Saturday, September 24, 2005

Northern history & culture: Trujillo and Cajamarca

A sign on a restuarant`s front door in need to say more


A day after departing from Valy at the bus station in Huaraz, I was already on my way up north on a night bus to Trujillo . I decided to rest in the nearby beach village of Huanchaco , where the tranquility of the pacific hits the beach like the 3 meter high waves. Visiting the nearby ruins of Chan-Chan and Trujillo , I enjoyed a good mix of pre-Inca culture with the colonial air of the main streets in big city. Next, I headed northern and farther into the mountains, to the little town of Cajamarca, where the end of the Inca empire took place, and enjoyed the best Peruvian-Italian I had in the past two months. Short on time, and after I gripped that the ruins of Kuelap might be a disappointment, I bought the first ticket back to Lima, on my south to Arequipa and to a waiting good friend in the Chilean republic.

pre-Inca Chan-Chan ruins
Well, I must admit that a lot of time passed since I last traveled in person, and it reminded me of fear and alertness. Even so, It was also nice to take some initiative over your own action and traveling agenda and making your own decisions without the need to compromise.
It was a long ride to Trujillo (8 hours) and I took a good bus, so I will have both security for my luggage and also a comfortable seat. As I learned over time, sleeping in buses is not realistic for me, and most of the time I just drifted into that little conscious niche, in which you are not a sleep but you are on the way, and just stayed in that position for most of the time. Arriving at Trujillo around 5:30 am, even before I managed to pluck out my backpack a taxi driver approached me and asked me if I need a lift. Well, I was tired and sure as hell wanted a taxi, only I had to decided weather I will stay in town or go to the more chilled out village of Huanchaco , sitting on the beach some 12 km west of Trujillo . After some discussion, I decided to stay in the Hostel Casa La Suiza in Huanchaco, and take in the pricy taxi fare (11 soles!! A robbery!!) instead of sleeping in Trujillo and paying more for each night in comparison to Huanchaco. The coast, as all the coastal side of , was painted with Gray and when we got to the hostel, I had to wait till some fellas will leave, so I finished up the book The Schopenhauer Cure, a great book by Irwin Yalom that sent me all sentimental into the past and my fathers dead, all tears and all…
In any case, after a nice breakfast, I got a room all for my self (for the same price) and then waited for the Gray fog to disperse away (around noon) and then I went to visit the Chan-Chan ruins. The Chan-Chan city was the capital of the Chimu culture, a pre-Inca culture that dates back to the 500 AD period and was one of the biggest empires in this region before the time of the Inca. Just for the common knowledge, the great mud city covered a great deal of space, 7.7 square mile to be exact, and it´s remains are spread all around Trujillo and Huanchaco. It is regarded as the biggest mud city in the whole . All in all, the site contains 11 citadels, among them is the best preserved section, the Tschudi Palace . So, I had a lot to expect.
On the beach front I caught a combi and while chatting with the driver and conductor, I saw that the clouds dispersed almost totally and good and warm sunshine colored the surrounding and made me quite happy. Eventually, I was dropped at the dirt road that leads to the site, where several taxis were already waiting for tourists. Talking with the taxi drivers, I gripped that they could take me to the museum and to the site itself for a small fee. As I heard that the road leading to Chan-Chan is not always safest for travelers, I decided that a taxi ride wont be a waste of money (not mentioning walking 2 km till the entrance). So, we first drove to the museum, which as I mentioned before, was not that impressive, but it gave so background about the Chimu culture. I was then taken to the site itself, which was all surrounded by partially sand covered high mud walls, rising several meters above ground. Getting into the site, you first encounter a massive 5-meter high wall that surrounds the whole compound, the Tschudi Palace . The palace is characterized by a very vast and wide plaza, with sea motif carvings of fish, pelicans and the sort. It is an impressive entrance to the whole complex, and the vastness is amazing in its size. The compound contains lots of friezes, mud patterns carvings and it is interesting to see that the sea was such an integral part of their life, that the Chimu embraced selected motifs and combined them in their cultural design. Among the amazing parts of the palace was a pool of water, used for restoring rain water, and now was filled with water and half covered by sugar canes and water lilies. Numerous water birds were living in this pool and were oblivious to the tourists that came into the complex. After an hour and a half I got the picture and returned back to Huanchaco to have some lunch.
That happened to be a humorous situation, as I sat in a small restaurant selling hamburgers and other of the kind. Similar to all , there are plenty 100 soles bills all around but, alas, there are less places you can actually use them, as most locals can’t change even 50 sole bills. And that’s exactly what happened when I wanted to pay the bill with a 100 soles bill. The man was desperate, as he knew that he is not the only one who doesn't’t have a change. So, I joined him for a walk in the little village till we finally found a small mini-market that the owner had a change. As we were there, and I wondered where can I have a nice cafe, he offered to prepare for me, and when I accepted, he bought some coffee and as he was doing so, I added that I want coffee with milk, and he added to the “cart” milk…it was humorous, no doubt.

Trujillo , a nice colonial town
The next morning I planned to visit Trujillo , as I read in the guide book about the many colonial buildings and style. This time, I took a bus to the city, an old creature all painted with red, orange and yellow colors, and the whole bus looks like a peculiar fire dragon. Inside, however, the bus is poor in seats comfort and beauty and amusing enough, the gear lever is located behind the driver at it´s right side so the driver needs to send his hand backward and to shift fear. Due to the climate was still foggy, I traveled in the city slowly, enjoying strolling without any specific aim, and luckily enough, the same day there was a parade of school children. calle Pizzaro was also closed for pedestrians so the whole environment was like in holiday, and a lot of the locals, businessmen and beggars alike enjoyed the sun once it dispersed the heavy grey fog.
One of the motifs in Trujillo is the front door/window grills, metal bars that are suppose to deter thieves but also were designed attractively and lead to the nick of such building style as Tujillian style (even though I saw the same grills also in Arequipa). Named as it is, it was a nice day traveling in the city and I enjoyed the colonial architecture with their nice gate entrances, front grills and shady courtyards with the sculptures and fountains hidden inside them. In one time I got inside a club house, dated from the 19th century which housed two billiard tables, which I captured before I was told that I am forbidden entering these rooms outside visiting hours…In the afternoon I already went and purchased a ticket to Cajamarca, a little town settled in the northern parts of the Peruvian Andes.

Cajamarca - Inca´s history, Italian flavours and Peruvian present
The next morning I arranged my stuff and went to have my last breakfast at the hostel. After I finished I was sitting down and reading a book when a brit named Andy just came in with his friend and had a breakfast in the little courtyard where I sat. Andy was just coming into Trujillo from Chachapoyas, a town northern of Cajamarca, and one of my destination. My interest in this little town was the near Kuelap ruins, which were also Andy´s interest. Andy, it seems from our little chat, was disappointed from the ruins and to his opinion it was no worth the rough ride to the fortress, located some 3000 meter ASL. As I planned to go to Chachapoyas through the even rougher road from Cajamarca (Andy did it from Chiclayo , northern town on the coast), I assessed that I better skip the whole idea and instead invest the little time I had in Arequipa and the Colca canyon. I had already a bus to Cajamarca, so I decided that I will stay in Cajamarca one or two nights and then head back straight for Lima , if possible.
The ride to Cajamarca was a scenic one, as first we passed the desert coastal plain and while penetrating more and more into the land, the view changed color to green and valleys rich with vegetation and crops greeted us. Numerous pictures I snapped on that road, till we got around 5:30 pm to the city of Cajamarca . On my way looking for a taxi, a local offered to go together in a taxi and I accepted, as I already saw him on one of our stops on the way to Cajamarca. We drove to the hostel I was planning to stay and was not surprised when he got off without paying. That little snake, but I didn't’t mind…If it made him happy, let it be.
The hostel I chose was Chota hostel, not a good choice I found it later. I went straight outside to find something to eat, and decided to go with the guide´s book recommendation about an Italian restaurant.
Getting inside OM-GRI, I found the chef and owner talking lazily with his waitress. Aside from them and 5 minimalist tables with stalls around them, nobody was occupying the low lit restaurant. Even though I know that empty restaurant are usually too expensive or too bad, I checked the menu, and indeed, this restaurant was a bit expensive. But, I decided that I will stay and taste some Italian food, as I go the feeling that this is a gem. And it is, indeed, a gem!
Tito, the owner go into work around the little kitchen that was in the same room as the sitting area (how minimalist more it can be) and chatted with me as much as I could considering my level of Spanish. It was a lively chat, and Tito in some way reminded me of my father, with his grey short haircut and love for cooking, or as Tito put it, cooking straight from the heart to the pots. He had the restaurant for almost 18 years and even though business was not the greatest, he liked what he does and he didn't’t mind serving food for one of two persons a day, as long as he managed to keep his head above the water line. The Pasta Al Pesto was ready and he poured generously the sauce on top the steaming Pasta (just thinking about it makes my mouth water…) and with a hand spread the Parmesan cheese freckles. Well, what can I tell you, it was a delicious feast! The best Italian Pasta I ate in the whole trip so far. A best! While I was soaking up the remaining of the sauce with garlic bread, his friend came with her brother, and as she knew English well enough to speak, we had an hour of talk about Peruvian politics and the like (as usual, I find good info about the country I am in only when I find an English speaking local…).
It´s a sad story, actually, the story of the present Peruvian people, as governments and governors are ever changing, but not their custom to robe the people of appropriate level of living. As they are all corrupt, most of the Peruvian money goes to the rich and to the ones that are close to the plate, and the middle class with the poor class fight for the crumbs. In addition, mines near Cajamarca (specifically, Yanacocha mine) is polluting the area and nature by spilling their chemical waste straight into the mountain streams and by doing so, not only polluting the drinking water that come into Cajamarca, but also the nearby nature, causing a decrease in Cattle and farming yield, and making the area´s economy even worse, and that without speaking about the Cancer cases due to the heavy metals pollution. Hearing all this, I could feel the desperate voice in her voice, not knowing what to do. ”We are all slaves of the government, just plain slaves,” she commented and then added “I prefer to be a slave for the money in the then to be a slave to the government. At least there, I can earn some money to live properly”. I didn't’t know what to say. It was a sad moment.
I left Tito´s place, hinting that I might visit again the next day. I went to have some coffee and Pecan pie (not much) and then returned to the hostel. I arranged my stuff and headed for the shower, only to grasp that there is no water in the pipes. Shit. I went down, with only my towel on my waist, and found out there is no water. I mistakenly, thought it was a serious problem, and instinctively I barked that I am checking out of the damn hostel (as usual, all tempered! Need to work on myself more and more). In the end, after seeing it was half past 11 at night, I guessed I better sleep as is and not venture outside with all my stuff just to be mugged. Lets say, that I cursed myself for getting such a lousy hostel and next time if I see that most hostels charge more, I can guess this is the street price, that under it I should not venture!
The next day I woke up early, wrapped all my stuff and head out of the hostel straight to another hostel that I knew would be better (and will cost more!). I did a check in and, already by 7:30 am I was already walking into the Plaza De Aramas, the same plaza that 500 years before the Spaniards ended the Inca empire by capturing Atahualpa, the Inca of the northern part of the Inca empire. Afterwards, I walked up to the Cerro Santa Apolonia, a hill that has an interesting stair case that leads to the porch overlooks Cajamarca. At that time of day, only locals were there, pitching up their stalls and filling them with artisan souvenirs. I snapped several pictures and went down to have a little breakfast in the plaza, and then went to see the El Cuarto del Rescate, The Ransom Chamber, the only Inca-dated house that still stands in Cajamarca. In this house Atahualpa was held captive till he was executed by hanging (and that's after he agreed to be baptized; If he would not succumb to this action he would have burned on the stake in the middle of the Plaza...Great choice of death, ha??).
Well, the building is of little interest, as it is empty and closed from all sides due to conversation work. Lets say, that I saw more impressive buildings in the other Inca sites in the Sacred Valley (not to mention Machu Picchu). After that I just walked around, entered the hospital and church of El Complejo de Belen and bought a ticket for the night bus to Lima. Time was running out on me and I had to start my move south.
Around 1 pm I visited Tito in his restaurant and had another great smelly and steamy pasta. We talked a bit and after some time I made my move back to the city, passing the time till I went back to the hostel for my stuff.

Lima and the help of a Hackerman!
I arrived to Lima after a sleepless night on the bus. As usually, as I am not a type of bus-sleeping guy. In addition, the guy that was sitting beside me had his girlfriend calling him at 11:00 PM, when all the bus was already deep into snoring and sweet dreams. To make things even worse, his cellular curse started make the 2 minutes beep, just to remind him it is a live, like a mechanical slow rate heart. Damn, I got pissed off and asked him (as coolly as I could) to turn off the damn thing, which he of course did. Thank god!
Arriving at the Lima around 9 am, I decided that I better purchase a ticket now so I would not have to take another taxi back to the terminal. Once I purchase a ticket for the next Sunday, I grabbed a taxi and headed for the popular Casa de Muchileros, which is 15 minutes walk from the center of Miraflores.
Arriving at the hostel, the owner, Pilar, found me a bed in a dormitory. Entering the dormitory to throw my things in, I found an Israeli guy already half a sleep, named Avihay. Turns out, he just landed 3 hours before from the US and was still in some sort of a jet-leg. We talked a bit and we were acquainted with another Israeli, Amitay, that was waiting for his father`s flight to Lima. While Amitay was planning to meet his father, me and Amihay went out to eat something and to walk a bit in Miraflores, as I was looking for a good film developing shop. I took with me my handbook but I forgot it at the Dunkn Donuts, and we had to return half Miraflores for it. On the way we entered a shop to buy some notepads and pens, and while standing in front of the cashier, we were surprised by a Peruvian guy that spoke with us with good Hebrew. Turns out, that Daniel Hackerman was living in Israel for one year and caught the language quite fast and he lived in Lima all his live. Although commenting that his Hebrew is rusty, we both were surprised to here such good Hebrew, with a good vocabulary. While talking with him, Avihay asked him if he knows about a good dentist, as he had had some problems in the past month after a dentist in the US didn't finished the job. Daniel smiled and said that luckily, his step-father owns a private clinic in Miraflores and that he can call him and check what he can do. And, generously, he did. He even offered us a lift, as he had a day off of his job, as a commercial attorney. We got into his modern Opel and drove to the clinic, while chatting and asking him a lot of questions. When I asked him what he thinks about Lima he told me, half joking, that Lima is an ugly city with some beautiful places to see.
We reached the clinic and went up to the dental branch, where two Secretaries helped us with the aid of Daniel Spanish. After some bureaucratize, Amihay went in with Daniel and myself, as I was surprised to be invited in...
The doctor, a very nice and young Peruvian at first used the aid of Daniel but suddenly, she thought about talking English and then Daniel was almost no needed. We talked a bit and Daniel gave us his business card if we gonna need any help and we thanked him warmly. It is not an everyday event to meet with such a kind and warm person, and we thought he might want to have a drink with us later...
Amihay passed the operation quite good, and as he expected, he needed a root canal. SHUCKS! I still remembered mine, and it didn't gave me any good feeling about the whole thing.
My time in Lima passed with Amihay and Amitay (quite funny, I must admit) and Sunday afternoon I said farewell to Amitay and Pilar, and took a taxi to the terminal for the long bus to Arequipa...

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