Chapter 19: Inca Cola and a piece of cake in Huanchaco
Sunday, July 4
A sweltering night bus journey brought me bleary eyed up to Trujillo. I contemplated the best link to Huanchaco, five miles out west. The best bet was to take a combi bus but the taxi drivers at the bus station were warning me about keeping my bags safe. So, I took a 15 soles taxi. The driver loved his music. He played me a selection of his favourite tunes while gleefully glancing at my guitar. I was able to converse in Spanish with this very pleasant man who made the sign of the cross as we passed a large cemetery. We reached Huanchaco very early in the day, soon after 7am. The ocean waves could be heard crashing onto the shore but the outskirts of town looked a desolate landscape of debris and litter. The centre was much more attractive though. At La Casa Suiza, Manuel was just opening up. I took an empty, shared room. The four-bed dormitory was more like somebody’s bedroom. I took the bed nearest to the window and slept until mid afternoon. The skies had cleared when I awoke and it became a glorious afternoon in this seaside town. Surfers of all ages were surfacing to take advantage. Tremendously huge left hand point break surf kept pushing in from the south west. The sea level altitude and fresh breeze revived my spirits. I hummed a little tune as I walked down the sunny street to the My Friend restaurant. I was budgeting well within 60 soles a day for the past week and reflected that west was indeed the best in these very laid back kind of towns. A lovely late afternoon walk brought me up to the prominent hilltop church. Huanchaco relied heavily on the tourist trade. There was still a small fishing community with trademark cigar-shaped caballitos (little horses) reed fishing boats racked up against the sea wall. The fishermen paddled out in these boats beyond the huge breakers and then later returned with their catch. There was an abundance of seafood to savour. I only had a 90-day visa entry for Peru so I began contemplating a border crossing up into Ecuador within the next 10 days.
Monday, July 5
I enjoyed my deepest rest in many months. After a breakfast bar and high energy drink I hopped onto one of the many combi minibuses which operated between Trujillo and Huanchaco. The little bus was packed as I sat at the front, facing back at the occupied expressions facing another week of work. The milky clouds hung over Trujillo as I made my way to the huge looking cathedral. A tour guide introduced himself and persistently recommended a guided visit to the Moche temples. I wanted to go, but on my own steam. When I later exited the cathedral David was still there insisting that he had the real deal. I was still trying to get my bearings and decided a guided tour might help. After a quick snack in a market cafe I rejoined David who escorted me to a minibus in which eight other travellers were seated. I paid 15 soles for the guide and a further 11 to enter Las Huacas de La Luna. Las Huacas was deeply impressive. Meticulous excavations were continually revealing long buried polychrome friezes. It was an archaeologist’s dream. The outstanding Huaca del Sol glimmered beyond the narrow plain in front of us. It is Peru’s largest pre-Columbian structure and, despite its pyramid structure looking more like a huge and precarious sand pile, it really stood out. Our tour came to an end and we returned to Trujillo. I suddenly felt rather guilty for my earlier quiet annoyance with the loud Europeans who had been making a lot of noise from the back seats. They kindly invited me to lunch with them at a place where they knew cheap and delicious ceviche was being served. I had another journey to arrange so I politely declined. I eventually found the best value bus to Piura, at 25 soles, with a company called Ittsa. In the hottest weather I’d experienced for a while I returned to Huanchaco to find some shade. I later treated myself to a sweet pastry and Inca Cola down on the beach as the sundown surfers hit the waves. The sound of Neil Young filtered out of a bar I passed on my way back to the hostel. I liked the tempo in this town. There was now another guest in the dormitory but, whoever it was, made no reappearance all night.
Tuesday, July 6
A dread-locked young woman was crashed out on the opposite bed. This was the first time I’d seen my new room-mate since she’d arrived on Monday morning. I took a combi along the Panamericana highway to Chan Chan. A lady sat in the front kindly alerted me as we approached the entrance stop. Chan Chan was built around 1300AD and, at the height of the Chimu Empire, was the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the biggest adobe city in the world. The royal palaces were once lined with precious metals and there were huge burial mounds. Nowadays, it’s a vast site of crumbling mud walls with lots of cordoned off areas for continuing archaeological work. The coastal kings were eventually conquered by the Incas and then the Spanish arrived and looted such places. The Tschudi Palace, by the site museum, featured more friezes, carvings and eerily large, empty courtyards. Tour guides regularly sprung out from behind some of the walls to offer more information and maps for a price. It all became a bit tiresome. The museum was interesting but I was overloaded with information, so I caught one of the shiny looking H Love Heart buses back to Huanchaco. It was a proper local bus with crunching gear changes and lots of rattling in its sparse, metallic interior. Back at the hostel, I joined some of the polite young American guests who were watching Holland win 3 – 2 against Uruguay to book their place in the World Cup Final. In the hot sun I enjoyed another Inca Cola and another large slab of cake. I wanted to do some further sightseeing at La Huaca Esmeralda and La Huaca Arco Iris before leaving the town. However, the hostel hosts warned me that lone travellers risked being attacked during the daytime, even on the buses, at these remoter locations. I’d done a fair bit of Chimu culture so I enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine on the beach and then at the end of El Muelle, Huanchaco’s pier, where a young couple in love were fishing for their tea. With the sun going down over the ocean horizon, a kindly American gentleman took my photograph. The dusk breeze drifted through the gathering gloom as I popped into one of the beachfront restaurants to taste my first ceviche, raw fish and vegetables in a clear vinegar sauce. I enjoyed it. During the calm evening I continued reading on the hostel balcony while a guitar and pipe player entertained the dinner guests in the restaurant below.
Wednesday, July 7
My female room-mate was away all night again. Was she alright? It was a bit of a worry. Manuel the receptionist asked if I’d seen her. Then, just before midday, she briefly returned to the room. All seemed well, she said a gentle “hi” and smiled before heading back out again. Low cloud and sea mist showered speckles of drizzle over the town. In Huanchaco there were no seats or benches on the front, just low walls. The bubble gum taste of Inca Cola, sweetened with a cream cake, became a firm favourite. After my sweet snack I watched the Spanish beat Germany 1-0 in the World Cup. I later walked up and around Huanchaco, sampling its rather empty, out of season feel. Many of the shops and restaurants were shut. A hastily convened game of football got underway on the large seafront courtyard. Screams, shouts and crunching tackles competed with the noise of the waves. While taking a shower before going to bed I noticed how thin I’d really become. My ribs were sticking out of my chest. I needed to eat a few more cakes in Huanchaco!
Thursday, July 8
The Arizona children and their father at the hostel were putting on their wet suits ready for some surfing action. I declined the offer to join them and chose to stay in and chat with the maid Anita instead. Anita told me the childrens’ father actually owned the hostel. She smiled and remarked on the warm family atmosphere of the place. I agreed. In my short time there, I relaxed a lot. There was a gentle serenity about the place. Anita happily chatted away in Spanish with me as she continued her busy cleaning work. I enjoyed practicing my Spanish. The golden sunsets were my lasting impression of Huanchaco. After another Inca Cola and cake I took my guitar with me to the pier. The sun went down for the last time and it became rather chilly. During the evening I again sat on the roof balcony, reading a little and staring at the surrounding street architecture, lots of tiled exteriors. I’d earlier emailed the Point Hostel in Mancora to reserve a bed. Booking ahead didn’t always guarantee a space or place but it lessened any anxieties. I left in a taxi for the Ittsa bus station in Trujillo at 10.30. Its desk team tried to coordinate a smooth departure schedule while fending off many disgruntled and impatient passengers. I was on the bus at 11.30 and leaving yet another town. It might have been a chilly evening outside but, checking the BBC weather website earlier, Ushuaia was now freezing and Buenos Aires and Mendoza were cold and sunny….winter time in South America.