North coast Peru travel doesn’t showcase the best of north Peru for the tourist; much more excitement on the Andean route. Loads to see there. But we got that tick last year and boy, is it a sloooow way to go! So this time, after arriving in south Peru from Brazil, crossing all the way over the central highlands from the Amazon to Lima, we’re winding-up Peru with a long run up the coast to Ecuador. We’ve done this leg before, but this time we see some history, watch some whales, hit the far-west and have a ‘ponder on Peru’ as we leave it for the last time.
On our way to Lima it’s impossible not to notice that something is afoot in the towns and villages. Peruvians are always admirably patriotic and rarely miss an opportunity to fly their flag. But throughout early July, more flags and red/white banners than usual start adorning the streets and plazas. More street-vendors than usual sell red and white paraphernalia. A quick chat with one such vendor establishes that 28th July is National Day, the anniversary of Peru’s declaration of independence.
‘Fiestas Patrias’ is a big deal here, a holiday-weekend, but not in a ‘party-parades’ kind of way. The big parade in Lima is a purely military affair, a kind of ‘My-army’s-bigger-than-your-army’ display. El Presidente has a bit of a natter with the crowds, lots of flag-waving and some low-key entertainment for families in parks. But most of all… Peruvians hit the road. They travel far and wide to get together for ‘family time’. The media predicts there will be over 1.5 million more Peruvians than ususal on the road this weekend :-0 Rather than attempt to confirm or discredit this alleged statistic, we decide to stay-put and see the sites of Lima for a few more days.
It’s not all Inca-stuff
Fiestas over… as the good people of Peru head back to work, we hit the road again. En-route we pass some historical sites that we missed last time. More Inca-stuff? Well, no… older than that. I’m embarrassed to say that for many years I laboured under the sadly misguided impression that the Incas were some ancient civilisation of thousands of years ago. Not so. The Inca-stuff is actually only around 500 years old; there are many sites much older than that in Peru. The Chavín, Moche, Sicán and Chimú civilisations all pre-date the Incas and we visit several of their former stomping grounds.
We’re not massive ancient-history geeks and at some sites we struggle to ‘get’ the fascination with piles of rubble (even very old piles of rubble!). But even we were impressed by the ruins at Chan Chan near Trujillo. This is a huuuuge site… apparently the largest adobe ruins in the world. The detailed decoration on the adobe walls is remarkably well preserved in the prevailing bone-dry heat.
Also impressive is the museum at Lambayeque – an extraordinary world-class display (as good as any European museum) of the Lord of Sipán’s tomb. The exhibits of gold and pottery found in the tomb with the mummified bodies are of such significance that they were taken on a world tour when they were found in the late 1980s. Rather than being transferred to one of Lima’s shiny venues, they have rightly ended up close to where they were discovered, in an otherwise unremarkable part of north Peru. But, fascinating though this history-stuff is, we’re looking forward to some beachy time!
Regular Cuthbert followers may recall that a few months ago we weren’t overly impressed by the far easterly point of South America – Ponta do Seixas in Brazil. Here in Peru we hit the most westerly point at Punta Balcones – a much nicer spot. A beautiful headland between two long empty beaches. It’s a sunny blustery day and we clamber out precariously across the tops of the rocks for the views from the out-post. That’s the farthest south, east and west done. Just need to do the far north point in Colombia… coming soon!
Beaches and whales
Last year on our way through these parts we stumbled upon a marvellous beach camp run by a Swiss couple. Look at the pics… no prizes for guessing why we were keen to come back. But this year it’s even better… it’s whale season! Sitting outside Cuthbert with a cup of coffee on a beautiful morning, we’re on a palm-fringed beach watching an extraordinary display of whales breaching and crashing in the sparkly-blue ocean. Truly awesome! Remind me again why we travel?😊
We end up staying at Swiss Wasi for 10 days. We pottered about, did some beach walks, a bit of laundry, some cleaning, some routine maintenance on Cuthbert, had fun company of other travellers. Hard to drag ourselves away, but Ecuador beckons…
Pondering on Peru
So… we’ve now driven the length of the country three times. That’s a lotta, lotta Peru miles. It’s time to ponder on Peru…
First, the people. They don’t have the vivacious out-going nature of the Brazilians, but they’re warm, welcoming and helpful if you make the first move. Not the most considerate of drivers, but they’re not alone there 😊. Peru might not be a leading-light of 21st Century global development, but in most of the areas that a tourist would want to see, the infrastructure is fine. The less-touristy north suffers in this regard, but the south with attractions like Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Lake Titicaca has a good-quality roads and fairly modern facilities.
A massive and unfortunate criticism of the whole of Peru is litter. In fact ‘litter’ implies an occasional scattering of a few bits of rubbish here and there. Peru’s problem is mucho worse than this… it is by far the dirtiest, most rubbish-strewn countryside in South America. Very sad to see in such a beautiful country. It wouldn’t be hard to do something about it, but nobody seems to care!
Another thing that struck us about Peru is the food culture. The cuisine can be simple or sophisticated and some of crops are unique. Why? Here goes…
Peruvians love corn/maize in many varieties and colours: white, yellow, purple, red, grey and sometimes even a mixture of all these. They eat it many ways and make the popular fermented drink ‘chicha’ out of it too. Quinoa is popular and traditional crop too. But it’s increasingly unaffordable for many Peruvians; demand from the new international cool-kids’ quinoa-fad is driving prices up beyond their reach. Potatoes – you’ve never seen so many varieties anywhere. They have literally hundreds of species from the humble white spud to many with brightly coloured flesh – red, yellow, purple. They make stews, and ‘causa’ a delicious potato-cake-stack-thing.
Next is raw fish/ceviche – little short of a national obsession. It’s advertised outside almost every restaurant in the country, though if you want to avoid too much toilet-time, you might not want to try it anywhere too far from the coast or a major river!
Finally, ‘la crème de la crème’: guinea pig or ‘cuy’. In one restaurant, you can choose your cuy as it runs around in a little guinea-pig play-house! Restaurants often display pictures of cute, smiley little guinea pigs in chefs’ outfits. Presumably they weren’t told at the photo-shoot that they were posing as their own menu item 😉
Unlike food in most of South America, Peru isn’t just about ‘authentic’ and ‘rural’ cuisine. Here’s a cool foodie-fact: Lima has several of the world’s most highly recognised Michelin starred chefs and it regularly ranks in the Top 10 gourmet-foodie destinations. There are many top-notch nosh-houses here serving high-end Peruvian/Andean cuisine with the chef’s personal twist on the traditional. Yeah…. unfortunately we don’t have much experience of these to report!
Anyway… onwards now. After a total of around three months in Peru, we’re at the border. All the Soles are spent and we’re ready for Ecuador!