countin' the days

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Exploring the North

Once safely in Peru, I spent a few days in Chachapoyas, more than happy to not be sitting on some form of transportation all day long. But Northern Peru has more than just great vibes and a lack of tourists to enjoy; one of the main attractions are scores of ruins that are rarely visited. The biggest set of ruins is an amazing pre-Incan fortress high atop a mountain called Kuelap. It was an amazing place that really blew me away. After entering the narrow passageway through the immense fortress walls, I could see ruins of the round houses everywhere. They have discovered 420 such houses, so far, and an archeologist working on the site reconstructed one house to represent what the village might once have looked like. One of my favorite things at Kuelap was what first appeared to be a pile of rocks, but in fact was an ancient compass designating north, south, east, and west. In addition to admiring
the ruins, I was really loving the dense vegetation of trees, vines, and orchids that covered the stones, and really added to the whole mysterious aura of the place. Quite an experience for my first set of South American ruins.

One of the best things about traveling by myself -- and there are many -- is being able to change my plans spontaneously, whenever I feel like it. Originally I´d planned on going through the mountains on another multi-day hairball journey to get to Cajamarca, but after looking at maps and a calendar, I changed my mind. I hopped on a night bus, and made it all the way down to the coastal city of Trujillo by morning. Done.

Trujillo wasn´t very exciting, despite some colorful buildings and very colonial architecture. But nearby was another set of interesting pre-Incan ruins called Chan Chan that I set out to explore. Originally I planned on doing it completely on my own, but was met outside the ruins by a guide named Moses, and mostly just wanting an excuse to think in nothing but Spanish for an hour, hired him for $4. Chan Chan used to be a completely adobe city, the largest one ever known to the world. In fact, they estimate that some 60,000 people used to live there! Much of it is understandably eroded, but the main palace is still pretty much in tact. Most interesting to me were places for their worship of the sun and the moon, including huge pools of water that they´d collected via underground passageways. It was a strange place, to tell the truth -- something about seeing nothing but neutral, sepia tones in all directions. But fun to imagine what it might have been like hundreds of years ago.

After the ruins, I jumped on a minibus for 5 minutes and found myself back at the Pacific Ocean for the first time in 3 months. The little village of Huanchaco was a
nice little mid-afternoon stopover, and I spent a couple hours eating a huge plate of ceviche, and admiring the collection of totora (reed) boats strewn along the shore.

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