Sunday 9 August

We enjoy a fabulous breakfast with scrambled eggs and the best crispy bacon I have ever tasted. Even the juice isn’t thick.

We walk up Colon to try to find a tour company mentioned in the guidebook to arrange a trip to Sipan, but there is no sign of it. We reach the plaza and find that the tourist booth is unmanned. Two tour companies are touting for business but offer only whole day tours including several different sites. We have to be back earlier to catch our night bus to Chachapoyas so we must find something else. This is going to be harder than we thought.

We decide to return to the hotel and ask at the reception there if they can organise a private taxi to take us just to Sipán. (We looked at taking a combi but it seems rather complicated, with a very long walk from the nearest stop to reach the ruins.)

The receptionist is very obliging though we double-take slightly at the cost, 80 soles. To put it into context though that is still less than the taxi fare between our apartment back home in East Leake and the nearby airport, a fifteen minute ride. We decide to go for it, and we are soon on our way to Sipán in a very comfortable car, along a smooth paved road past fields of sugar cane. Our driver Manuel seems a bit disturbed that we only want to visit Sipán, and not also the Museo de las Tumbas Reales de Sipán. The latter is nowhere near to the ruins, but is said by the guide book to be one of the best museums in the world, so presumably the Peruvians are justly proud of it. We though are more interested in the ruins themselves.

(magnify) Moche culture mask

We look around the site museum first. It is very well presented, all in Spanish, though there is an informative video with English subtitles. We manage to make some sense of the exhibits with some guess-translation and sneakily listening in on an English language tour.

The original pyramids were enlarged six times during the Moche dynasty, but now remain as a pair of water- and wind-eroded earthen mounds, deep gullies weathered into their sides. It requires a great deal of imagination to see what it might once have been.

We can walk right around the ruins and up on top of them on carefully controlled pathways. Most of the archaeological effort (still on-going) is concentrated on the smaller one, which was the burial place of El Señor de Sipán and “The Old Lord of Sipán.” This one is covered to protect it from further damage from the elements and there are replicas of the original finds in the uncovered tombs.

Weather-eroded pyramids
(magnify) On a pyramid
(magnify) Excavations
(magnify) Tomb of The Old Lord of Sipán

We spend about an hour and three quarters there and as we approach the car park, Manuel is bringing the car towards us, ready to leave. He seems in a slight hurry to get back but we arrive safely.

We eat a late lunch in the busy Ramana restaurant. They have a long menu but we finally make our choices. I have fried sole with rice, which is absolutely delicious. Rachel has arroz con pato – duck with rice, a local speciality. It consists of a colossal mound of green rice burying a leg of duck. I don’t think Rachel is terribly impressed.

Clinic in an old church

After lunch I want to go early to the Movíl Tours bus terminal to collect our tickets for tonight well ahead of time, in case there is any problem. There is some confusion at the ticket counter. “Tengo una reservatión” I say in my best Spanish. The clerk informs me regretfully that the bus is full and we cannot travel to Chachapoyas tonight. I persist, and after a few more unsuccessful attempts, I try to get them to telephone Chachapoyas Tours, who have organised this part of the trip for us. A manager passes me a mobile phone and there follows one of the most confusing telephone conversations I have ever known. I assume I am talking to someone at Chachapoyas Tours, but this transpires not to be the case. Eventually the other ticket clerk saves the day when she brings up the seating plan for the bus on her screen and I see that our names are on two seats right at the front.

At the Mercado Modelo
(magnify) Inside the cathedral

From there we wander up to the Mercado Modelo. It is huge. I have never seen so many shoes. There is a very smelly fish market, bad enough to make me feel slightly queasy. Another section brings together stalls selling elaborate iced cakes. There is more fruit and vegetables than you could shake a stick at, all beautifully presented in neat geometrical stacks.

We return to the cathedral for a sit down and to look around properly without the wedding. Finally we retire to a café and enjoy a slice of cake each. I ask for a “café con leche”, which seems to cause great confusion. The waitress asks if I meant a “Leche con café.” I explain that I want a coffee with a little milk. This elicits a long reply that I completely fail to comprehend. She calls over another waitress, but we cannot get to the bottom of whatever it is. There is some laughter, then she goes away.

Inside the cathedral

Presently a cup of strong black coffee arrives with a small jug of milk – exactly what I wanted and I thank her.

We collect our luggage from the hotel then jump in a taxi for the short distance to the bus terminal. We are nearly one and a half hours early. We wouldn’t want to miss it though, would we?

While we are waiting, seated at a small table in the corner, a man in a smart suit tries to steal Rachel’s bag, but she notices and turns round. He straightens up and saunters out of the bus station, right past a policeman. If we had been a bit less surprised we would have made a fuss, but the whole thing happened so suddenly and unexpectedly that it completely caught us off-guard. At least the bag is safe.

The bus leaves on time at half past seven. We have seats one and two right at the front above the driver, so there is no one reclining in front of us and we have good leg room. The seats go back so far that it is actually possible to lie sideways on them. Despite this I do not sleep, partly due to the novelty of it and partly due to the swinging of the bus from side to side as we wind up and down zig-zags, the frequent clatter of speed bumps and the rattling whenever we hit a stretch of unpaved road.