“Don’t you know it is rude to stare?” I want to yell at the Peruvians, only I know it is rude to yell. Minutes into Peru and I know I am going to be plagued with conflicting feelings about the place. Getting into Peru wasn’t exactly easy, well more precisely leaving Ecuador was wasn’t easy, we chose the La Baslsa crossing as it was a laid back option, so laid back in fact that the border guard wasn’t there. After 3 hours of doing crosswords and waiting, we were eventually stamped out by a guy, maybe a janitor, who took direction from the guard over the phone. The Peru side was staffed, but unfortunately we were now crossing at the same time as the kick off between Peru and Brazil in the Copa de America, to say the border officials were distracted was an understatement, Heather hovered over the customs guy correcting mistake after mistake on the truck import form. After a half an hour of corrections we were free of customs, and the staring began.
The staring is particular irksome, this isn’t the same staring we got throughout Central America where if you made eye contact with the person and waved they gave a cheeky I got caught staring smile and waved back, here more often than not the waves and smiles are ignored and the stare seems to go on and on unsmiling and seemingly unblinking. Smile you miserable sods, look at the beautiful country you live in, it is jaw droppingly pretty, every new view is met by so many oooohs and aahs from Heather and me that to save us the effort of repeating ourselves we should just have a recording on a continuous loop.
This feeling does not, so far at least, extend to the towns. The towns have been ugly and functional, and the drivers in them even more insane and aggressive than their countryside counterparts. Usually a warren of narrow one way streets, each cautious slow down at a junction that isn’t marked as our right of way is met with a cacophony of angry honks. The junctions that do have some sort of traffic light control have red light count downs, and if you are not rolling through the junction still with five seconds left on the red light you hear those same irritated honks, this system might in a bizzar and eccentric way work if the drivers with the green light stopped with five seconds left on the green, this does not happen, and I suspect that should a fearful gringo attempt this the angry motorists behind would pool their collective resources and order an air strike. Additionally being rather mountainous there are several roads with treacherous switchbacks and sheer drops into oblivion, the undeterred Peruvian motorist takes these with the kind of gusto that would make your average rally driver pee himself and run home crying, though based on the number of crosses littering the side of the road their confidence in their ability is somewhat misplaced. Don’t even get me started about the litter all over the roads, and the frequent unpleasant aromas. We had been warned about the drivers, and leafing through a copy of Fodor’s Peru it even warns the prospective visitor not to drive as it is too risky, instead avail ones self of the cheap public transit, to me at least this does not solve the problem, it only gives you more company as you plunge off a cliff into the valley hundreds of meters below. So for now at least I am happy to endure the honks as I drive maddeningly defensively, content in the knowledge that I am making the poor Peruvian motorist behinds day by allowing him to indulge himself in a good stare and scowl as he inevitably overtakes me on a blind bend entering a school zone.
But enough complaining, at least for the moment, let’s talk a few early highlights.
The scenery in Peru has so far been spectacular, the drive to Gocta Falls was no exception, winding through towering valleys. The falls themselves were only “discovered” in 2005, the location was guarded by the locals as they believed a mermaid who lived at the bottom of the falls would curse them if they revealed the falls whereabouts. It is a rather large waterfall to be discovered so recently, being anywhere between the 3rd and 16th tallest in the world, The World Waterfall Database apparently having a low opinion of the falls. It would seem that measuring waterfalls is fraught with controversy, I am no expert but it does not seem to be terribly hard to measure the distance top to bottom. However it actually ranks in the world, really doesn’t matter, what does, is that it is beautiful and the hike there was lovely, especially so as we were well ahead of any tour groups and had them to ourselves. An additional bonus was spotting a Cock if the Rock which not only is a beautiful rare bird it also has wonderfully dirty name, happily and loudly I announced to everyone coming the other way that I had just seen a COCK of the rock.
We are neither culture vultures nor history buffs, but even so it is hard not to be impressed by Peru’s variety of ruins and archeological sites. Within our first couple of weeks we visited Kuelap ruins, perched high above the surrounding countryside, the Incans really seem to understand the location location location principle. This was followed shortly after, if you call a 2 day drive to cover 500km short, by visits to Chan Chan and the Huacas Del Luna Y Da La Sol ruins. Both Pre Incan and built of adobe, Chan Chan (so good they named it twice, hang on that might be someplace else) is a vast city complex, with towering walls, in its hay day I am sure it wouldn’t have been out of place in the Game of Thrones. Huacas Del Luna Y Da La Sol is a temple complex with incredible carvings though some were reminiscent of old 8 bit Nintendo graphics and others looked a bit South Parkish.
We whiled away a few days in Huanchaco by the sea where we filled our time drinking beer, eating ceviche and watching other people surf, the sea was far to cold for that sort of nonsense. The town is famous for its traditional fishing boats, constructed of reeds they have a short life span, eventually they become to waterlogged to float, the old boats line the side if the beach. The highlight of our time in the town was the Saturday night fireworks, bamboo towers are constructed and fireworks are strung all over them, the effect is both impressive and a health and safety nightmare.
With our fill of culture we headed back to the mountains for our first taste of the Cordillera Blanca’s. We spent a few days wandering and acclimatizing and planning our Santa Cruz Trek.