Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The rest of Peru

Ceviche: my new favourite food.
There’s more to Peru than Machu Picchu and lines.

Back on the salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia, I had bumped into a bunch of cyclists, some of whom were cycling from Alaska to Ushuaia. One of the cyclists was a Peruvian, with them for just a couple of weeks. He had invited me to stay with him and his family in Lima, and so I took him up on his offer after a long, straight bus ride from Nazca up the Pan-American Highway along the coast to the capital. He met me at the bus terminal and he and his brother took me on a driving tour of their city, highlighting the traffic problems as they did so. They live in a peaceful suburb of Lima, which is a city of over seven million people. Being a cyclist and with plans of starting his own cycle tours of the city, my host was keen for me to be his guinea pig for the day as he led me around all the best (and lesser known) sights. We weaved in and out of the traffic, right under the nose of policemen. Cyclists are such a rare sight that they don’t yet know what to make of them and so turned a blind eye to our blatant flouting of the road laws.

Plaza San Martín, Lima
I enjoyed the whole day thoroughly, but a few things stood out. One was a statue in Plaza San Martín, which depicts a lady with a llama on her head. Apparently the sculptor was requested to put flames on her head, which are, unfortunately, llama in Spanish. He misunderstood and put an actual llama on it. I think it’s quite befitting for a country known primarily for its llamas. Near to the popular Miraflores area is the church next to Parque Kennedy, home to hundreds and hundreds of cats. I think the church looks after them (I noticed the biggest bowl of cat food I’ve ever seen) but an official sign warned against any unauthorised people feeding them. I’d love to be an official cat-feeder. We went to have lunch in a traditional restaurant called Mi Perú. They’re renowned for their ceviche and I obliged by ordering a bowl of this lovely fishy mix. It contains a lot of different types of raw seafood, all marinated in a spicy, citrus sauce. Me gusta. Me gusta mucho.

Cats! Cats! Cats! Hundreds of them being looked after by a church in Lima.
In the evening we went to Parque de la Reserva, which holds the world record for the most number of fountains in a public space. As the sun went down a lightshow began, projecting laser-videos of traditional dancing on to the huge sheets of water. There were also some fountains you could walk under, though annoying children kept putting their hands in the jets to make me wet. To be honest I think my anger just encouraged them. After dinner with his smiling, happy parents, we went out to sample the Lima night life, which in typical Latin American style starts far too late. Still, there’s nothing like a dark, sweet Cusqueña beer to make time fly.

One of the many fountains in Parque de la Reserva, Lima.
Missing the mountains, we took a bus up into the Cordillera Blanca. The usual town to stay is Huaraz, but my host had given me a tip for a place to stay outside of the town, up in the mountains themselves. It’s called The Way Inn, a lodge surrounded by incredible scenery and not much else. We spent five nights there, trekking up to high lakes (Laguna Churup is at 4450m), and taking in the fresh, clean mountain air. It’s a fantastic escape from the usual bustle of South American life, but I didn’t have an entirely relaxed time.

Let me explain. There were a number of hippies staying in the lodge, volunteering as part of the owners’ sustainability goals. One meets a lot of different characters whilst travelling, but I suppose most swing towards the left-wing liberal side of things. These guys were on the very extreme end of that scale. They comprised, amongst others, a man who had devoted his life to studying and eating mushrooms and an American who was known to others as the ‘shaman’. He would lead traditional ceremonies in which participants would get stoned off their faces on some kind of plant root and then puke up everywhere. He called this medicine. Then they would sit around and discuss how this root had purged them, physically and mentally, and made them rethink their lives. No kidding. Perhaps I’m being too quick to dismiss it, but it seems to me that a drug that makes you sick can’t be all that great for you, and just because people in a jungle have been doing it for a long time doesn’t mean it’s good. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence for it in the journals, but then these guys will tell you that’s due to the global conspiracy amongst scientists.

This is where I took offence. I listened intently to one of their rants about how the earth is going to be flooded next year due to something to do with magnetism being out of sync or something, but when I questioned some of the non-science being spouted I was told I had been profiled by the government to do the research I’ve done, so my opinion as a scientist is worthless. Apparently only their liberated, unbiased opinions – formulated in the heads of druggies – are valid. I have no problem with differing opinions and beliefs, but if you want to convince people of them or use them as justifications for certain behaviours and ideals, you have to have evidence. Science, though not perfect, is the best method we have for that. Making things up is not.

They were, however, thoroughly well-meaning people whose aims included developing hydro-electric power, bio-digestion and other self-sustaining energy solutions for the lodge. I agree totally with these plans, though not for the same reasons.

Trekking through the Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz.
We ended up staying at the lodge longer than expected due to miners protesting on the roads leading away from Huaraz. One morning, thinking buses would be running, we made our way back down to Huaraz only to find that there was still no way out. Instead, a fellow backpacker and I spent the afternoon in the local thermal baths, which is actually just a swimming pool of lukewarm, brown water inhabited by fifty men showing off their bad swimming strokes to the one or two women. We spent that night in Huaraz then took what seemed to be the only bus out of there, towards Trujillo, changing in Chimbote on the coast.

We arrived in Trujillo and located a hotel near to the bus station. Whilst Trujillo itself isn’t particularly interesting, nearby are some very old temples, including the Moche temples of Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna, dating from around 100AD. These pyramid-like structures are located some way off the coast in the arid desert, the former being a sacrificial/ceremonial establishment, the latter the home to the monks who ran the show. Although they’re falling apart, the work that went into them is plainly evident. Over hundreds of years, they were expanded by simply repeating the structure over the top of the old buildings and sealing them off. Now, through the crumbling walls, one can see smaller pyramids inside the larger ones, their inside walls painted with the large, red, scary faces so typical of this civilisation.

The Huacas (temples) of the Moche civilisation near Trujillo.
Unfortunately, we had to escape Peru and make haste for Ecuador, for we had tickets booked for the Galapagos Islands. So after a night out in a local German microbrewery, we took a long bus ride up along the coast towards the border. All we saw on the way was the Pacific out of the left window and the desert out of the right, before entering very different scenery in Ecuador. I shall write about that next time!

Up the northern coast towards Ecuador.

No comments:

Post a Comment