11 September 2012

Chiclayo day three: the good, the bad and the beautiful

In some ways, day three of our gad about northern Peru was a little disappointing. We had booked ourselves on another archaeological tour, this time to see more ruins and artefacts of the Sican culture, dating from 800 to 1350 AD. Unfortunately, there were no English-speaking guides available and the substitute was 23-year-old Christian, only 6 months into his guide training, and he had only been learning English one month. He was enthusiastic but spoke rapid and slightly mumbled Spanish, which was almost impossible for us to follow. And, to top that off, our driver overused his power steering so much that the constant swaying back and forth made me feel a little nauseous.

The Pomac Forest, from a nearby hill

Also, we only got a 4½-hour tour, rather than the 5 hours we had paid for, and, with no lunch break, we were starving by the end of it. We also missed out on visiting the two pyramids we were supposed to see, Huaca las Ventanas and Huaca el Oro, supposedly because the river between them and us was too full, an excuse we found very hard to believe at the end of the dry season.

The 1000-year-old tree

But, to focus on the positive … We saw a fox as we drove through the Bosque del Pomac, the Pomac Forest, though it was too far away to photograph, and a couple of scurrying lizards that were too fast to capture. I hugged the Arbol Milenario, a 1000-year-old tree, and got some photos of egrets (I think), when we asked our driver to stop as we passed the copse of trees where a small colony was nesting.

We also stopped to photograph a bridge, which had collapsed due to torrential El niño rain causing a torrent that undermined its foundations. As the river bed is now dry, we crossed over that – I’m not sure what the locals will do when the rains come again.

Having fun with reflections in the museum's plate-glass facade
The best part of the morning was spent at yet another imposing museum, the Museo Sican

The finds contained in this museum came from the pyramids we had seen two days earlier at Túcume (see my previous blogand other such pyramid structures in the surrounding area, and they are magnificent. Judging by their grave goods, the elite of Sican society were obviously very wealthy, with death masks, representing the face of their Sican god, made of gold and tumbaga (an alloy of copper, silver and low carat gold). The museum’s well-presented exhibits provided a clear and vivid image of the daily life of the Sican people, who may have numbered as many as 1.5 million at the height of their civilisation. Their metalwork and ceramics were particularly impressive and, once again, there were many reconstructions to help the visitors visualise how graves were found and how the people may have lived.

This is not my photograph. Photographer: Rosemania, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sican_funerary_mask_in_the_Metropolitan_Museum.jpg

Once back in Chiclayo, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a restaurant right on the Plaza de Armas, then visited our tour agency to organise our next excursion. Unfortunately, we ended up cancelling our visit to Kuelap, known as the Machu Picchu of the north, as it’s actually a 3-night/2-day tour, rather than the 1-night/2-day that was advertised – the extra 2 nights are 9-hour overnight bus journeys to get there and back, and we just didn’t have the time to do the trip. We also had to fight the travel agent to avoid paying a cancellation fee, eventually going with him to the bus company to help him get his refund, and then placated him by booking a 2-day/1-night tour to Trujillo instead.

In the late afternoon, we spent a fun hour exploring Chiclayo’s central market area. It is huge, and there was some great banter between the stallholders.

As few tourists come to northern Peru, gringas are a real novelty here, and many people were happy to greet us, answer our questions, share a laugh or simply stare at the strange white women walking around their market. 

In fact, people in general seemed happier in the north, more open and friendly than in Cusco, perhaps because they’re more prosperous, or maybe it's the warmer weather. They are also much more Westernised – there was almost no sign of any traditional culture, neither in the clothing they wore, nor anything in the market in the way of arts and crafts.

Meet Carmen Rosa Nancy, one of the lovely market stallholders

We returned to the Plaza, as the sun was going down. The dusk light and a glorious herringbone sky combined to produce some nice photographs of the beautiful cathedral and municipal buildings. These, plus a delicious dinner at the Mama Mia restaurant, provided a fine ending to our last day in Chiclayo.

Chiclayo Cathedral
The Municipal building, looking lovely in its night-lighting

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