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.

From lush green mountains to dry and dusty desert

It was a very early start today as I had a 7am bus to catch to take me over the border and into Peru. I had bought my ticket the day before so that I didn’t run the risk of them being sold out. I needn’t have worried as there were plenty of available seats, which was lucky as I had ended up with seat no 1 which was right behind the driver and had no leg room, so I was able to move to a seat further back.

View from the bus
View from the bus
Waiting for the bus driver to have lunch in Macora
Waiting for the bus driver to have lunch in Macora

We spent the day travelling up and over some extremely high passes. The scenery was spectacular. After an hour and one pass, we stopped at the small town of Catamayo so that the driver and conductor could have breakfast. I decided to take the opportunity and have a much needed cup of coffee. Milk seemed to pose a bit of a problem but I was eventually presented with a cup of very pale milky liquid. Not much caffeine in that so Israel, a Spanish speaking English man who was travelling with his Dutch partner Effje, asked for more coffee. I was given a jar of dried up instant and just about managed to dig out enough granules to give the liquid a marginal bit of colour if not taste!

After that, it was onwards and upwards. At times we were on level with the mountain tops in the distance and the clouds were beneath us. The mountains were all very green. We stopped at various towns where locals got on and off but by the time we reached Macora, near the border, there were only 9 foreigners and one Spanish speaking (possibly Ecuadorian) couple left on the bus. Here, we stopped for the driver and conductor to have lunch. The bus station was small with some fairly undesirable bathrooms but needs must……

Interesting topiary in Macara
Interesting topiary in Macara

I had a wander around the town, which had an airport next to the main plaza, which must have been very convenient for whatever passengers alighted, as well as some ‘interesting’ and motivational murals on the side of the Catholic school. We were there for about 30 minutes and it was then a very short drive to the border and immigration. It took about an hour to process us all, with the Ecuadorians being turned away on the Peruvian side for incomplete/inadequate documentation. Otherwise, for the rest of us, it was all very straight forward and friendly. I wasn’t asked for my ticket out of Peru so booking my bus onwards into Bolivia was unnecessary, but you never know.

Once we were on the road again, the scenery changed dramatically within a short space of time. We went from lush green mountains to flat dry desert. Around Macora, there were a number of rice paddies and some sugar cane but into Peru, the terrain was very, very dry and dusty with dirt roads in the towns and villages and very poor housing. Tuk tuks were everywhere.

One of the Peruvian towns we passed through
One of the Peruvian towns we passed through

We reached Piura at about 4pm. We had not arrived at the anticipated bus terminal and the bus driver himself did not seem to know where to go and had had to ask for directions several times. As soon as we got off the bus, we were hassled by taxi drivers, which raised my stress levels immediately. All around us was bedlam. In addition, no one had Peruvian money as there had been nowhere to get any at the border. I tagged along with the English/Dutch couple (which I am sure they really appreciated) and Israel negotiated with a taxi driver to take us to a bank, then to my hotel and then to take them to the bus terminal for the bus to Chiclayo. I don’t know what I would have done without them (cried, I expect!)

This was all achieved and I arrived at my hotel, where I was made to feel very welcome. I had air con and a sort of outside window, and it was a nice room. I set off for the shopping centre down the road and the supermarket contained within, in anticipation of a cold beer. However, once out on the street, I felt more alive than I had done in Ecuador as the streets were buzzing. Traffic chaos reigned and it seemed to be each man/tuk tuk for himself! There were traffic lights at intersections, some of which even had pedestrian lights but it was still necessary to pay attention as there was a danger of being run over by a tuk tuk or motorbike. There was much tooting of horns!!

Water tanker 'damping' down the dust in Piura
Water tanker ‘damping’ down the dust in Piura

I ended up walking quite a long way towards the centre but it was a bit too far to reach and return to the hotel before dark so I got as far as I comfortably could and then returned to the supermarket, which was very large and had a good range of everything. What a difference to the Tia supermarkets in Ecuador! I made my purchases for the evening, noted the lovely range of wine (but decided I couldn’t possibly add a bottle of wine to my already overweight baggage) and returned to the hotel for a much needed shower, beer and food in my lovely air conditioned room.