Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Cha Cha to Chan Chan
Surfing wasn’t the reason we’d come to Huanchaco. Neither was the beach. No, the real reason we were here was to check out the biggest ruins in Peru (that’s me calling them the biggest. I have no idea if they really are.) The cab driver had pointed them out to us during our ride from the bus station. But in the pitch black we’d seen nothing and just smiled and nodded to please him. The staff at the hostel were very helpful in giving us instructions on how to get there on the local bus and then how to get to the right bus station afterwards so we could buy our next ticket. This was important because every bus company in Peru has their own bus terminal and they’re not always very close to each other. Actually they are deliberately not close to each other which forces you to commit to one company and their ticket prices before hand. They could tell you it’s a bajillion dollars to the next town and you’ll pay it because you’ve already spent a morning figuring out how to get to that office and the last thing you want to do is trek across town to find out if the other company has tickets for just a bazillion dollars. It also doesn’t allow for any spontaneous travel decisions. You have to know where you want to go and when beforehand. If you just show up at a random bus station, chances are you’ll pick the company that only travels in the exact opposite direction you want to go, only goes once a week and you just missed the bus. Well in our experience that is. But I digress.
Catching the local bus to Chan Chan was thankfully much easier. For just 50 cents we caught the bus around the corner from the hostel and were let off at the entrance to the site. Immediately we were surrounded by a plague of taxi drivers all offering to take us on a tour of all the sites for a ridiculous price. We shoo-ed them away and kept walking. It was early and we had the whole day and besides we wanted to walk. Good thing because just walking from the road to the ticket office was over a kilometer. We passed the ongoing excavations of the other temples as we walked to the ticket office which was in the middle of the park. Here we had to shake off more people, this time guides offering an interpretive tour. Once again we declined (but more politely than with the taxi drivers). And it was a good thing we hadn’t hired the guide because the ruins had signs in English everywhere.
I knew Chan Chan was big but it was huge, unbelieveable huge. And remarkable that it’s still there because unlike Machu Pichu or the other Incan, Mayan or Aztec ruins we’d visited, the ruins weren’t made out of stone, they were made out of adobe. Okay so it was in the middle of the coastal desert and there wasn’t much rain to wash it away. But still, it was made out of mud and was 800 years old and I think that’s pretty impressive. Chan Chan was at one time a city of 30,000 people and made up of about 10 different complexes like the one we were allowed in. It was only this one, known as the Tschudi Complex, that had been completely excavated and was open to visitors. Most of the original designs of birds, pelicans (photo above), fish and other geometric patterns that once covered the ruins had been lost to wind erosion and had been lost to wind erosion. I will admit that was a little weird. Sure it made for good photos and they’d used original methods, materials and designs to recreate them. But it didn’t give us that same wow factor of seeing the original stuff. But what was amazing was the size of the place. Just this one complex was as big as 4 football pitches (once again my total guess-timation)
You’d think with all that space, they’d find room for the museum. Well, you’d be wrong. No, the museum was located next to the site which was 1km back to the road and another 1km down the highway. But still not wanting to give our business to the waiting taxi drivers we walked to the museum. It was small and informative but the most impressive thing was the presence of a bunch of Peruvian hairless dogs. They have got to be the ugliest animals I’ve ever seen and I’m sure you’ll agree.
It was now time to hit some of the other smaller sites sprinkled around town. Adrian looked at the map and decided we could walk to the next one since it was “just down the road”. I warned him that just down the road in this case was another 4km but he didn’t believe me. So we walked and walked and walked and walked. And finally he admitted I was right. But just up ahead we spotted the church that marked the turn off and headed into a small residential area where the Huaco Esmeralda ruins were located. I wish I could say it was worth it. But it was small and after Chan Chan was really unimpressive. Although there were more ugly hairless dogs on site. We had declined the offer of a guide but when it came time to leave a policeman/guard insisted on accompanying us back to the main road. I tried to tell him it was unnecessary but he told us that the neighbourhood wasn’t safe. Of course once we were at the road, he asked for his fee. Sigh. He then insisted on staying with us as we waited for the bus. Once again I told him it wasn’t necessary (we were standing on the main road in full view of everyone, after all) but he told us it was because there was an armed man waiting to rob us. I didn’t believe him – if there really was a crook shouldn’t the cop be arresting him – but thanked him anyway. But the cynical voice in my head, thought that the only crook around was him. Ah Peru, every time I think I may have misjudged you, someone finds a new way to get a couple of dollars out of us.
Unfortunately all the walking had tired us out and taken a long time. So we had to scrap our plan to see the two remaining sites. Instead we headed to the bus station where we purchased our tickets for the night bus to our next destination, Huaraz. There was a little café at the station and while normally these places don’t rate high on our to do list, we were both quite hungry and enjoying sitting down after all that walking. We took a little break and then caught the local bus back to the hostel. My feet were very happy when we were let off at the front door. They were even happier when we discovered a place a few doors down from the hostel that advertised authentic Indian curry on the menu. Sure enough, the restaurant/café was run by an Indian guy who made authentic curry. But alas not tonight as he’d just arrived back in Huanchaco after a long bus ride from Lima. He promised he’d make curry for us tomorrow. We took him up on that offer and settled for hamburgers. It could have been the promise of real curry the next night or the fact that we were starving after a full day of walking all over the city but the burgers were delicious (and I don’t even like hamburgers). Not exactly authentic Peruvian fare but with the scams, the ruins and the taxi drivers, I think we’d had enough authentic Peru in the last few days.