Peru #12: Trujillo – some ancient ruins

Time was running out and my Peru-Ecuador trip had become only a Peru trip. I had a couple more days to burn so thought I’d spend them in Trujillo, famous for a few Moche ruins sites, and birthplace of an old friend, Carlos, and I felt I owed it to him to visit his hometown. Back on the coast, I would once again go seafood crazy, irk a Peruvian guy by pretending I was Peruvian and finally find the butterflies.

I paid 75/S with Movil Tours for the overnight bus to Trujillo, though a word of warning: for this and many other bus companies, the arrival and departure points in Huaraz are not the same, the latter being a little out of the centre in a dodgy area. All the same, I walked down the dark, dirty, dusty and dangerous road and made it to the terminal in about 20 minutes.  As I boarded the bus, I found the seat in front of me already fully reclined, the woman parked up having no scruples. However, if it can recline, why not recline it? And when your legs are munched you don’t care about the person behind you. A domino effect.

As I arrived at 5am in Trujillo I loitered in the big shiny terminal (all the companies go from there) for a while before taking a taxi for 7/S to a hostel called Munay Wasi (30/S per night in a shared dorm), near the central square, as always in Peru named Plaza de Armas. It’s family run and the rooms are cosy and the beds comfortable. They let me have breakfast when I arrived, which consisted of do-it-yourself eggs, bread and hot drinks, as is the norm in Peru.

I took a nap for an hour or so before heading out to the Chanchan ruins, which I reached by bus for 1.20/S. It drops you off on the side of the road and from there you need to walk about 15 minutes to get to the entrance of the site. Where the bus stops there was a taxi driver waiting for unassuming prey, offering to take tourists to the four main sites included on the Chanchan ticket for an inflated price. I heard him out and almost let him think I was interested before politely declining and heading off on foot.

The ruins

As often happens in Peru, the locals don’t quite respect the wonderful architecture they have and I spotted a few people (adults) trampling around areas they weren’t supposed to be in and probably ruining the ruins.

I paid for a 10/S ticket that gives you access to two other sites as well as the museum in the city centre, but the main site is the only one really worth visiting. You can have a guide as an option (one of those situations where they’re standing in fron tof you saying Do you want a guide? and it’s awkward if you don’t) and you pay 40/S between whoever is there. In our case there were four of us. To be honest, it’s useful to get a guide, as there is no information at the site and they do give insightful information.

The site is a centuries-old Chimu settlement made up of several small residential areas, a temple, and a main square. It has to be noted that the site has been renovated, hence why everything looks so neat and well-preserved, and even the engravings, replete with images of birds, jaguars and snakes, important symbols for most Peruvian tribes, have been completely re-done. While it was interesting to look at, the fact that it wasn’t original took away from it a little bit and if truth be told, as it is under renovation and full of scaffolds, it didn’t feel too authentic.

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Huanchaco

From the ruins I went  back to the main road and caught the bus on to Huanchaco, a beachside town about thirty minutes ride away. As it was a Sunday, it was rather full of locals, who despite the weather not being that hot, deigned to go in the sea. I walked all along the seafront and even paid 0.50/S to go out onto the pier, where loads of people had bought cheap fishing rods and were trying to fish.

As it was coming to the end of my trip, I needed some souvenirs for people back home, and after having searched far and wide across Peruvian markets for beetles and/or butterflies for my sister I finally came across some of the latter encased in glass, which I collected the next day for 40/S. The bus all the way back to Trujillo costs just 1.50/S.

The main reason I went was to have some seafood, as it had been 10 days or so since I had last been by the sea, and I opted for something I’d never had; Aji di Mariscos, basically prawns, octopus, squid and sea snails in a creamy spicy sauce and served with rice. I’d never had the snail before and must admit I quite enjoyed it and can best describe it as tasting a lot like the sea, and I guess that is the reason why seafood is so named.  This was of course after a starter of  my favourite, ceviche, raw white fish marinated in lemon. I would indeed return next day with the German friend I’d met in Huaraz to pick up the butterflies, and would again entreat myself to ceviche, but was rather disappointed with the chicharrón de pescado  (fried fish pieces in breadcrumbs) and wished I’d gotten more seafood.

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The city itself

With Christmas approaching there were lots of processions going on and the streets were full of people. The main square was set up with trees and the yellow church on one side of it was lit up nicely. There is a long pedestrianised street one block parallel to the square where most restaurants can be found and as I was done with rice after almost 30 days on it, I opted for a crappy sandwich and a PPP (Plátano, Papaya and Piña) juice, which is the go-to smoothie in Peru.

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Huacas del Sol y de la Luna

It was apparently dangerous to go to where we needed to catch the bus to Huaca del Sol y la Luna, and the hostel offered some kind of tour with tickets and transport included for 30/S. Being veterans of do-it-yourself, the German I’d met and I opted not to take this option. Basically, you just need to get yourself to Óvalo Grau and there’s a whole host of buses leaving from any one of the four corners of the roundabout. Just ask around and people will happily direct you onto the right bus, eventually giving you the correct information. Once on the bus it’s 1.50/S to get to the Huacas, though as the buses are designed for shorter people than me, you’re likely to be a little cramped and may have to cede your seat to grannies or child-bearing ladies who later board. The bus drops you right outside where you need to be.

The museum costs 5/S to enter and is well worth the visit. As I have found throughout Peru, there are masses of artifacts and information accompanying them is plentiful and informative. There were lots of displays related to the Chimu and Mochica tribes from the region, and artifacts included ceramics, weapons and clothes, as per usual in most of Peru’s archaeological museums. If you’ve been to Lima, you’ll have seen it all already, but as a stand alone museum, this one is good and I spent about an hour browsing and reading everything as I normally do.

As we left to walk over to the Huacas a Peruvian walking behind us said the solitary words ‘English?’ trying to engage us. Jokingly we replied to him and said ‘No, we’re Peruvian’ in Spanish, which had a rather unexpected reaction. He went in a soliloquy saying how it was stupid of him to ask. I tried to tell him that we were joking, as most people usually get this kind of joke, but he sulked, so we decided to walk on ahead.

Huaca del Sol is not currently open to the public and entry was 10/S for Huaca de la Luna if I remember correctly. A guide is obligatory, and you can give tips as you wish at the end of the tour. Our guide was a woman who wanted to the do the tour in English, and we decided not to have a language battle. I’m usually skeptical and choose to have the guide done in Spanish as much as possible as it’s more authentic and open to digression, whereas the English version is normally a monotonous memorised speech. However, this time she surprised me and she was engaging and informative.

As opposed to Chanchan, the ruins at Huaca de la Luna are maintained rather than renovated, so everything is as it was originally. It is basically layers upon layers of a temple built on top of itself as sand gradually covers the bottom layers. This process is due to the fact that Trujillo is in the middle of the desert and can get very windy at times. Indeed the site is so well-preserved owing to the fact that it was covered by sand for centuries and rumour has it that only a fraction of it has been discovered. According to our guide, the state doesn’t help out financially so that is a major reason for not having uncovered more of it. The ruins are a lot more colourful than in Chanchan and the areas are made up of what are deemed to be residential sections, temples and tombs.

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Getting out

The main terminal is a little away from the city centre so it would involve getting a taxi. I knew I shouldn’t pay more than 8/S so when the first taxi I hailed asked for 10/S I waved him on and got in the next one, which charged me a fair price. I got to the terminal just in time to grab the last seat on a bus to Lima with ItsaBus for 70/S. When I boarded I noticed a gentleman in my aisle seat and I told him it was mine, but he refused to budge, so I ended up next to the window. By way of revenge I kept on my reading light while he was trying to go to sleep next to me. Bus battles.

Battle won and bored of, I actually slept most of the 9-hour trip to Lima and when I alighted I had my taxi paranoia and assumed that the guy trying to get my attention was one of them so I kinda rudely ignored him before realising he worked for the company and was directing me towards my luggage. Talking of which, the baggage handler alerted me to the fact that my bag was full of prickly spines which must have still been in there from my cactus march in Colca Canyon over a month previous.

Trujillo itself wasn’t much to write home about and it had effectively been the last destination of my trip before milling around Lima for a couple more days. The archaeological sites were worth a visit and pretty straightforward and cheap to get to, and anyone who spends a month or so in Peru will certainly see their fair share of archaeological museums and ruins, so why not see more in Trujillo?

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