Chaos in Chiclayo!

I didn’t rush this morning as I was only going as far as Chiclayo today, which is only a 4 hour trip and there are a lot of buses. After a mediocre breakfast of dry bread, very good scrambled eggs, a juice of some variety (warm!) and a cup of warm evaporated milk to which I added some instant coffee (Peru’s variation on ‘cafe con leche’), I took my time packing up and then checked out.

The very nice owner of the hotel insisted on waving down a taxi for me whilst I remained inside as he said that, as a gringo, I would be charged more. The result was a 4 soles (about $1.50) taxi ride to the Chiclayo transport terminal in a vehicle that had most definitely seen better days. The windscreen was very cracked, right in the driver’s line of vision, and the remainder of the car seemed to have some bits missing. I might as well have been in a tuk tuk. However, I arrived safely, somehow or another, just as they were announcing the 10.45am bus to Chiclayo. By my watch, it was then 10.46am. I had to stand patiently whilst the cashier painfully entered all my details into her computer, correcting the spelling of my name, whilst the announcements continued. I was then able to board the somewhat decrepit bus and had one of the last seats at the back.

It was extremely hot and sticky but, luckily, the Peruvians, unlike the Ecuadorians, seem to like the windows open. Doubly lucky because there was no air conditioning. I had been told that Peruvian buses were more expensive than Ecuadorian ones but were far more luxurious. This was obviously not one of them!

We passed through a lot more very flat, dry and dusty landscape, stopping in small towns here and there along the way, and arrived in Chiclayo three hours later. At least the journey time was shorter than I anticipated. On arrival, there was the usual hassle with the taxi drivers and I was eventually delivered to my hotel, which was in the middle of town. The taxi driver, having asked what I was paying, wanted to take me somewhere cheaper. I declined. Taxis, for me, are a cause of major stress, as I never know when I am being overcharged or whether it is safe. I never felt this in Ecuador but am definitely more wary in Peru, particularly here where there are very few tourists.

The Cathedral in Chiclayo
The Cathedral in Chiclayo

At the hotel, I struggled to understand what the male receptionist was telling me and my room, whilst clean and of a reasonable size, was yet another internal one, with a window onto a void between rooms. As it happened, Israel and Eefje, were staying in the one next to me and, when they returned later, I could hear every word they were saying, a fact which I alerted them to fairly promptly! Acoustics were obviously not considered in the construction. Eeffje also had the theory that the place could be rented hourly but any evidence of that passed me by.

Having left my bags in my room, I ventured out into the heat and chaos. First stop was at the Mercado Modelo, an absolutely vast market close to the hotel, where reputedly there were witch doctors and their wares, amongst the fruit and vegetables. Very disappointingly, I failed to find them. Perhaps if I had read a guide book first, I might have gone to the right corner of the market, which is in the south west part apparently. The market had a lot of narrow alleys where different areas contained specific items such as hairdressers cubicles in one part, vegetables and fruit in another, clothing in a huge part and animals and their food in another. However, ever conscious of the safety aspect, I didn’t linger and I didn’t take out my camera.

I strolled down the street to the Plaza de Armas, which appears to be the standard name for central plazas in Peru. This has a lovely garden overlooked by the Cathedral and a colonial Government building. In one corner, a stage and scaffolding were being erected, the purpose for which I was to find out later from Israel, who told me that today was the celebration of 180 years of Chiclayo so there were big celebrations in town and far more people than normal. Whilst in the plaza, I watched a line of very small children, all holding on to the one in front, walk around the circumference and into the Cathedral. Other children also came into the church whilst I was there so I can only assume there was some special service for children.

No harnesses for the scaffold builders in Chiclayo!
No harnesses for the scaffold builders in Chiclayo!

Chiclayo was beginning to overwhelm me with its noise, heat and sheer volume of people and I was starting to get quite down at the thought of travelling through Peru on my own if everywhere was going to be like this. I couldn’t find a supermarket and ended up buying water from a street vendor and retiring to my room, where I had an hour or two’s rest before venturing out again in search for food. None of the local cafes appealed so I ended up at the bakery once again and then buying an avocado from a street vendor, of which there were many.

I hadn’t been back in my room long when I heard Israel and Eefje return. As I owed them money for the taxi from Piura, I knocked on their door and they invited me to go out with them later for dinner and to view whatever celebrations were taking place by the stage in the plaza.

This turned into an adventure in itself. They like their food and had found a restaurant that they wanted to try that served local dishes, Chiclayo improbably being renowned for its cuisine! They were very safety conscious and had the map imprinted on their brains rather than have to take out a map in a dodgy area at night. We set off with Eefje leading the way. (She is very tall and majestic so Israel and I trailed in her wake.) She knew where she was going! Unfortunately, the restaurant address must have been wrong so we ended up in an unlikely area and, when we were told by a couple of people from whom they had asked directions, to be careful as it wasn’t safe for tourists, we got to a main road and taxi as quickly as possible.

Second choice of restaurant had changed its name from when the guide book was written and was somewhat more expensive than anywhere any of us would normally eat. However, it had local dishes. I had a ceviche, which had so much chilli in it that I could hardly eat it (made worse when I ate a seed) and they had two different goat dishes. Having consumed quite a number of roasted dried beans whilst I was waiting for them to get ready, I wasn’t so hungry and thought the fish would be a better option. You win some, you lose some!

Afterwards, (it was now well after 11pm) we strolled down the road to the Plaza de Armas and the stage, where the festivities were in progress. It was obviously a very local event and had an MC that didn’t want to stop talking. There were a couple of drum groups, one of which seemed to be a school, and then a singer and dancers from the casino, who displayed a sign with the unfortunate name of Big Slots, the double meaning of which was not lost on any of us but meant nothing to the non English speaking Peruvians.

We decided we had had enough entertainment just before midnight and followed in Eefje’s path across the plaza and homewards. As we did so, I noticed a group of policemen circled around, what I thought was, a box. We were a couple of metres from them, when the fireworks started above the Government building and within a minute or two, from the box in the middle of the plaza that we were standing almost next to! Where else would you get policemen setting off fireworks within 2 metres of people? Needless to say, we moved away and watched the explosions from a more or less safe distance.

Just down the road, we passed what, according to Israel and Eefje, were transvestites. Had they not been pointed out to me, I would have thought they were just prostitutes. Further on, they commented on the smell of cannabis, which had also not registered with me. I really think I have led far too sheltered a life! Thankfully, we made it safely back to the hotel after an evening that I would not have experienced if I had not met them.

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