Bald dogs and funny biscuits

Trip Start May 01, 2005
Trip End Mar 25, 2006

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Flag of Peru  ,
Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I can't decide which I hate more, mozzies or cockroaches. The hotel in Chiclayo (of the infamous cable telly) had so many cockroaches, they interrupted my viewing pleasure. But at least they are easier to kill than mozzies. Helen 10, Cockroaches 0.

Having had our fill of pyramids and rapidly running out of books, my travelling companions (Nick, British and Monica, Norwegian) and I headed to Trujillo, a nice clean town down the coast filled with beautiful colonial buildings and great doughnut shops. Nick, who is 6ft 8in, was followed around by a mad old bloke who kept trying to measure him, like a Peruvian Norris McWhirter. We visited Chan Chan, the ruined capital of the Chimu empire (AD 1300) where, according to the guide, there was "hoomun" sacrifice of small children as gifts to the gods. What a great threat if your kids are misbehaving - "Do that again and the priest will chop off your head and drink your blood". Could be one for the new Pope. We saw the fabulous Temples of the Sun and Moon (AD 600) where the excavations are ongoing and truly fascinating. Here too you can marvel at the famous Peruvian hairless dogs, said to be used as body warmers for arthritis sufferers. Sort of like Deep Heat, only heavier and probably a bit scratchy.

From Trujillo, we decided to forego the 'it's for wimps' easy night bus to Huaraz and instead took the local two-bus, 12-hour day trip there through the El Callejón de Huaylas road and the Canón del Pato. The first bus took us to the town of Chimbote, and I agree with the guide book when it says the best thing about this town is the road out of there. Think enormous fish market on a sweltering hot day. At the bus station, we were accosted by fortune tellers who presumably wanted to predict if we would survive the second bus journey, which was spectacular but pant-soiling scary. Driving on narrow, unpaved roads for hours, the bus clung to the sides of massive gorges, imposing rock faces above us dotted with the kind of giant cacti you only see in Disney films and tiny cacti that looked like green daleks wearing woolly red hats. When you reach the Canón, you slip through 46 tunnels constructed after the 1970 earthquake to limit any future damage. We got stuck behind another bus with a flat tyre and managed to get past, but clipped the back of it in the process. Cue much shovel-waving, pushing and Queensbury-rules type facing-off between the two bus drivers. We arrived in Huaraz that night with sore arses but some great photos of authentic Peruvian Handbag Waving.

Huaraz is the place to come for mountain climbing and trekking. The town, at just over 3000 metres, is surrounded by the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhash mountain ranges (now famous for 'Touching the Void'), lakes and glaciers. The scenery is just stunning. The town was full of rugged-looking, chunky Europeans carrying crampons, tents and freeze-dried food, so of course we fitted right in. One of the great things about travelling is learning about other cultures, and no doubt to extend her knowledge, an Israeli girl asked Monica "You speak great English, is that the only language spoken in Norway?". This girl had done a thesis on mathematical games (?) and thought she was Russell Crowe in 'A Beautiful Mind'. Should have done geography instead. After a couple of days looking at the lakes and glaciers, eating Thai food and drinking Chilean red wine, we left on the night bus for Lima. On the journey we watched a dodgy Vin Diesel film featuring numerous British actors. Shame on you, Dame Judi.

From Lima, I said a sad goodbye to Nick and Monica and flew to Iquitos in the north of Peru, allegedly the only major town in the world accessible just by air and boat. It's noisy, hot and steamy, 90% humidity and mozzies as big as your fist. From here, I plan to get three boats all the way down the Amazon to the east coast of Brazil. I shall miss my Mum's 70th birthday party next week in the UK (sob), dammit I'm always down the Amazon when these things come up. Happy Birthday Mum!

Yesterday I had a look at the cargo boats that go to Tabatinga on the Brazilian border, but they looked decidedly ropey. Three toilets for 200 people over three days? Worse than the queue for the gents at half-time at Highbury. I have chickened out and am getting the 12-hour speedboat instead. I have started taking malaria tablets in readiness for the journey. Allegedly they are a mild antibiotic, but given that I was convinced Donald Sutherland was riding a horse outside my door at 5am this morning, I'm not so sure ...

A few useful facts for other travellers:

1. When you get money out of an ATM in Peru, some receipts print the card´s entire number rather than just the last four digits. I eat my receipts now, yum yum.
2. In Huaraz, stay at the hostel Albergue Churup, it's just been renovated and is fantastic apart from the owner's doberman puppy which is boisterous and therefore scared me a bit.
3. Bored? Many hours can be whiled away in local supermarkets, sniggering childishly at the names of certain products. My favourites so far are 'Fanny Jam', 'ChocoBum' biscuits (possibly what happens once you've eaten them) and 'English Toffees' which have a picture of a Scots Guard on the front.

I'm sad to leave Peru, I really liked it when I was here in the south last year. Peruvian people are friendly, small, and interested in where you're from and what you're doing (reading that back, it sounds like a description of either me or a Hobbit). The vast majority of Peruvians have an incredibly hard life and - serious bit here - it does make you feel very grateful for what you've got.

Onwards to Brazil .... and seeing my sister Julia in four weeks!
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