Hola South America

I had a day in Lima to myself before the parents arrived, back in the second week of May, and I stumbled around the streets in a daze, it being the first major capital city I’d been in for a while. I was staying in Miraflores, an upmarket part of town, at the gorgeous boutique hotel, Quinta Miraflores, and the clothes I’d worn on the beach and through central America didn’t really seem suitable anymore. I swapped my flip flops for ballet slippers and singlets for blouses and explored. I wandered down to Larcomer, a shopping centre built into the cliff, with beautiful views across the Pacific and to the other, not so opulent part of town, and discovered Tanta, a restaurant that I ended up going to three times, to have a pisco sour and ceviche: and from there my love affair with this classic Peruvian dish began.

I came back to the hotel in the early evening and met the gregarious and fabulous Pepe Moquillaza, the owner of Pisco Inquebrantable, and his lovely family, who were there celebrating Mrs Moquillaza’s birthday.  They welcomed me in to join them for their special day and they made me feel like I was part of the family - my first real taste of Peruvian hospitality and kindness.

I was so excited to see my folks the next day – full of childlike glee – that I bounded through the airport terminal to greet them and regaled them with all my stories for the past few months the moment they arrived. As the years have gone on, I have valued them more – painfully aware of how I hadn’t quite so much when I was younger – and they’ve become two of my dearest friends. We’ve come such a long way. Is there anything more precious in life than unconditional love? And it now feels like it really is that - they've seen my darkness and light and love me just the same. And, moreso, we enjoy each others' company. It was so very wonderful to see them. It meant a change of pace for me – a welcome one – where the constant movement of travel was replaced with a slower pace, a gentle stroll, where we could just spend time with each other, relish the familiarity of that and feel joy that we were together again, exploring South America together. 

We spent a few lovely days in Lima, seeing the Huaca Pucllana, an incredible adobe centre of commerce for the Lima people between 200 AD and 700 AD. It was still an impressive structure, constructed so cleverly with layer upon layer of clay blocks spaced separately to absorb the shocks, that it had withstood Lima’s many earthquakes and still kept some of its secrets and its dead hidden underneath it. Mum and I took a tour of the city the next day, a highlight being the Iglesia San Francisco. What had been a lovely, but fairly typical Spanish Baroque-style church and home for the Franciscan monks on the outside, opened up to be an incredibly beautiful monastery inside, richly decorated with colourful mosaics and domed, Moorish wooden ceilings. There were dwellings for the slaves the monks had – what kind of monks were they? - and some of the oldest religious texts in Peru, pre-dating the conquest. And then there were the catacombs: and my morbid fascination with how cultures handled their dead was again sparked. As Lima’s first cemetery, the monks would charge quite a lot of money for families to bury their loved ones - they say over 75,000 - within the catacombs. What they didn't know was that once the body was delivered, and the flesh had disintegrated, the monks would categorise the bones, placing the femurs with the femurs, the skulls with the skulls and so forth, ensuring they were stored most efficiently within the depths of the catacombs in eerie geometric patterns. Strangely shocking and irreverent – despite, of course, it being something that had occurred post-death.  

To northern Peru 

We planned to go up to northern Peru, to use Trujillo as our base, to see the Lord of Sipan, Chan Chan and the ruins around there – dad’s doctor had advised him not to go anywhere with high altitude and these places were the road less travelled by tourists, so we left by nightbus to get there. We chose TEPSA as our bus company to get there – big mistake. During the trip, my ipad and my dad’s iphone were stolen out of our bags after the bus manager insisted that we weren’t allowed to keep them with us and instead, he’d “look after them” in a locked safe just behind us. Indeed. Don’t ever travel with TEPSA in Peru. 

Despite that, we did arrived in Trujillo, staying at El Escudero, and were ready to explore the area: we went into town to the beautiful Plaza de Armas, admiring the birdcage-like window frames and the bright colours of the buildings surround it, and we found a tour guide who would take us to see the ruins. Bright and early the next day, we were off to see the Moche archaeological sites of Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna, led by a charming young Peruvian girl who was studying tourism at the university of Trujillo. She and I talked about boys – she wanted to fall in love with a Japanese man, and explained in great detail why she thought they were so handsome, although lamented the fact that not many of them came on her tours. She was learning the language just in case (she already knew english, russian and french) – while she showed us around the 1500 year old ruins of Huaca de la Luna. It had been a ceremonial and religious centre for the moche people and we were endlessly fascinated by tales of their human sacrifices, of young women who had been brought up knowing that they were going to serve that purpose when they reached their early teens. Lord. The Hauca was set upon many different levels, the top being where the ceremonies would take place, and there, the walls had intricate, partially preserved reliefs of rich reds and yellows, showing the face of Ai apaec, or decapitador, the Moche god, with his wide eyes and fangs, between latticed patterns. I tried to imagine what it had been like to have lived there then, having elaborately dressed priests rule over the people, who looked to the earth, to nature and to the scary-faced gods for guidance and protection. Interesting times.  

From there, we had lunch – ceviche for me as ever – and set off to Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, where over 30,000 Chimu people lived until the Incas conquered it in the 1400s. Such an incredible place: it was as if it was sculpted out of golden sand. We wandered through the maze of alleyways and corridors, which still had some remnants of the gorgeous, curving, rolling clay edges the Chimu once created. We reached the main area and, while eroded, still held reliefs of serpents and rainbows and animals all woven together with lines and patterns, all in the golden clay. From there we visited Huancacho, a sleepy beach town – I’d missed the beach so much after central America – admiring the boats made with entirely with reeds, and watching the sun go down.

The Lord of Sipan

We slept well that evening and were ready for our next tour of the ruins of Northern Peru early the next morning. We were headed to Chicalayo for a six hour round trip and our first stop was to see the tomb of the Señor de Sipán. I'd been interested in the discovery of his tomb, and others within the same complex, which had happened relatively recently in 1987 - actually, it had been discovered by grave robbers previously, but the archaeologist Walter Alves had found it and then employed the robbers as archaeological assistants in its excavation. Later, we'd see some of the returned items at the museum. But back to the site. It was guarded by small brown owls, which sweetly stared at us as we were approaching the ruins. At the top, we could view into the pits where the lord had been buried with six other people: three young women (possibly wives or concubines who had apparently died some time earlier), two males, and a child of about nine or ten years of age. There was another young man buried, seated, in a nook above the burial site to watch over the lord, as well as a dog and two llamas. Incredible. And then there was the finery he was buried in - a headdress, a mask over his face, and jewellery in gold and other stones - which we were able to see at the museum. Skulls and the frightening gods depicted in the headdresses and the necklaces, ornate body armour and earrings and mouthpieces, amongst other things. Within the same complex, around 14 tombs had also been found, of people with varying statuses within the hierarchy, including a priest, a young lord, an old lord (the old lord of sipan) and others. It certainly made me daydream about becoming an archaeologist and being part of the team - no, the leader of an expedition - to find such places and treasures. And it certainly inspired some accessorising ideas. Perhaps with less skulls and scary gods.

We made it back to Trujillo, had another day of relaxing with mum and I leaving dad for some downtime while we explored the town again. Over cocktails and ceviche we raked through the meaning of life and love and courage. Ah she's wise, my mum. We headed back to Lima the next day on a day bus – Cruz del Sur, infinitely better than TEPSA, with kind, accommodating staff, incredibly comfortable seats and, most importantly, no stolen items.

We were staying in a cool little part of Miraflores, down a street near Parque Kennedy, with heaps of small cafes where we would spend many hours drinking coffee and wine and eating and talking. We spent the next day mainly at the police station filling in forms to report our robbery on the TEPSA bus – there had been nowhere to report it to the police in my broken spanish in Trujillo, although we had reported it online to TEPSA, who never got back to us about it. Worst. Company. Ever. But anyway, Lima. I had been enjoying all the amazing street art on the streets of Miraflores – you can see some of them on my instagram – and had discovered the amazingly talented Mateo Liebana on there, so I headed off to Barranco to meet him and see his work. You can read the story about it here.

Making Barranco our base

I loved the vibe of Barranco, so we packed up and moved there for the final week of the parents visit. We stayed at the Casa Faning hotel: our unit had a kitchen, a dining table and separate rooms, and it felt a little like home. It so funny what you get used to on the road, but having my parents there and a space of our own was wonderful. When mum would go to bed early, dad and I would sit up and have coffee and be comfortably silent together and then chat about everything - he's my kindred spirit and I adore him. 

I’d heard about Canta Rana from foodie travel blogs and so we took a stroll down there, a few blocks from where we were staying, and I immediately fell in love with it. It was bustling with locals and travellers and it smelled great and the walls were lined with mismatched pictures of people of, I suspect the owner’s family. Indeed, I recognised the owner from the pictures, and saw him  going from table to table saying hi to everyone. Such a great place. I went there many many times. And ordered ceviche, of course. From there, we wandered down to the Bridge of Sighs, as I’d heard that if you held your breath and focussed on a wish as you were crossing the bridge, in silence, your wish would be fulfilled. Of course I did it, and made the parents as well. Next to it was a church with a bright yellow façade at the front, and behind it, where the nave was, it had completely deteriorated and you see only the wooden skeleton of it, with a flock of black birds atop it. Eerily beautiful. Leading around the side of it was a path to a mirador, a view of the sea, where some buskers were playing guitars and singing and beating a box shaped drum upon which one of them sat. Music in unexpected places: a joy that my darling father and I find thoroughly wonderful. 

We spent the last few days just together, eating and talking and enjoying each others' company. On mum's birthday, we went for a dinner at La Cabrera, a fantastic steak restaurant just near our hotel. Completely delicious food with an array of about 20 different condiments to accompany our steak: special. The waiters sang mum happy birthday in Spanish and English and at the end, after a birthday tiramisu, presented us with a lolly tree, of which mum took one of every colour, and then a few more besides. She can't be stopped, my Joc, especially not on her birthday. So much fun. 

They left very late in the evening a few days later. It had been a wonderful adventure with them and there were floods of tears when I finally said goodbye to them at the airport. What precious people in my life.

And then I was alone in Peru, truly alone for the first time, with no plan and no place I needed to be and no fixed point to focus on...