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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Chiclayo is another city known for pickpockets and thieves, an inauspicious warning for a city surrounded by ancient ruins.  They only discovered the ruins because an archaeologist noticed a lot of things showing up on the black market and moved quickly with the police to protect the pyramids.  It is no Machu Picchu, it’s also a good millennium earlier, from the Moche culture, which is even more impressive. I was talking to my friendly hostel owner (Muchik Hostel is a nice option in Chiclayo) and he mentioned that he wished more tourists would see their great treasure here.  I agree, why all flood Machu Picchu when there is this even more ancient trove?  There were all of twenty people at the pyramids as school is out and there were no groups of children.  They might want to do something about all the rip off taxis and pickpockets though.

End of the article has transport advice for how to do all of this on your own as I found guidebooks to be a bit scarce in details.  I’ve also skipped the cuisine of Chiclayo as I got no good pictures.  Arroz con pato (duck with cilantro/beer rice), chirimpico (offal and blood breakfast), and tortilla de raya (manta ray omelette) are all delicious but I found no stand out restaurants in town.  I also briefly stopped at the shaman market in Mercado Modelo but was off put by the overly aggressive clerks with their cheap looking bottles of colored oils and left to enjoy an anticucho (grilled skewer) of beef heart in front of the market instead.  Seemed like a safer way to get courage.

First stop is the beautifully laid out and designed Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan in Lambayeque.  Unfortunately National Geographic owns the rights of the amazing finds inside, often called the Tutankhamun of the Americas, so we only get a building shot.

First stop is the beautifully laid out and designed Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan in Lambayeque. Unfortunately National Geographic owns the rights of the amazing finds inside, often called the Tutankhamun of the Americas, so we only get a building shot.

Afterwards I went to the older Brunning museum, which lacked ventilation in a hot day so I made a quick jaunt of it.  I rather enjoyed this whimsical looking statue of death and what looks like a wheel of cheese or whetstone.

Afterwards I went to the older Brunning museum, which lacked ventilation in a hot day so I made a quick jaunt of it. I rather enjoyed this whimsical looking statue of death and what looks like a wheel of cheese or whetstone.

Right next to death was this much more terrifying monkey.  My nightmares are filed with barrels of these.

Right next to death was this much more terrifying monkey. My nightmares are filed with barrels of these.

The kings were thought of as gods so the royal family and religiously important wore mouth masks to hide the fact they were mortals.  You wish you were important enough for a snazzy bling mustache.

The kings were thought of as gods so the royal family and religiously important wore mouth masks to hide the fact they were mortals. You wish you were important enough for a snazzy bling mustache.

The intricate metalwork is beautiful but the little stuff was impossible to get a good picture of.

The intricate metalwork is beautiful but the little stuff was impossible to get a good picture of.

The next day I headed to the actual site in Sipan which had another well designed and even newer museum.

These impish things seemed more European to me than Latin American.

These impish things seemed more European to me than Latin American.

They really like their death statues.

They really like their death statues.

They also really like their terrifying animals, this is a feline-humanoid mask.

They also really like their terrifying animals, this is a feline-humanoid mask.

The king got a seriously large mouth mask.

The king got a seriously large mouth mask.  I’m not sure how he ever spoke or moved his body with all this gold and silver on him.

I'm not sure how this guard was supposed to protect anyone, perhaps by blinding them with his golden chest?

I’m not sure how this guard was supposed to protect anyone, perhaps by blinding them with his golden chest?

I am constantly impressed by the quality of the poured metalwork that long ago.

I am constantly impressed by the quality of the poured metalwork that long ago.

You can tell what ancient Peruvians thought was important.  A-maize-ing. Har had har. There's a statue of peanuts, potatoes, and pumpkins right behind this one.

You can tell what ancient Peruvians thought was important. A-maize-ing. Har had har. There’s a statue of peanuts, potatoes, and pumpkins right behind this one.

Walking 200 meters from the parking lot and museum brings you to the actual pyramid site.

It's no terra cotta warriors of Xi'an but that is still a heck of a lot of jars.

It’s no terra cotta warriors of Xi’an but that is still a heck of a lot of jars.

The recreated grave of the lord of Sipan.  When being buried in a pyramid don't forget your important wife, your military chief, your other wives, a random child, your llama, and jars to hold snacks.

The recreated grave of the lord of Sipan. When being buried in a pyramid don’t forget your important wife, your military chief, your other wives, a random child, your llama, and clay jars to hold snacks.

Two millenniums is not very kind to adobe pyramids.  I'm not sure what the metal sheeting is covering as they told me excavation has stopped.

Two millenniums is not very kind to adobe pyramids. I’m not sure what the metal sheeting is covering as they told me excavation has stopped.

Well ok, this pyramid was slightly less eroded.  I'm not really sure why.

Well ok, this pyramid was slightly less eroded. I’m not really sure why.

The view from the top of the pyramids was wonderful against the runny pyramids.

The view from the top of the pyramids was wonderful against the runny pyramids.

There are tours available through Mochi Tours in town, however I found them a little steep (70 soles/28 USD) given we were skipping the Lambayeque museums as the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan is closed on Mondays.  It’s completely possible to do alone but public transportation is always slower and there isn’t a huge amount of English descriptions.  Museums are all 10 soles or less and an English guide is available at the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan for 30 soles.  The Spanish guide is free and friendly as he follows you around telling you stuff even after I told him I didn’t speak much Spanish.  The museum stores, a random favorite of mine, were lacking as they were mostly replaced with stalls of tchotchky vendor instead.

How to get to Lambayeque: There are collectivo taxis that leave from either Avenida Angamos or San Martin (I forget which) just north of San Jose street.  There are vans just on the street or an actual office midway down the block with cars.  They leave when full.  Get off near the main market in Lambayeque or just tell them you want to go to the museo.  Should be 1.5 soles.

How to get back to Chiclayo; The collective taxis gather either kitty corner from the Brunning Museum (you can see the sign in front of the park) or on the main street between the two museums.  You’ll return to the same park in Chiclayo you left near.  1.5-2 soles.

How to get to Sipan: Go to the Tepsel minibus station where Castaneda Iparraguirre and Avenida Agricultura meet.  The Sipan bus is buried in the complex, just keep asking where the Sipan bus is.  It leaves every half hour (Latin American style, so whenever it feels like, maybe on time).  After passing the first town of Sipan, mention you want to go to “los piramedes” and they’ll let you off in the parking lot for the museum on the right.  You’ll see the pyramids before this.  To get back, catch the same bus going back.  3 soles each way.

Next up I head to the coast to enjoy yet more delicious food and relax.  I’m nearing the end of my adventuring towns in foreign countries.

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Well after booking tickets back to the United States, I have about two weeks left in Peru.  So, I could rush down to Machu Picchu (40 hours by bus!) or I could actually explore northern Peru.  First stop after Zorritos is the hot all year round Piura.  Described by most as a stop only to change buses, i’ve stopped to try the renowned food.  The Piurans claim Lima stole their traditional food.

The city itself does not contain a lot of things to see, with only the requisite church or two and otherwise a bustling downtown where people were working.  I was underwhelmed with the chavelo (yuca, green plantains and a dried meat) at famous Los Santitos in town so I headed out to Catacaos, a town known for it’s arts, crafts and Criollo cuisine.  I got lost, found the regular market and enjoyed a ceviche snack, and finally found the artisan market to buy souvenirs.  I’ve always said my family and friends are getting presents from my last country, and this is it.

Next up was lunch.  The tourist information office suggested one place, and I was mildly concerned when the cab driver told me that place was too rustic and took me to a place instead that he pointed out “had more families”.  I assume I lost something in translation.  Luckily I didn’t need to worry.

Seriously delicious goat stew (seco de cabrito) with the most deliciously moist green tamales.  You could taste the lard!

Seriously delicious goat stew (seco de cabrito) with the most deliciously moist green tamales. You could taste the lard!

Sadly, that taxi incident was probably the best of the interactions I’ve had in this town as most of the taxi drivers are double charging me.  It infuriates me more that they know it, they know I know it, but what do you do then?  It helps to know the exact rates things should be and just plant that in their hand before walking out.

I’m a speed shopper and rushed back to Piura to try some of the famed ceviche.  The darned cevicherias are only open for lunch between about noon to four.  Don Pedrito, what Gaston Acurio said was the best he’s ever had.  I don’t know about that but it was good.  I could’ve used a bit less lime and more chiles.  It was a bit hard to find as it had moved to 280 Roma from its listed address in an article as 132 Roma.

What is more beautiful that a mountain of ceviche and beer?

What is more beautiful that a mountain of ceviche and beer?  The national dish of Peru I’m sure.

The accommodation in Peru is proving more expensive than I thought.  So while I am occasionally still able to get my own room, sometimes the bathrooms are shared.

Sometimes there are monkey bear things in the hotel that I can't identify.

Sometimes there are monkey bear things in the hotel that I can’t identify.

Onwards I go through this desert wasteland that is the northern Peruvian coast.  The bus rides are through dusty empty lanes and the cities are not on the gringo trail, for better or worse.

I never quite know what to write when the guesthouse hands me an otherwise inoffensive book that asks what my occupation is.  They always try to helpfully ask if I am a student.   I just look at them, puzzled, trying to figure out if they would accept traveler as an occupation.  I walked away from a career in video games over a year ago now, claiming a creative sabbatical to find inspiration.  Yet even now, a year after I last did any contracting work on the road, I wonder if I want to return to a world of dark, sunless rooms, long days followed by long nights, and a macho, often even masochistic culture.  So as I am beginning to get tired and look forward to hanging up my backpack for a bit, I decided to see just how I feel about making games again.  I signed up for a game jam, a closed time period event in which you try to make a complete video game.  Usually they are a weekend long but this one is ten days long.  I also set out to find the perfect conditions to create.

My idea of a perfect office apparently exists in Zorritos, Peru.

My idea of a perfect office apparently exists in Zorritos, Peru.

My perfect conditions involve an open air patio covered in palm fronds where I can view the ocean, hear the crashing waves, and feel a cooling sea breeze in the warm tropical air.  I paid a bit of a premium to make sure I had internet as it is not as prevalent in this part of the world as it was back in Southeast Asia.  However, a small price to pay to be comfortable while I took a hard look at my career and life choices.  I blog about my development experience over at my not-often-used-this-year work site.

I'm not sure if this lady lives there as well, but she's in that shack all day frying up fish or turning it into ceviche.  What a location.

I’m not sure if this lady lives there as well, but she’s in that shack all day frying up fish or turning it into ceviche. What a location.

Unfortunately the fairly empty beaches were visited less than I intended as the sand was blisteringly hot, waves quite strong and close to shore, and I somehow got a sunburn after only half an hour in the sun for the first time in my life.  The last straw was when I went one day and the local men were the cleaning up the beach, which does help the general ambiance.  Their wolf whistles and cat calls every few minutes were less than pleasing.  While this whistling and cat calling goes on around town as well, it is not nearly as often.  For reasons I cannot fathom, some people even have horns that make wolf whistle sounds.  Instead I spent half my time at the hotel pool and after I finished my project in the extra large hammocks.  It is perhaps not a good sign that post-project I took a day to do nothing but recuperate and knew I could use a few more days to do so.

Clusters of fishing boats could be seen in a few directions.  There was also an oil rig flaming away offshore but that didn't seem to affect the rather clean water.

Clusters of fishing boats could be seen in a few directions. There was also an oil rig flaming away offshore but that didn’t seem to affect the rather clean water.

The loss of my smartphone last month means I didn’t have anything with me to take pictures as I encountered endless ceviches and other seafood mountains on the coast.  Alas the food was often even more expensive than back in America and I wonder if getting off the coast would help that.  I have booked a plane ticket to return to the United States though so I will be enjoying my last few weeks in a balmy summer before returning for the caboose of winter.  After ten days of working on a game, I can say I enjoy working with my friends and creating things again but I certainly do not miss the head banging inane frustrations as challenging nor do I care to be working such long days and nights again.  I’m not too sure where or what next, but it should be exciting.

It’s where I started my trip but not where I am ending.  I was sad to have only seen Ecuador and Brazil on my first loop around South America, so I meant to make a quick jaunt through Ecuador before heading onward.  After many misadventures and delays, I find myself finally setting off two months after I arrived.  Like I often do, I linger to check out all the little corners.  My last stop was in the coastal city of Machala, not a common stop for your average tourist.  However my friend I met in Cuenca lived there and I told her I’d visit.  It turned out to be a very cleaned up city regentrifying with lots of parks and green spaces.  I’d also been lured in by the promises of the best food in Ecuador, and it truly was great.  Whether that was because the city is covered in delicious meats and seafood or because my friend lived there and knew the best places, I will never know.

There's pretty vistas everywhere.

There’s pretty vistas everywhere.

I stayed a whole month on a farm learning about sustainable practices.  I also learned that I’m not very good at living with a bunch of people in the same room for very long.  Luckily Ecuador is cheap enough to allow me to travel in my own room like I’ve been doing most of this trip.  It also gave me a month’s break from learning Spanish for better or worse.  It was a place to rest my weary feet for a while.  Unfortunately it was also the start of my bad luck.  Turns out getting your credit card number stolen is just the tip of the iceberg and I had two other robbery incidences afterward that relieved me of my wallet, phone and later my iPod.  Perhaps I’d gotten lack with my vigilance after 14 months without incident.

That is not to say Ecuador is a bad place, most people are wonderful.  There are just a few bad apples that really like taking stuff and even the Ecuadorians are stuck worrying about it.  My friend told me most Ecuadorians don’t wear jewelry in public for this reason.

Showing the celebration of some sort of festival that involves greasing a pole with lard while the kids clamber up to try to get the tamales and sweets stored up above.  Note that only one woman seems concerned among the adults.

Showing the celebration of some sort of festival that involves greasing a pole with lard while the kids clamber up to try to get the tamales and sweets stored up above. Note that only one woman seems concerned among the adults.

I’ve been fortunate to be around for so many festivals.  From the Dia de los Difuntos I was around for last year, still one of my favorites, to the various end of the year or new year festivites, I enjoyed the Ecuadorian sense of celebration.

That's a sweet horse decked out for the holidays.

That’s a sweet horse decked out for the holidays.

Ecuador is really a tiny country in the grand scheme of the continent.  Yet in this little space there are various types of beaches, mountains, and jungles.  Both Ecuador and Peru claim to be the densest concentration of various land types and animals, and there’s only one way for me to be sure.  Alas the food is a little less varied, although a little different in each region.  It generally involves giant piles of as many types of carbs as they can fit with a little bit of meat and no vegetables.

I thought these bad boys that you find in every market were fried but I guess they get their crackly bubbly skin in the oven.

I thought these bad boys that you find in every market were fried but I guess they get their crackly bubbly skin in the oven.

Not to say there aren’t some weird eats.  I didn’t even try the giant grilled grubs in the Amazon.

An expensive delicacy is whole grilled guy (guinea pig) which I tried more than once.  It's a greasy if light on meat delight.

An expensive delicacy is whole grilled guy (guinea pig) which I tried more than once. It’s a greasy if light on meat delight.

I’m not quite all too sure where two months went but it was rather enjoyable.  Sure, it’s not the most outwardly stunning place but the people are laid-back and friendly.  I really think I enjoy lounging around a country like this more than I like lining up at the Machu Picchus of the world constantly.  Ecuador is a nice place to be for a while.  Next up, southward to Peru!

From the colonial cities of Loja and Cuenca I moved on to hippie Vilcabamba.  I came excited to hike and bike my way around a lush green valley.

Pretty valley and nice weather, what more could you want?

Pretty, lush valley and year round pleasant weather, what more could you want?

Then I got sick.  So I sat on a hammock all day.

I like sitting in hammocks anyways, but being sick means I'll do it all day long.

I like sitting in hammocks anyways, but being sick means I’ll do it all day long.  The beautiful garden full of butterflies and hummingbirds is a bonus.

I did take one light walk.  To make up for my botanical garden misadventure in Loja I went to the zoo and orchid center.  However this is a small town in Ecuador so the zoo had things like common chickens and a cage of pigeons.

Well, now I think I understand why indigenous art looks like that.  That bird's head is crazy looking!

Well, now I think I understand why indigenous art looks like that. That bird’s head is crazy looking!

While wandering back to town I passed a gerontology center.  The town is famed for having people living well past 100 (to 130 even they say!)  When researchers showed up, they found this fishy, tested ages, and realized the people here either forgot or make up ages.  No one is over 100.  Whoops.  Still, if you were going to live a long time, this would be the place.

The roadside was lined with houses, little shops, and fields of mysterious plants I can't identify like these vertical sunflower porcupine things.

The roadside was lined with houses, little shops, and fields of mysterious plants I can’t identify like these vertical sunflower porcupine things.

I honestly didn’t do much for half a week in this town.  I enjoyed some repe (green plantain, cheese, and cilantro) soup and cecina (grilled or fried sun dried meat) that I didn’t get to in Loja.  Turns out the repe I tried so hard to find in Loja is so normal it’s just served as the free soup with lunches.  Whoops.  Otherwise, I just chilled out.  It was nice.

Loja is a town in southern Andean Ecuador that is known for having some of the best and most unique cuisine in the country.  It is a lovely and modern colonial town with the tourist area overlapping with the downtown area.  Not that many tourists really stop here, but I stopped to get a taste.  I’d found this website http://www.ecuador-travel-planner.com/lojafood that stated specialties included all sorts of pork, delicious tamale and other corn wrapped goodies, baked goods and desserts, and horse.  Alas, it turns out most restaurants only served variations of the husk wrapped goods and little else different from the rest of the country, so I ended up only here for a day.

Still, Loja has a charm that I could see being pleasant to live in if one was to choose a city in Ecuador.

There's a weird, almost Disneyland-esque quality to things in Loja.  This is the town gate that had a statue of conquistadors and I think Don Quixote.

There’s a weird, almost Disneyland-esque quality to things in Loja. This is the town gate that had a statue of conquistadors and I think Don Quixote.

Failing to find any delicious pernil (roast pork) or horse, I settled for something I’d tried in Banos but was told was the best here, cuy.  I find the meat tender and a bit greasy in a good way.  There was a lovely spicy green sauce to go on it that helped too.  The pink cup in the corner is horchata, a flower based tea that is often sweetened.

Hello ass end of a guinea pig, pile of mote (large corn), and potatoes.

Hello ass end of a guinea pig, pile of mote (large corn), and potatoes.

Well, if every restaurant is going to have the same menu, I might as well try it.  I went to Loja institution El Tamal Lojano and ordered one of every possible food item.  Every other table mostly had one tamale a person.  Although the set menus of boron, eggs and bread seemed pretty large to me as well. I was full of delicious regret.

From left to right clockwise: boron de chicharron, quimbolito, humita, and pork tamale.  I enjoyed the savory ones but found the humita and quimbolito to be steamed dry sponge cakes too reminiscent of Chinese New Year's steamed cakes in a bad way.

From left to right clockwise: boron de chicharron, quimbolito, humita, and pork tamale. I enjoyed the savory ones but found the humita and quimbolito to be steamed dry sponge cakes too reminiscent of Chinese New Year’s steamed cakes in a bad way.

I also realized too late that ordering cafe con leche (with milk) meant I got Nescafe instead of what looked like a nice drip coffee other people got.  After stuffing myself silly I headed over to a museum to check out Loja’s other namesake, music.  Sadly it was somewhat disorganized and mostly in Spanish so I didn’t spend much time in there.  I did enjoy the fellow practicing on his violin and the other Lojano music blasting out in every room.

The music museum also had a Disneyland feel to it with the manicured garden and pastel colors.

The music museum also had a Disneyland feel to it with the manicured garden and pastel colors.

As I had too much time after the museum before I could shove in one more meal, I tried to make it to the oldest botanical garden in Ecuador.  The hotel manager gave me directions to go by bus.  Some things you just get used to in Ecuador, like terrible directions or an inability to say anything but yes, even if they don’t know.

“Is there only one roundabout?”
“Yes!”

No, no there’s not.  There’s at least two.  The first one is in fact almost two miles from where I had to be and I ended up taking a bit of a trek.  It was also where the buses ended, which I had asked and was emphatically told, no that wasn’t where the bus line ended.  It’s never any bad intent as much as most people in developing countries just do not seem to understand the concept of maps or directions.  I arrived at the gardens to find out I had hit the beginning of the siesta that was left unmentioned in the tourism information map and guidebooks.  Ah, Ecuador.  At that point I turned around and headed back to the market to try Chanfaina, a paella like pork and rice dish.  Alas I could barely eat a few bites as I was still stuffed from breakfast and so I headed onward to my next destination.  Later Loja, I’m sure you’re more awesome to live in.

What is a weekend?  It used to be that thing I awaited for all week.  Those days you started planning for midway through the week.  What is it now?  I hardly know the date except weekends and holidays are those annoying times the streets are clogged and it’s harder to find a place to sleep.  Bundled with the fact that I have travel fatigue, it meant for what could’ve been a terrible weekend trip to the relatively expensive, gringo filled tourist city of Cuenca.  Why no, I do not care to do a tour or to see another bloody church.  Yet, I got introduced to a friend of a Couch Surfer and it was a packed weekend of fun.

First up was visiting the Museo del Banco Central and Pumapungo.  It had exhibits (some reminiscent of elementary school dioramas) of all of Ecuador’s various cultures.  Behind the museum is the ruins of an Incan town destroyed to build the buildings of Cuenca.

There's also a beautiful garden and rescue aviary.

There’s also a beautiful garden and rescue aviary.

Ecuador is home to a whole lot of birds and flowers.

Ecuador is home to a whole lot of birds and flowers.

It’s been a little bit since Europe which means my church fatigue has lessened.  That’s helpful as there are churches every block or two it seems.

It's a good way to remember where you are in town.

It’s a good way to remember where you are in town.

While I found the churches a little ragged in Quito with their broken stained glass windows, Cuenca had no such issues.

Am I in Europe?

Am I in Europe?

No, I am not in Europe.  Sometimes there’s just weird stuff.

"Who is Juan Pablo?" "The last pope!" "OH! JOHN PAUL!"

“Who is Juan Pablo?” “The last pope!” “OH! JOHN PAUL!”

It was a day of parades and celebration, some sort of religious festival related to no longer sinning but mostly celebrated today as lots of joking.  I was confused why I only saw mostly white baby Jesuses being carried around with a few black ones in a country full of mostly brown people.  End your European servitude!

I didn't know Ecuadorians had Maypoles… or Januarypoles.

I didn’t know Ecuadorians had Maypoles… or Januarypoles.

There’s a lot of leatherwork in this country and it’s visible on the men as part of some of their traditional dress.

Both the men and women have heavy traditional costumes for the cold Sierran weather that sure makes this jump-heavy dancing hard.

Both the men and women have heavy traditional costumes for the cold Sierran weather that sure makes this jump-heavy dancing hard.

All over town you’d see horses, people dressed as the three wise men, and hear all sorts of yelling and singing.

A "banda de puebla", or town band blaring across the square at a second band.

A “banda de puebla”, or town band blaring across the square at a second band.

As evening approaches, it was possible to see groups gathering all over town in costume getting ready to join the big parade of the evening.  For me the highlight may have been wandering the deep fry food stalls lining the entire parade route.  I watched about five or six floats of the weirdly Avatar themed bunch before we all got tired and headed home.

These terrifying and well organized clowns were on their way to the night parade.

These terrifying and well organized clowns were on their way to the night parade.

On my last morning, I went to the oasis of cheap delicious eats even in pricey tourist towns, the local market.

This three story market was likely the cleanest I've seen in a developing country.

This three story market was likely the cleanest I’ve seen in a developing country.

On my hurried walk back to pack and head out, I saw perhaps the most beautiful building I saw all weekend.  The whole town is covered in pleasing colonial buildings that make a great ambiance.

I struggled to find a good picture of colonial Cuenca and found it on my way out.

I struggled to find a good picture of colonial Cuenca and found it on my way out.

Cuenca is, for a short vacation, a lovely and picturesque city.  I imagine it’s quite the pleasant place to live with an interesting art scene, international food scene, and beautiful clean architecture and streets.  I have enjoyed my time here but am happy to move on quickly as well.  Onward and southward on my slow motion towards Peru.