Whitlocks Round the World - Travel Diary for April 04

Click here to read the latest newsThe diary of our trip round the world. You can view other diary entries by clicking the highlighted months at the bottom of the page or by clicking on one of the countries visited so far. Click our logo (on the left) to see the most recent news entries. We are adding new entries from Internet Cafés as we travel, so updates may be irregular. Please check back often to see how we are getting along.

Countries visited so far: UK Latvia Lithuania Poland Slovak Republic Hungary Romania Bulgaria Greece Egypt Tanzania Malawi Mozambique South Africa Swaziland South Africa (again) Argentina Bolivia Peru Ecuador Vietnam China Mongolia Russia England

5th April Peru
Lima - distorted due to broken camera - Click to enlargeAfter returning from the jungle, we stayed in Lima for a few days before moving on.

On 2nd April we said goodbye to Sarah and Beth, who were returning to England. I can never remember a month passing more quickly than the one they spent with us. We managed to cram so much in to such a short time, and it went like a flash. Talking of cramming things in, incredibly we managed to pack all of the stuff we had bought in La Paz, and which we couldn’t send home because of the cost of the postage, into Sarah’s rucksack. (Sarah assured us that she would be able to manage the extra weight!) The night before they left we went for a meal in the restaurant where we had eaten on Esther’s birthday. Over a couple of glasses of wine we reflected on all we had done together in an amazing month!

Back to being just the four of us again, we turned our attention to trying to find a replacement for the broken camera, and updating the website, although neither of these objectives was particularly successful Semana Santa (Holy Week) began over the weekend, Sunday being Palm Sunday. On Friday and Saturday nights we saw the somber and elaborate procession heading through central Lima. A Christ-idol upon a huge litter bedecked with flowers and candles was carried slowly through the town, accompanied by incense wavers, somber marchers, and a brass and woodwind band playing dramatic and atmospheric music. Once the procession had finished, though, people seemed to forget the somber mood and spent the rest of the evening (and night, particularly on Saturday) partying and enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, all this seemed to happen right outside our window, from which we could see the cathedral. By Monday we had had enough of the festivities, and decided, however unresolved the camera situation, to leave Lima.

We caught a bus north from Lima and headed along the Panamericana highway to Casma. Casma is a small town famed for the nearby pre-Incan Sechín ruins, and the beach resort of Tortugas. We spent one night in Casma and then ‘hit the beach’.

7th April Peru
Casma and Tortugas
Ruins at Sechin, near Casma - Click to enlargeFrom Casma we caught the local ‘colectivo’ minibus to the beach resort of Tortugas. It was a funny place with lots of hotels and restaurants and holiday homes belonging to rich Limeños, but not a lot going on! In fact it was practically deserted. The beach was stony with dark sand, and not an idyllic golden stretch as we had hoped. Surrounded by desert for miles, there wasn’t a palm tree in sight, and the town was hot and very exposed.

But, although we were a little disappointed at first, Tortugas turned out to be just what we needed. It was peaceful and the sound of the waves was soothing, and there were lots of seabirds to watch, diving for fish or flying majestically across the bay. We saw pelicans, boobies, gulls and (I think) oyster catchers. We spent a lovely, relaxing day there, walking around the bay and exploring the stony beaches and rocky outcrops.

We could see a natural archway in the distance and decided to aim for that. We worked our way slowly along the beach, stopping to look for crabs in the rock pools and for the children to play at dodging the spray from the large but lazy waves that crashed and spilled over the rocks. The crabs were great. We saw little grey ones scuttling over mussel encrusted rocks, and some big red ones with white spots and evil-looking eyes. We happily passed the time looking for them. There were also sea anemones and urchins, as well as little fish in the pools. Esther enjoyed collecting pretty shells and pelican feathers, and Tom played with the sea and watched the water run from rock pool to rock pool through little channels, while trying not to get his feet wet!

To get to the natural archway, we had to walk up and over a rocky hill, which ended in a cliff down to the sea. As we rounded a bend in the path we came face to face with a pelican, which was sitting on a rock there. The huge, prehistoric-looking bird watched us with a beady eye as we approached. When it didn’t take off we quickly realised that it was injured. We felt sorry, but could do nothing. We just watched until he had made his limping way down to the sea. The last stretch to the archway was a scramble across rocks, but we made it in one piece, and it was a lovely, deserted place to sit and watch the sea and feel peaceful.

We made our way back and ate delicious seafood at a restaurant in the village. Later, back at the hotel, the children and I drew pictures of some of the shells they had collected. We had had a lovely, peaceful day by the sea.

The following day we travelled on to Trujillo, but first made time to visit the Sechín ruins near Casma. Not much is known about the pre-Incan tribe who built the fortified temple at Sechín, but this is one of the earliest-built sites discovered in Peru (about 600BC). There must have been other tribes about, though, as they were clearly warriors. Their temple is surrounded by high walls which are covered with intricate designs depicting people being beheaded and eviscerated!

13th April Peru
Trujillo - Huanchaco
Sunset, surf and sand - The beach at Huanchaco - Click to enlargeWe stayed in Trujillo for two nights before transferring to the nearby village of Huanchaco.

Trujillo itself was not a bad place, and there were plenty of restaurants that sold, among other things, delicious cakes! We decided to visit Huanchaco, though, because we had read that traditional reed boats, or totoras were used there for fishing, and we were interested enough to go and take a look.

When we got there, though, we found that, far from being a sleepy fishing village, Huanchaco was a busy beach resort full of holidaying Limeños away for the Easter weekend. We sat on the beach for a while. It was glorious; soft golden sand and clear, though cold, water with fantastic surf. We decided to pack up and move from Trujillo to Huanchaco the next day, and spent the next three days there.

On one of the days we spent on the beach, we hired a body board for Tom as he (and I) fancied trying out the surf. We didn’t have all that much success. The waves were massive there and people from as far as the USA were there to surf. It was all we could do to battle against the waves to get far enough away from the beach to take our feet off the ground, and then you have to catch the wave at just the right moment, or you don’t go anywhere! It was fun, though, and bracing!

14th April Peru
Chiclayo - The tombs of Sipán
Reconstructed tomb of 'El Señor de Sipán' - Click to enlargeWe decided to make our next stop at Chiclayo, where we hoped to be able to visit Sipán, which was a major ceremonial site for the Moche culture, including the tomb of the ‘Lord of Sipán’, said to be one of the most important archaeological finds of the century. (I think they mean the C20th!)

We thought it would be a good idea to hook up with a tour to go and see the ruins, but guided tours to this site, it seems, are tailor-made, and therefore expensive. In the end we took a taxi. Joel, our driver, offered to take us to the ruins and then to the museum in the neighbouring town of Lambeyeque, wait for us at both sites and return us to our hotel for 60 soles (10 pounds). We took him up on his offer.

First we went to the ruins themselves. The Moche culture was powerful in northern Peru from around 200BC to 700AD. The ruins of an important sanctuary, or ceremonial site, were discovered at Sipán in 1987. The site consists, or rather consisted, of three large pyramid structures made of adobe bricks, with smooth ramps leading to the tops. The site was used for human sacrifices and blood-letting, as well as for a cemetery for important figures, such as ‘El Señor de Sipán’ himself. When discovered his tomb contained a wealth of artefacts including funerary masks and jewellery and armour made of gold, silver and gilded copper, as well as the skeletons of various servants and concubines and animals, who were buried with him, alive! There were also hundreds of clay pots containing the remains of food and drinks for the afterlife. We hired a guide to explain the site to us and he took us round the ruins and the small on-site museum and gave us an extraordinarily detailed explanation of what we were seeing.

Then we went to the museum in Lambeyeque. It was incredible. One of the best laid out museums we have been to anywhere, it displays the findings from the Sipán tombs alongside photographs showing how the archaeologists excavated all the amazing and wonderfully preserved items. The huge crowns, collars and items of body armour made of solid gold and silver were really impressive, and were so intricately made! The pottery found inside the tombs was beautiful, and was moulded and painted in a way which clearly portrays many aspects of Moche life. We saw one sequence of pots illustrating the passage of life from conception to old age, death and rebirth. They are amazingly well-preserved. There were wall friezes depicting human sacrifices, and gold and silver representations of many animorphic gods; an owl for the air, a llama for the earth, a crab for the water and many more. As the Moche people had no written language, it is by their incredible art work that anything is known about them.

In many ways we were reminded of Ancient Egypt; the pyramid-shaped structures, the contents of the burial chamber designed to serve the person in the afterlife, the wealth of gold, the animal-gods, especially the feline figures. We were also struck by the level of civilisation this ancient culture had achieved at a time when we tend to think that such culture and civilisation only existed in the northern hemisphere.

We were glad to have visited the Sipán treasures!

15th April Peru
Towards the Ecuadorian border
Crossing the border to Ecuador - Click to enlargeWe left Chiclayo on a bus to Piura, with plans to reach Loja, in Ecuador (six hours from the border), by evening. It was a long day travelling. The comfortable bus we found going to Piura took three hours, and from there we caught a very full local bus to Sullana. There we grabbed a quick lunch of chickens' feet soup, rice and goat meat, and then headed for the border at La Tina/Macará by 'colectivo' taxi.

At the border the air had a very tropical, humid feel. This was not the route most often used to travel into Ecuador from Peru, and it was a very quiet, hassle free kind of place. First we had to go to the police office, where we answered questions about when and where we entered Peru, and then to the immigration office to have our exit stamps put in our passports. Then we walked across the bridge that marked the boundary between the two countries.

Didn't we do a lot in Peru?!

15th - 18th April Ecuador
Loja - Cuenca
Cuenca, Circus lions on show - Click to enlargeThe bus ride to Loja took us through beautiful lush green hills. It was lovely and really different from any of the countryside in the Peruvian, Bolivian or Argentinian Andes that we have seen. It was as if the land is somehow aware of the rather arbitrary way in which we divide it into territorial chunks! It was so green, and there were amazing trees with fat, bright green trunks that bulged in the middle, whose branches were covered in beautiful blossoms. They were both strange and pretty. The people, too, were different. The bus stopped in many remote places - not really villages - where people got on or off the bus, and we wondered where they could have come from or be going to. They were dressed in very traditional clothing. The women wore big, colourful, pleated skirts with warm knitted cardigans and bowler hats. Generally their hair is worn in two long plaits. This was similar to the style in Bolivia, although here many women choose to wear styles which might be described as 'prettier'. Their skirts and blouses are often brightly embroidered with flowers. The style of the men was very different to that in Bolivia. They also wear bowler hats here and they have the most wonderful long hair, normally worn in a long thin jet-black plait at the back. The children, too, were often dressed in the same, traditional style, something we didn't notice a lot in Bolivia.

We finally arrived in Loja at about 8pm. It had been a long day. We took a taxi into town and tried to find somewhere to stay. We were unprepared for the prices in Ecuador to be higher than those in Peru, as we had thought the opposite would be the case, but Ecuador has switched from its own currency to the dollar in recent years and, we suppose, prices have risen as a result. The room we stayed in on our first night in Ecuador was among the worst, if not the worst, we have ever had to put up with! The room was dirty and shabby with little holes in the wall, through which you could see into the next room. The beds were saggy, broken and wobbly and the bathroom... Well, you can use your imagination!

We were glad to travel on to Cuenca the following morning. Luckily, in Cuenca, we found somewhere better to stay! The hostel, 'El Monasterio', in the centre of the old part of town, even had a nice communal kitchen, so I was able to prepare our favourite comfort food, pasta and cheese sauce, for tea!

We liked Cuenca and enjoyed wandering around its old colonial streets and its pretty flowery plazas. While there we visited a fairground, which was in town with a travelling circus. This gave us the opportunity to not only ride the dodgems and roundabouts, but also to look at the poor circus lions and tiger, caged outside the Big Top!

Before leaving Cuenca for Quito, on an overnight bus (but at least the last we will take on this continent), we visited the nearby small town of Baños, to bathe in the hot springs there. The hot water comes from a geological fault that can be seen, and climbed and walked along, from the village. The pool we went to had Turkish steam baths that were actually carved into the rock at the side of the fault. It was lovely!

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