Peru’s North Coast….Deserts, Ruins and Beaches

Peru’s North Coast….Deserts, Ruins and Beaches

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About an hour’s flight out of Guayaquil the terrain turned brown and dry. We had arrived in Peru’s desert northwest. Even though it seemed like a desert wasteland, there were pockets of cultivation to be seen. Avocados and mangos seems to be the most common trees growing in the valleys running out to the coast. (the best mangos we have tasted so far) After a while, the airport in Trujillo came into view and we landed in a gusty wind, the first windy landing for a while.

Peru is known for being difficult in terms of aviation paperwork and our entry reflected that. We waited for almost 2 weeks in Ecuador for the permit, having resubmitted the same documents several times prior to entry. It is never the people at an airport who are difficult, its the bureaucracy and paperwork before and during entry that are so frustrating. Once we were in Peru, everyone we met was friendly and helpful.

That being said- we did have an “issue” on arrival. Immigration had to be called out to the airport from their office in town but that didn’t take too long. The officer gave the passenger the usual 90 days and then started talking about only giving the crew (pilot) 48 hours! Wait……..What? ….We weren’t sure what she meant by that and we were trying to decipher the instructions with our limited Spanish.

Sure enough, they have some crazy rule about giving crew members only a 48 hour stay if they were listed as such on the general declaration! (plane paperwork) We kept our calm, and tried to explain that we have read about other private pilots flying in as tourists and staying and that surely there had to be an exception in the regulations somewhere. Happily, she listened to our plea. She said she would call the head office to try and figure it out, and then gave us her number and asked us to call her the next day. She stamped Paul’s immigration card with a 48 hour stay and we went off to our hostel. We have learned that most things can be resolved with time, and its easier to stay calm than to freak out. 🙂

The next morning we called the number from our hotel and they asked us to come to the immigration office that afternoon. We took a taxi from our hotel in Huanchaco, a surf spot outside of Trujillo, and headed into town. The city of Trujillo is nothing to write home about. Immense piles of trash are scattered along the sides of the outlying roads and feral dogs roam freely. Kind of a typical small South American town.

When we arrived at the immigration office we were told that the person we were supposed to see wasn’t there. She was at the nearby port clearing in ships. So we sat and waited. After only 10 minutes she showed up acting all apologetic and super helpful. A new immigration card granting a 90 day stay was issued, hugs and kisses were exchanged and we were on our way! Clearly, there WAS a way to allow crew to stay for more than 48 hours, she just had to figure it out…Most officials wont do that, so we were really appreciative.

Huanchaco was a pretty laid back place to hang out for a few days after entering Peru. We took the opportunity to catch up on some laundry, work on a blog post and explore the surrounding area a bit. Since we had a deadline to meet Margy and Henry for our Galapagos trip last month, we had rushed through a few places to make our “date” with them. That portion of the trip completed, we had vowed to slow down in our travels and had declared a 3 night minimum in any place we stopped. We had some time to explore.

One big draw for us were the archaeological ruins called Chan Chan, the largest adobe complex in the world. Constructed before 900AD by the Chimú people, it it estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 people lived there in its heyday. It is known for its huge walls and decorative friezes cut into the adobe plaster. According to Wikipedia, a 16th century account by the Spanish said they removed the equivalent of 5 million dollars worth of gold (in todays dollars). It is also thought that the structures must have been built for the royal class, because the quality of construction was so high.. who knows? It was amazing. The structures and high walls seem to go on forever. Only one small portion of the ruins are open to the public, and they were immense.. like so many archaeological sites, you cant help but wonder what else is there that you just cant see!

We also visited nearby Huaca de la Luna, another archaeological site. To paraphrase various sources, between the 1st and 8th centuries AD, the Moche people built these huge pyramids from millions of adobe bricks, and then periodically entombed the pyramid under another pyramid….this apparently occurred 6 times at Huaca de la Luna. Each new version had its own colored friezes which were well preserved by the subsequent remodeling. They are brightly colored and looked like they had just been painted. Pretty cool! Our guide called the subject most often seen in these friezes the “decapitator” god…(See the featured image at the beginning of this post),  it IS fierce looking. Archaeologists have found evidence that a lot of sacrifices occurred there.

Across the valley is Huaca del Sol, the sister pyramid to Huaca de la Luna. It has never been professionally excavated. When the Spanish arrived they redirected a river to the base of this pyramid so that the action of the water would erode it and hopefully expose gold artifacts, so now, 2/3’s of the pyramid is gone.. they say that originally it was built of 130 million adobe bricks..thats a lot of bricks.The wind blows non stop there and the sand was blowing sideways, but even that did not diminish our interest… another amazing place in the desert.

The taxi we hired to get home was a crazy experience in itself. Like so many small South American towns, Trujillo and Huanchaco are plagued with speed bumps, there is one about every 40 feet and about halfway home our driver stopped slowing down for them…I (Sara) was in the backseat and didn’t immediately figure out was was going on… he had lost his brakes! We hit the first bump and went flying, his foot was on the floor but nothing was happening, so for another 10 or 15 minutes we hit every one without brakes. Its a good thing that we were on level ground and not in heavy traffic, I got to a point that I would get up off the seat, because I had a sore back from hauling bags in and out of the plane, and the impact was jarring. We made it back to the hotel in one piece, after naturally decelerating to a stop since the road was flat, but vowed to check out our taxis more closely after this one!

Huanchaco was a sleepy surf town, with a long rocky beach. There are a couple of surf schools there and we would see little groups of novice surfers out on the water in matching tee-shirts, all doing their best. There were also surfers who clearly were good at their craft, they were fun to watch. Everyone wore wetsuits, the water looked cold! The other interesting thing on the water were fishermen in traditional reed boats. These traditional boats made of bundles of long reeds have obviously been around a long time, there were ceramic artifacts in the local museums over 500 years old that showed the same boats. Apparently the tradition is dying out, so it was cool to see a handful of them out plying the waters.

After a few days exploring the area, it was time to move on. Our target was Nazca, but we were unsure if it would be a good idea to fly there in one day so we planned an overnight in Pisco. The night in Pisco was planned as a transit stop. As we were loading up the plane and completing departure paperwork, a Canadian registered Cessna 206 airplane arrived. Wow! Another long distance, multi-country airplane trip! 2 Canadians and 2 Chileans emerged, and explained that they were ferrying the plane to Chile, to use it for skydiving. We found out they were going to a city we planned to visit once we were in Chile, so we chatted, exchanged emails and headed on our way.

Our arrival in Pisco was uneventful, we were met by a helpful guy who shuttled us through the brand new airport and helped us get a taxi. Pisco was knocked to its knees some years ago by a big earthquake, and recovery has clearly been slow. Our hotel was mediocre, but our meal at a restaurant down the road was great..such is the hit and miss nature of travel. The next morning we departed for Nazca.

Nazca. Anyone who loves mysteries and archaeology has heard of the famous Nazca lines. Large, elaborate and precise drawings in the desert, made by scraping the dark rocks away from the underlying light colored sand. Birds, monkeys, lizards, geometric figures and more. The biggest thing is that they are only really seen from the air. But… there were no airplanes when the lines were produced, so why? Who would ever see them in their true glory?

Not us. It was hot and bumpy, we were looking out for the numerous sightseeing airplanes all around us and also trying to find the airport in the windy dusty conditions. We did see lots of the geometric shapes, a lizard and a figure called ” the hands” but that was it. So, our experience there was limited. We have since heard from numerous people that its hard to spot the figures even from a dedicated sightseeing flight, so I guess our experience was typical, though a little disappointing.

A taxi into town took us to a restaurant for lunch and the long wait for our overnight bus to Cuzco. The fun was about to begin.

Miles to date: 4940 NM.