Saturday, December 5, 2009

Peru, Day 8

Trujillo at dusk.

This morning I was awakened at 5:30 by the sound of gunshots – about 40 of them over a period of maybe ten minutes. I had no idea what was going on, but I assumed people were either hunting near my hostal or someone was just popping off rounds because they’d run out of beer to drink and were angry about it. Of course, the shooting set off the neighborhood dogs, and it was also about time for the birds to wake up and start singing loudly and local churches to begin tolling their bells. I lay in bed until 6:00 in shock and awe, then dragged myself into the shower and went downstairs to have your typical Peruvian free-with-accommodations breakfast.

I ended up traveling into the countryside to see Huaca de la Luna y de la Sol and Chan Chan, as well as two lesser sites associated with the latter. It was nice to get off the beaten track and see more of Peru, but somehow I was disappointed in Huaca de la Luna (one doesn’t have access to Huaca de la Sol) and especially Chan Chan.

Although my guide at each destination was superbly well informed about the site where they worked, it was difficult for me to imagine how the places looked hundreds of years ago and in what ways, if any, these civilizations influenced the present-day way of life in the region. I know they have; I just couldn’t piece together how. It was interesting, I must say, if morbidly so, to learn just how extensive the practice of human sacrifice was in both Chimu civilization (~900 A.D. – 1470 A.D.) and in Moche civilization (A.D. 100 – ~A.D. 800), and how thoroughly the Spanish plundered these sites without regard for keeping any part of these civilizations intact. And Peruvians, too, even now, have been known to participate in grave-robbing.

The murals at Huaca de la Luna (Moche civilization) were brilliant – the artistry of their renderings of different animal deities, of soldiers leading prisoners, and of figures holding human heads – seemed strikingly modern.

It was also interesting to see how the temple was enlarged by the practice of simply building over the previous temple, which was constructed of mud and a series of other murals and contained the bodies of its former rulers and select followers. But maybe more of the site needs to be excavated – there are many mounds left to be examined, but there’s little money for it in Peru – before a sufficient story of the place can be told. I guess I felt like I left the Temple of the Moon with very little sense of its story.

Chan Chan, on the other hand, despite being a UNESCO World Heritage site, just didn’t do much for me. There weren’t many explanations posted, and even though I had a capable guide, I didn’t feel like I learned much by going here. Not much is left of Chan Chan, either, and the structures that have been unearthed were quite plain.

What designs there were – stylized cormorants, pelicans, and depictions of the moon and ocean – were repeated often, as were the diamond-shaped ventilation holes in many of the walls. Interesting, yes; but frankly, I wanted more from the hour I spent touring it under the hot sun.

It was good to get back to town and check in to my hotel in Trujillo. As soon as I did, I asked the receptionist for a recommendation of where to get good ceviche. She pointed to a place on a map that looked like a ten-minute taxi ride. I hesitated, but other staff around her chimed in to say it was the best. So what could I do? I got a taxi and headed over there – and inevitably found myself in another one of those pretend conversations in Spanish where admitting after five minutes that I haven’t understood a thing is certain to be taken as an insult. So I just continued to nod and smile and say, “Si, si, es muy interesando,” and even allowed the driver to give me a tour of the city rather than just take me directly to my destination. Why do I let this happen?

It was a big relief to leave the taxi and enter Mar Picante. These photos do no justice to this restaurant – absolutely none. (I was using a rather small camera here, not the one I normally use, and the quality of these shots isn’t as good.) Every dish the waiters and waitresses carried from the kitchen looked absolutely incredible. And my own dish, which was a kind of bento of sorts, excited me to no end. I ordered the Fantasia Marina: ceviche of fish, shrimp, squid, and cockles; rice with fried whitefish and clams; whitefish and crayfish in a spicy yellow ají sauce; and crispy fried fish nuggets with yucca.

All this food, and it was a lot, only cost 16 soles ($5.54)! I may have to go there tomorrow. If you ever get to Trujillo, this is a must-do.

At the end of my meal I even told my friendly waiter, “Este comida cambia mi vida.” He liked that. Or maybe he thought it was one of those pretend conversations that gringos like to have in Peru. At least he didn’t have to sit through 15 minutes of it…

When I came back to town – this time with a young taxi driver who was speaking lovey-dovey into his cell phone during my entire ride and nearly got us into two separate accidents – I decided to take a walking tour of the city. Trujillo is an extremely colorful, charming city of about 900,000 people. In the part of town where I’m staying – say from Plaza de Armas to Plazuela el Recreo, or about five blocks by six blocks – the colonial past is apparent in just about every building, especially the churches. The only thing that dampened my enthusiasm about walking was the taxis, whose drivers feel no compunction about running over pedestrians, and honk their horns incessantly at tourists. Most of the places I focused on during my walk were (in addition to churches) museums, cultural centers, a park, some old houses that are well-known examples of period architecture, a couple of “palaces,” a local market, and, at the end, the Plaza del Armas. Oh, and superheroes.

This evening, after being drawn out of my room by the sound of a parade – it was a festival for some local Virgin (note my capitalization) – I went out to give chifas another shot. Earlier this afternoon I saw a restaurant named Chifas right around the corner of my hotel. Although it was open at around 3 p.m., it was closed at 5:30. I scratched my head in wonder, then shrugged and walked back to the corner to a bar I was particularly interested in: Café y Museo del Juguete, which is owned by the Peruvian artist Gerardo Chávez Lopez. (I was less interested in the museum, which is on the top floor and contains figurines and toys and whistles and such from as long as 1000 years ago.)

Just to make sure you don’t think I’m some random alkie wandering through South America, I chose this bar because it’s supposed to have a gorgeous, old-school charm to it, and because it’s known to be a meeting place of famous Peruvian and South American artists, such as Mario Vargas Llosa. He wasn’t there – he moved to Spain shortly after losing the presidential election to Alberto Fujimori – but his photo was on the wall along with numerous other Latin luminaries.

I don’t go to bars very often – really, it’s true – but I have to say that this place, small as it was, has got to be one of the coolest little bars in the world. Everything about it – the color of the building’s exterior, the leather seats, wooden tables, hardwood floors, the piano in the back room, the artist photos on the wall, the muted light seeping through the windows, the antique cash register, the jazz playing on the stereo – made me wonder why at a little past 5:30 on a Saturday so few people were there.

In any case, I ended up ordering a mistela damasco, which is a kind of apricot wine. As you can see, there’s an apricot floating in my glass.

Why does the apricot look furry? I assure you that it wasn't. In fact, it was unbelievably good.

It was very sweet – like Japanese plum wine – and I liked how the glass tapered outward at the top. And for six soles ($2.07), that’s a nice price for an aperitif in a bar with so much history and charm.

I left after a few more people trickled in. The fading light outside made all the colorful buildings appear increasingly subdued – all the bright colors suddenly gradated into pastels – and the turkey vultures that had been soaring high, high overhead all day began to alight on the crosses atop the churches, and spread their wings as if to stretch sore muscles.

I could have stayed on the sidewalk all evening except I was too conscious of myself standing alone with a camera hanging on my neck. After a while I went to get dinner.

I settled for a sandwich shop called Café Amaretto because I saw chicarron de pollo on their menu.

I knew that chicha was a fermented beer made from different varieties of corn, and chicha morada was that delicious purple-black drink made primarily from maize that I’d had in Cuzco. A chicha-something chicken sandwich? Sounds interesting! Reading this, maybe you can see that I suddenly became dyslexic or something because there’s no chicha in chicarron. I ended up with fried chicken nuggets, greasy French fries, and ketchup that tasted like sweetened tomato paste. It was the blandest, most dissatisfying meal I’ve had in Peru – or probably anywhere in the last year or two. It’s my own fault, of course. There’s a photo of it below, not that it’s worth looking at.

Still, it was nice to sit there; a wedding was getting underway at a beautiful church across the street, and the lights on the street were starting to turn on and reflect prettily off Trujillo’s marbled sidewalks.

When I came home I discovered that my flight to Lima got delayed again. But rather than bemoan this, I was happy to learn I had another half-day in Trujillo, which really has a lot going for it.

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  1. I love visiting and living through your eyes and taste! I once bought some Peruvian pottery at an estate sale and have dreamed of seeing it made by hand for real one day...

  2. Hi d-----------------------V!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    We`re so sorry for so late reply indeed !!!!
    The christmas`s just around the corner and
    it`s been so busy & busy for last one week ....
    Forgive us , D----------------------!!!!!!!!!!!
    But we`re enjoying and traveling around the Peru with you everyday with this your blog
    and we can see how U`re doing . D .... !!!
    We really hope U`ll have great & wonderful trip in Peru and will be back here in near day and we could have the time again everyday here , D ....!Do come here , D !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    We always are waiting for U`re coming back here
    ..... !!!!!!
    Have a great trip and take care , ne !!!!!!

    P.S...How`s C leaves there ???!!! Ha- Ha !!!

  3. Did U find any Jap res there???!!!

  4. Chef E: Thank you! Yes, Peruvian pottery was on sale everywhere it seemed. That's great that you found some at an estate sale. That saves you major $$ on airfare! But I hope you can make it to Peru some day. It's really an impressive country.

    Hanoilife: It sounds like you're really busy at your shop with Christmas approaching! Hai qua, phai khong? Thanks for your kind wishes about my trip. And yes, it would be great to hang out again soon in Hanoi. Tabun, ne! Oh, and I hear there are many Japanese in Peru and Ecuador, but I don't think I saw any. You want to move to South America? :)

  5. You were much more calm than I would've been if I awakened to the sound of gunshots! Your photo of the wall carvings at the huaca is amazing - having people in the frame gives us a good scale of the artwork. Did you see or hear about Moche face pottery? I hear they are amazing but apparently very few are still in Peru.

    As for the food, it seems there's been another setback but I'm glad the bar was a little hidden gem!