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Entries about ruins

Where on earth did the last month go?

View A week in Bolivia & Tour of southern Peru on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I left Huanchaco just before Christmas and we're now on the 21st January, so the questions are: where on earth did the last month go? What have I been doing? And why haven't I written like I said I would?

I'll start with the last question first. I haven't written like I said I would because frankly, I've been having too much fun. Simples.

The past month has been a whirlwind of meeting new people and seeing new places; I've left Peru, travelled through Bolivia and now I'm in Argentina!

I had a day to myself in Lima before I met the group for the G Adventures Andean Discovery tour. Having spent two months exploring the north of Peru independently, I must say I was a little unsure about joining a tour - would the schedule be too rigid? Would I have a good group?

The schedule was fairly intense at first, moving from Lima to Paracas to Ica to Nazca to Arequipa to the Colca canyon, back to Arequipa and into Cusco all within the first week. I got to take the flight over the Nazca lines, see a condor fly extremely close by in the Colca Canyon and be in Cusco for new year. All jolly good stuff.

We were a group of 18 plus our guide, and I can honestly say it was a great group; diverse in character, background (kind of...there were a lot of Aussies!), likes and dislikes and life experience. Mainly I spent of lot of time laughing at something (or someone) or other.

A lot of group bonding went on on the Inca Trail. We had an exceptionally fast walking group and I spent most of my walk near the back of the group, taking my time to take in the scenery, either being encouraged or encouraging others to keep going. Apparently I was still plenty ahead of schedule every day so I'm pretty chuffed.

(I'll write an additional post dedicated to the Inca Trail at some point because it is rather spectacular, and the whole experience deserves more than a paragraph.)

Post Inca Trail we had a couple of nights more in Cusco before heading to Puno; from there we went on a tour of some islands on Lake Titicaca culminating in a home stay on one of the islands (this also deserves a dedicated post so watch this space!).

We had a great schedule overall. We missed some places that I would have preferred to have experienced, which was a shame but also part of the gamble of a tour. Equally, we did some things (like the Inca Trail or home stay) that were simply less stressful because everything was pre-arranged, which allows more fun to be had!

In the end though, the group made the tour. Had the gang been rubbish, I might have gone off and seen the places I think we missed. As it happens, our group of 18 participants, was always interesting to be around and totally worth hanging around for.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 17:59 Archived in Peru Tagged ruins tour inca Comments (0)

A state of ruin

View London - before the off! on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

Machu Picchu may be the most famous ruin site in Peru, but it is certainly not the only site in this large country.

Around Trujillo, there are two ruin sites, far less well known than Machu Picchu but in fact of great historical importance.

I'll start with the Chan Chan complex as of the two I will cover it was the first I visited, as per advice from fellow volunteers. The site is home to the now ruined capital city of the Chimú Empire and sits nearly the whole way from Huanchaco to Trujillo. It is in fact the the largest pre-Columbian ruins in the whole of South America.

So why haven't you heard of it?

Much of the site now sadly consists of melted mud walls due to years of neglect, and probably the battering the ancient buildings receive every time L Niño has been strong.

There are areas that have been preserved and/or reconstructed and it is possible to get an idea of what the city may have been like. You can also hire a guide to add to your experience. This is apparently a bit hit or miss; I'd heard about great guides...ours unfortunately spent a lot of time talking about herself and not really enough about the history of the amazing site we were paying to hear about.

I would recommend a visit though, it's accessible on public buses between Trujillo and Huanchaco and inexpensive. I would also suggest, that you see Chan Chan before the Huacas del Moche (Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol). The site here may not be as vast as Chan Chan but the museum is informative and parts of Huaca de la Luna are amazingly well preserved, in part due to the history of the temple that stands there.

The Huacas deal Moche is thought to have been the capital city of Moche culture between 400 and 600 AD, and a site of great ceremonial importance. Huaca deal Sol is shut to visitors in anticipation of more archeological work. However, Huaca de la Luna is open, and there are an amazing number of murials still intact (/ reconstructed) with the original colours still vibrant. The museum also contains original artifacts that are both intricate and in super condition.

The temple apparently was 'reinvented' five times whilst the site was still the centre of power. By this I mean the temple was added to, on top of the original structure, and this has helped protect the lower levels of the temple from the elements. Amazingly, archeological work only really started here in the early 1990s. There has clearly been more effort put into protecting this site from natural decay and theft than at Chan Chan, and encouragingly the work continues.

I would like to go back in 10 years time and see what else has been discovered - watch this space!

The big issue for these two sites and the Chavín ruins near Huaraz is a lack of funding and political will to preserve the sites and research the histories further. It is hard to recover or reconstruct what has already been lost, but it would be a crying shame if these former cultural, religious and political centres were simply allowed to decay. They represent unique and different periods in Peru's history and culture but that are tied to the present, for example by the economic importance of sea based industry for the Chimú culture, and for Huanchaco today (fishing, not surfing you understand...).

Posted by Rebecca Heller 16:41 Archived in Peru Tagged ruins ancient huanchaco Comments (0)

I went to Cajamarca and bought 5kg of cheese

all seasons in one day
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Last weekend I took a trip to Cajamarca, a historically important highland city about 6 hours north of Trujillo. It's known as the place where Inca ruler Atahualpa finally fell to the Spanish in 1532, marking the end of the Inca Empire.

Cajamarca's main industries are gold mining and cheese production. I embarked on my trip with a cheese based shopping list from several people in Huanchaco, I had a map with the 'right' cheese shop labelled so I felt confident all would work out well.

On the first morning we went on a tour of Cumbe Mayo, the site of a pre-Incan aqueduct, potentially the oldest man-made structure in South America (according to my Rough Guides book!). If you look very carefully, shut one eye, tilt your head and throw in a healthy dose of imagination you can see the animals/ pirates/ etc. in the stones. Regardless, it's a beautiful mountainous spot and worth the visit.

Following the tour I attempted to find the cheese shop but to no avail. The wifi at the hostel wasn't working so finding more information - like the name of the shop and how much was required - was proving difficult. I had to abandon my cheese search to go on the next tour, to the Ventanillas de Otuzco.

The Ventanillas de Otuzco is a necropolis, this is thought to be the second burial place for the bodies laid to rest here. You can't go inside anymore as they're trying to conserve the site, so we briefly passed by. We moved on to - drumroll - a famous cheese factory called Los Alpes. It turns out, a Swiss man brought cheese production to the Peruvian highlands! I decided to purchase 2kg of queso tipo suizo, convinced that this would be plenty, possibly too much.

Incorrect. We got back to the hostel and the wifi was back up and running, it turns out my order from Huanchaco was for 3kg from the specific shop! By this time it was too late to find it, so I parked the search for the following day.

We got up early to visit the Baños del Inca, a site of thermal pools, with an overwhelming number of bathing options. Finally we settled on a group bath for 4 of us. You get your own changing area and pool where you can control the temperature of the water going in. You think because it's thermal baths you want hot water. It turns out, the hot water is really very hot and on several occasions we had the cold tap open and stuck our faces under it for relief. The 40 minutes we were allocated became an hour, it had initially seemed stingy, but let me assure you it's plenty. We left with our muscles so relaxed it felt as though we'd finished a 4 hour hike, all sleepy and slow.

It was in this state I went to look for more cheese, I think I found the right shop, it was not in the same place as I had been told, but it had the same name so I took a chance, and that was how I landed up with near enough 5kg of cheese to bring back. We left it in the very chilly hostel, whilst we visited the cafe with the 'best coffee and cake in town' for lunch. We went up to the viewing platform and supposed site of the Silla del Inca (there's no chair there these days), visited every single artisanal tourist shop on the way up, and when the rain wouldn't give up and stop just over an hour later, we found ourselves back in the cafe to keep dry.

The Plaza de Armas is striking with grand churches on either side and surrounded by mountains, giving the city both a Colonial and distinctly Andean feel.

It was a short but sweet trip with excellent company and a stunning backdrop.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 07:30 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains ruins cajamarca cheese Comments (2)

Huaraz - exploring at altitude

all seasons in one day
View London - before the off! on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

This time last week I had been in Huaraz for all of about 3 hours, having arrived with 5 other volunteers in the early hours. We'd taken an overnight bus from Trujillo to Huaraz, and were already waiting to go on our first excursion.

Huaraz about 3000m above sea level, and all of the expeditions from there go higher still. All the advice is to acclimatize to the altitude before going much higher or attempting a difficult hike. So naturally, we chose the Pastoruri hike - the trip that takes you to the edge of a glacier at over 5000m. Naturally. I should mention here that we had been advised that although it's high up, the walk itself at the top wasn't too taxing.

The bus ride takes you through the vast Cordilleras Blancas y Negras. We stopped at various points on the way up, to get some coca tea, to see the unique Ancash cacti, to take in the scenery on your own two feet rather than a moving bus. The stops are also supposed to help you adjust to the altitude as you climb. We reach the final bus point at about 1pm, ready to start the hike. Unfortunately, I stepped off the bus and the mountains around me continued to move, the tour guide told me I just needed to breath, which at the time, and at 5000m, was easier said than done. I stayed on the bus whilst the group went off to the glacier. As I got back on the bus, the heavens opened and the 1pm rain started, except at 5000m, it was a snow storm. After about an hour, the group came back back having reached the glacier but soaked and cold to the core. Having been a bit unwell in the days before the trip, the snow storm seemed like a sign that perhaps, I just wasn't meant to do that hike! I slept for a lot of the drive back to Huaraz, and felt significantly better once we were at a lower altitude.

The next big trip I had wanted to do was Laguna 69, look it up, the photos look stunning. However, it is by all accounts a difficult trek; I was feeling discouraged from the day before, and if truth be told, not 100% better so I opted for the Chavin de Huantin tour. The drive takes you through the Cordilleras Negras (as opposed to the Blancas peaks which have snow). Chavin was a pre-Inca civilisation and the ruins we saw date back to over 2,500 years ago. The site we visited was a former Chavin temple, an important religious centre for the Chavin civilisation. Due to lack of money, and perhaps cultural and political will, the ruins haven't been protected as well as they might deserve. You need a fair amount of imagination to picture the temple in its former glory, and an animated guide will certainly help. Our guide, a former school teacher, was certainly that. He spoke with passion, especially to inform us that the tour would only be successful if we worked together - listened and concentrated on his tour - otherwise we wouldn't learn anything at all. '¡Amiguitos, escuchame!' You can take the teacher out of a school...

On the final day of our trip, we did an independent hike. We took a local bus to the bottom of a mountain and made our own way up through Quechua farm villages to a lake at the top. Half way up, one of our group couldn't walk anymore due to an old injury, so we sent 3 of the group up on foot, whilst we found a taxi for the injured party. 3 of us went up the rest of the way in a taxi, a slightly scary experience, especially when we passed a 4x4 coming in the oppposite direction. I would have preferred to walk, but in the spirit of no one gets left behind, I'm glad we all made it to the lake! From the top you get overwhelmingly beautiful views of the snowy Cordilleras Blancas and the valley below.

I would have loved to have had more time In Huaraz, and ideally to have been completely well, but I'm glad I still decided to go. I would thoroughly recommend Huaraz to anyone with a spirit of adventure who is lucky enough to be close enough by to visit (a 8 hour bus ride is close!).

Posted by Rebecca Heller 07:07 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains ruins huaraz hikes altitude Comments (0)

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