of incredibly ornate and delicate gold and turquoise jewelry, breast plates and headdresses, not to mention llamas, concubines, and guards with their feet cut off, meant to protect the tomb forever. All of these jewels — plus many sets of disintegrating bones — were displayed in two different museums. It was sort of strange to take a step back and realize we had dismantled a burial site that these people had put such intense effort into creating. This man, despite only being a set of barely distinguishable, disintegrating bones, was once a father, grandfather, and uncle. Though uncovering the history and traditions of these people is an honorable reason to dismantle these tombs, it’s a bit bizarre to think about the reverse situation — what if someone had done this to my great grandfather, or even to my grave in 2000 years? Sort of creepy!

We also saw the Tucume pyramids — a group of flat-topped pyramids that were once tall standing, presumably beautiful, structures. Now, because of rain and wind destruction, they simply look like gigantic sand piles. Unfortunately, that was the part of the tour that was very rushed in an attempt to make it back to Trujillo in time, so we got very little information about the structures themselves.

Tomorrow will be another relaxing, beach-filled day and then Aaron, Kyla and I are off to Lima on an overnight bus. I like traveling at night because it saves me a bit of money (no hostel necessary!) but I also don’t feel like I’m wasting an entire day sitting on a bus. Traveling alone at night, however, isn’t my favorite, so I’m glad to have other gringos to keep me company!

The sun sinking below the Peruvian Pacific

The sea is chock full of fish, hence the millions of birds flying everywhere!

Peru: Mi segundo pais!

One very interesting thing I forgot about South American culture and was reminded of today: People have absolutely zero concept of the personal bubble.

In lines for buses, customs, checking luggage, even buying groceries or walking on the sidewalk, people get so close to you it’s absurd. And I’m not talking about potential thieves trying to get at my purse. We’re talking little, pushy old ladies or mothers with children who just inch their way so close to you I find myself flinching.

That being said, my 15 and a half hours of bus rides from Loja, Ecuador into Chiclayo, Peru went without much of a hitch. After a painless hour ride from Vilcabama into Loja, I grabbed a ticket for my overnight bus and sat down next to a very sweet Australian girl who is spending a year traveling through Central and South America. We spent the hour and a half before the 11 PM bus we were both on chatting and learning about each others lives and travels. Around 10:20, a couple who had gone to McGill and was staying at the same hostel as my new Australian friend (small world!) in Vilcabamba showed up, so the four of us English-speakers decided to band together.

Because yesterday was a huge holiday in Ecuador and there was a large parade in Loja, they were running two overnight busses into Piura. The bus I was on was scheduled to depart at 11:06 (why, I really couldn’t tell you) and there was mass confusion about the number of the bus since half the peoples tickets said numero 05 and the other half said 80. Regardless, it all got sorted out and we were on our way by 11:15 or so, which, for all intensive purposes, is 11 PM Ecuadorian time. I had a rather gordo, although very nice, man sitting next to me who, again, didn’t quite understand the whole personal bubble thing and, as a result, had his elbow on top of me for part of the ride. I think the trick is to shove back juuust enough that the person figures out that just because I’m little doesn’t mean I don’t need my space. Regardless, I slept on and off, jolting awake everytime the bus would crawl across unpaved roads or stop suddenly to let people on and off. And yes, despite it being 2 AM, people were still getting on and off the bus. Direct buses are apparently non-existant in Ecuador.

My horrific, camera phone photo of the 4 AM border crossing — Thanks for visiting Ecuador in the foreground and the red and white striped Peruvian flag in the background!

At approximately 3:45 AM we arrived at the border. Everyone piled off the bus and waited in line to get their passport stamped out. Then, just like at the Peru/Bolivia border crossing, the bus drives up ahead and you walk the several hundred yards to the official country entrance, fill out your forms and get your passport stamped into Peru. Both border officials were very nice, understood my Spanish no problema and stamped my passport with very few questions asked. Despite taking 30 minutes total for all of us to get past the two customs desks, I felt completely safe the entire time, and it really was an incredibly easy process (especially compared to my nightmare at the Bolivian border!)

As we waited in line, we made friends with a very nice Peruvian man who was listening to music out-loud on his blackberry. At some point, a Toni Braxton song came on, and he proclaimed that she was his wife, laughing. We continued talking on and off as we waited. Little did we know this man would be our saving grace.

Lesson number one: Never cross into a country without at least a little bit of the right currency.

Lesson number two: Don’t assume that just because you’re on a bus you will be arriving at a central bus terminal where your next bus will be departing from.

I bet you can imagine where this is going. As the four of us piled off our respective busses and met to figure out where our busses to Chiclayo (for myself and the couple from McGill) and Trujillo (for the Australian girl whose name I can’t remember for the life of me — oops!) were leaving from, our new Peruvian friend informed us that, there is no main bus station in Piura. I’d been warned by several people that Piura is not a nice or particularly safe place, and to be especially careful with your bags when you’re leaving the bus station. The easy answer would have been to simply grab a cab, but none of us had Peruvian Soles. Major fail.

Thankfully, our amazingly nice Peruvian friend took the time to walk us several blocks away to an ATM and then to our respective new bus stations. When the ATM wouldn’t work for any of our cards, he happily traded us $20 US cash for 50 soles.

I will admit that he was definitely attempting to hit on me, and started saying that Toni Braxton was his wife but I would be his next wife. It was all in clean fun though, and he was so sweet and I never felt uncomfortable or creeped out. When he left, he told me I was beautiful and bien viajes (good travels). Such a wonderful reminder how how sweet and incredibly helpful people can be. I’m sure had he not been there we would have figured something out, but he made everything so painless, and we were all so thankful!

We only had to wait 30 minutes for an 8:15 AM bus into Trujillo. Three hours later (I completely passed out for the entirety of the ride, thankfully) the three of us were in a cab on the way to a hostel. We showered, found a working ATM, got ourselves some lunch, then spent a few hours out and about in the city. After a long night of on and off sleep on the bus and an even longer day trying to keep myself awake, it’s time to pass out. I promise another blog post soon with my impressions of northern Peru and Chiclayo!