Friday 7 August

(magnify) Trujillo Plaza de Armas

We wake to a clear blue sky – well, there is a slight haze over the city but nothing like the thick blanket of cloud and drizzle that we had last night.

Breakfast is unimpressive – bread rolls, jam, and thick papaya juice. (Peruvians, in contrast to Rachel, seem to like their juices thick.) We walk to the bank and change $450 into soles. Then on to the tourist office to find out about visiting Chan Chan. The tourist office is on the Plaza de Armas, but ninety degrees away from where we expected to find it. We learn that Chan Chan is best visited in the morning, and is easy to get to by combi.

(magnify) The track to Chan Chan

From where the combi drops us at the side of the Trujillo–Piura road we have a long walk along a black dirt track. Although the drop-off point seemed clear enough, we begin to wonder if we are in the right place. We pass a set of ruins that is being restored on our left, but there is no sign of a ticket office or public entrance. Either side of the road is desert with the pale reddish-orange dirt piled up in strange mounds. The sun is beating down on us but the cool sea breeze makes the temperature quite comfortable (we will burn easily).

We are reassured when a taxi passes us containing what surely must be tourists. Eventually we round a corner and a car park, taxis, and entrance building is finally revealed. We are in the right place then.

The entrance fee is eleven soles each. We decide to hire an official guide for another twenty-five. The money proves to be very well spent.

(magnify) Large concourse
Carving detail
(magnify) Geometric walls
Statue and carvings

The scale of the ruins is simply staggering, and our guide is very knowledgeable and engaging in his explanations. Once inside, we are surrounded by tall adobe walls, and round each corner a new compound opens up before us. It has been extensively restored. It dawns on us that what appeared on the walk up to the site to be mounds are actually the unrestored remains of several other cities grouped together nearby.

The “well” that we reach at the end of a long corridor and round a corner comes as a complete surprise. In this parched and arid desert a large rectangular lake with reeds, water lilies, and a family of coots padding about.

Statue and carvings
(magnify) Farewell song

Towards the end of the tour our guide produces an Andean flute and rather expertly plays us two songs as we walk slowly down the final corridor.

Another combi takes us back to the outer ring road, from where it is a relatively short walk back to the plaza where we have a late toasted sandwich lunch.

(magnify) Santa Clara church

We intended to look inside some of the many churches of Trujillo, but most of them are closed until four. However we are lucky to find the church of Santa Clara open because they are preparing for a wedding. A stunning gold altar sits solidly at the far end of the chancel. The people setting up the flowers are very friendly.

Back at the main square is a house now owned by the national bank, where Simón Bolívar stayed for much of his time during the liberation and entrance is free. The big courtyards are an oasis of peace and calm. The house is watched over by the beady eyes of a host of security guards. One of them follows us around, which could have been quite unnerving, but he is friendly and even points things out to us.

(magnify) Mock pipe organ in La Merced church

We return to the hotel for a siesta before going to see some of the other churches. The Cathedral is less glitzy, almost plain, in comparison to the San Fransisco, which has three golden altars. They are elaborate in the extreme, but a but overbearing. We visit the museum in the creepy crypt underneath the cathedral. Narrow passages display dark paintings of various saints. One narrow and low passage, almost a tunnel, leads to an image of Christ displayed rather incongruously propped up on the floor at the far end.

It is beginning to get dark as we return to the plaza. There is a lot of activity, and we can hear a mambo band playing. On a raised stage in the centre of the plaza a youth orchestra is setting up. There is a heavy police presence but the place has a calm and friendly atmosphere.

Costume parade
(magnify) Party in the Plaza

A “tram” slowly circles the plaza, serving a long queue of would-be riders. When the mambo band finishes the orchestra begins. They play mainly Strauss waltzes. Other bands around the plaza at first are competing, but stop when approached by security guards until the youth orchestra has finished.

Mambo band

We have decided to try our luck at an Italian restaurant that we passed on the way out to the combi this morning, the Demarco. I go for sea food with rice, which is a kind of pælla, and Rachel has breaded fried steak with rice. I think I won, but Rachel scoffed two bread rolls – the nicest we have had so far!

Back once more in the plaza things are still in full swing. We stay for a while, but the sound system is not very good (too much bass) and we cannot see the dancers over the heads of the crowd, so presently we call it a day and return to the hotel.