#2 Peru, January 29, 2000

Dear Everybody,

To let you know what I’ve been doing—I left Huaraz on a ‘chicken bus’ —it took quite awhile to load my suitcase and numerous other baskets and parcels on the top of the bus. My suitcase weighs 23 kg (51 lbs.)–quite a feat for the man to lift it over his head and for the one on the top of the bus to pull it up!

I can’t begin to describe the scenery. It was probably the most spectacular ride I’ve ever taken on a dirt road that did switchbacks up to six times on the single mountain.  All the time we were viewing the whole range of snow-capped Andes, seeing more and more of them as we went higher and higher. Since we started at over 10,000 feet from Huaraz, and I could see it as “little tiny” way down in the valley below, we must have been at around 14-15,000 feet. The bus (a funny little narrow one) was loaded–it had people sitting/standing in the aisle. Later we went through lower mountains (still high) and saw isolated families living in huts doing some sheep and cattle farming. Still later–complete desert mountain rocks and sand with not one blade of weed or cactus. Finally we came to the lowlands on the coast where there is quite a bit of irrigation from the rivers that come from the Andes, making green patches of mango trees, papaya and corn. It’s amazing how this terrain forced cooperation and trade and the need for control of large areas early in their history, as each area had resources that the others needed. And the distances were not so great that they couldn’t be managed with alpacas and llamas. There were wide ranging empires as far back as 1200 BC because of this.

Finally I came to Casma where I had a lovely hotel with a swimming pool and beautiful gardens ($14.58/night). The pool felt wonderful.  Two backpackers that were also on the bus (we were the only gringos) stayed there too, but they bargained even harder than I did, and got a double room for $11.66. We spent the next two days together. Austin was from Ireland and Kathy was from England; they had been traveling since 1996!

We three took an autorickshaw (like in India) and went to see the ruins of Sechin, from 1600 BC. Marvelous walls of carved stones with figures from two to six feet high showed soldiers decapitating their captives.  The heads had grimacing mouths, closed eyes, and loose hair to show humiliation. (How humiliating to have your head chopped off!) We also took a rickshaw to see the ruins of Moxeke, but these turned out to be nothing to see. But we did get close to the landscape (more like a moonscape) and to some farmers and animals in the irrigated valleys. We had to get out and push up the sand hills a couple of times.

The next day I took the bus to Trujillo—their 3rd largest city. It’s a beautiful colonial town with pastel painted buildings with lots of white pretty wrought iron grillwork on the windows. (One could call them security bars—but no!) I found a tourist policeman named Rubens Llaxas who only does “tourist policing” in the mornings, and becomes a private guide in the afternoons. So we went to see Chan Chan, a huge, huge Chimu city made of mud about 1300 AD, and also visited two other smaller Chimu sites.

The next afternoon we did the temples of the Sun and Moon, which are Moche from about 300 AD. Oh, and the Marinera dancing—one night I went to see a contest of this special dance that they do once a year in competition, which involves the woman dancing barefoot, and the man with shoes, with each doing lots of white handerchief waving and many quick steps. (A little like the Mexican Hat Dance without the hat). It was amazing to see teenage boys with big tennis shoes and baggy shorts doing this dance with the handkie!

I ate cuy (guinea pig) again for lunch one day and this time it was better. I also ordered beer, salad, camote (sweet potato) and choclo (corn on the cob). I think I won’t order cuy again—I don’t see what they see in it, but maybe some people feel the same about lutefisk.  Anyway, seeing the cuy’s teeth (they split the head in two) and little eye is kind of off-putting.

The next day I took a tiny bus stuffed full of people to Huanchaco—a small village on the Pacific Ocean noted for fishermen using “caballitos’ (little horses) which are tortora reed boats that they sit on while casting nets to catch fish. The design is a thousand years old (proven by ceramics) and it was fun to see them paddle out and back. I also ate their catch, made into ceviche which is essentially pieces of raw fish in lemon juice, onions and hot peppers, which cooks it, sort of.

Now I’m back in Trujillo, (flagged the bus down on the highway in Huanchaco) and have bought my bus ticket to Cajamarca which will take eight hours tomorrow. It is a return to the mountains, but not so high as Huaraz. Today in Trujillo there are many parades because of the marinera competition. The queen is here and there with bandaged feet from all the dancing.

The weather has been splendid—hot, but not too hot. In the shade it can even get a little cool! So much fun to hear from you!


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