A trip has been planned to Huaraz for over a month, and still there has been no sign of getting into shape for the inevitable climbing that Miri and I both want to do. Following the inspiring but inevitable determination of my German friend, we walk up to the heap of rocks above Huanchaco known as Hill Of The Virgin that we passed on our accidentally epic walk to Cerro Campana a couple of days previous.
“I’m sure there were some boulders around here to climb,” Miri muses as we scramble over the chalky, rounded formations before coming face to face with the Virgin herself, resplendent and smug in her alcove of innocence atop the hill. A few steps around the corner reveal a slightly overhanging rock with large, juggy hand-holds that occasionally crumble, giving the spotter plenty to stay alert for. I go first, awkwardly heaving myself from hold to hold, scraping pale skin from my knuckles, shins, knees, elbows and forearms. Miri follows, moving fluidly across the residue of my scrapes. Eventually we establish a simple route and both complete it, scooting over the top of the boulder.
Hungry for more following our success, we wind our way amongst the bizarre rock formations, slipping in and out of gaps, pulling loose pebbles from cracks and clinging to edges as well as our soft fingertips will allow. After a couple of hours we retire to Huanchaco covered in dust with aching forearms and hands but secure in the knowledge that we are a little more prepared for Huaraz.
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“We’re going over there,” pronounces Miri, pointing to the distant hill that rises from the mist. Four days later, we set off from Huanchaco towards the looming rise in the distance with Tomasa trotting behind us, unaware that we are destined for a long walk. “We’ll be done in four hours,” I predict, “One hour there, two to climb it, and an hour back.” Shortly after leaving, it becomes clear that this is another example of why no-one should trust in my abilities in the great outdoors. The path to the summit across the yawning stretch of barren sand-scape is blocked, firstly by huge pits torn out for the apparent purpose of extracting rocks, and secondly by a selection of squat but long battery-farming chicken barns. Between navigating man-made cliffs, fetid drains that shat out the waste water from the barns and the barbed wire fences that surrounded them, we arrived within straight shot of the hill after a solid two hours walk.
“This isn’t the delightful walk that I expected,” I admit as we stomp up the steadily increasing incline. We decide to cut our summit attempt short with the prospect of a long return journey, mildly irritated with Tomasa’s still-present abundance of energy despite our fatigue. Looking back, the speck of Huanchaco appears very small set into the coastline amidst the vast expanse of the flat Northern coast of Peru. I realize for a split second that if I don’t get out of it for a break soon, I’ll go crazy in a suffocating bubble.
A couple of photos later we descend, heading for the ragged outskirts of Trujillo which seem to be more direct than our previous maze of chicken industry. Our brief attempts to hitch-hike back to Huanchaco prove unsuccessful as Tomasa laps water from greasy puddles and we decide to move further into town to pick up a combi. A dusty trio viewed with curiosity as we traverse the ragged suburb, we are accosted by a cheerful selection of chubby women playing volleyball. “You should get home before dark,” they cheerfully explain after posing for a self-requested photo, “Or you could get shot or raped.” With a building sense of urgency in the gathering darkness, we board the bus and begin the wide circumnavigation of Trujillo to return back to the bubble some six hours after leaving.
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I thread through the crowd, most of which come up to my waist. The waiting masses for the parade sprawl over four blocks, maintaining a fragile patience as they await their turn to march twenty feet with varying degrees of success in-front of the assembled authories of the municipality. There are two clear themes to the Peruvian Independence Day parade; small cute children and menacing, serious military. The small cute children, through which I wade, are kept from rebellion by ample supplies of sugared snacks and the looming proximity of parents. The variety of armed forces, polished and creased, looked equally disposed to mischief. The only difference is the absence of their parents, a superior rank the disciplinary force instead.
Almost an hour behind schedule due to the rambling speeches spun from the gallery of military, political and religious officials, the parade queue lurch into action and began rolling past the spectators. The choas funnel into six neat columns like toothpaste exiting a tube before exploding again into scattered hoplessness some thirty feet down the road. No-one attempts to administrate the aftermath, but it seemed to be unneccesary. After milling around like awkward guests at a wedding reception for a few minutes, the participants drift off adorned in their various costumes, ranging from khaki with large semi-automatic accessories to full-body chicken.
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I’ve noticed that my canine sidekick has been smelling a little less than fresh lately, so after deliberation decided that it was time to give Tomasa a bath. I’ve never given a dog a bath before, but the instructions on the back of the anti-flea shampoo seemed simple enough so I locked myself in the bathroom with the essential ingredients of dog, towel and shampoo and vowed not to leave until the job was complete.
Things started off easily enough, with Tomasa sitting dejectedly in the shower as I scooped buckets of water over her head. Shivering set in as I rubbed the shampoo into her coat, but any sympathy dissipated when I turned around to grab my camera in the hope of taking a picture of progress. My doe-eyed doggy comrade leapt like a foamy streak of lightning from the tiled shower base and vigorously shook herself, coating all and sundry with water and bubbles.
Undeterred, I re-instated her in the shower, turned around to get the camera again and took another face-full of dog-shake as the escape repeated itself. This physical comedy skit ran a few times more like a broken record until I realized we could go like this until the end of time. Camera in one hand and soapy dog in the other, I deposited the beast in the bath and snapped a picture whilst leaving my free hand hovering out of shot ready to grab her if she should plan a seventh or eighth escape.
Escape attempt #6
Having captured the moment, I washed off the suds with a few more buckets of water. More shivering. Triumphantly I lifted my soggy four legged friend from the shower and turned around to get a towel to dry her with, only to hear the all predictable sound of a thousand water droplets shot at every angle across the bathroom and feel the moisture seep into the fabric of the back of my t-shirt.
After a vigorous towelling the mission was deemed a success. Below is the team photo. All that was left was to mop the large quantities of water from the bathroom floor in an impromptu cleaning session.
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The peaceful winter pace of sleepy Huanchaco has been shaken over the last few days with the Fiesta de San Pedro. A tuneful and ear-pounding range of practising marching bands have been stomping around town before convening in the local sports ground for a brass-off until the early hours, which has actually been quite entertaining. I’ve even had the benefit of an almost personal serenade outside the bedroom window of my new house which sits opposite the Immiculate Virgin of Rosario school from one particular troupe. I’m sure its standard practise amongst marching bands, but it tickles me to see the sheet music for each row of musicians pinned by clothes peg to the shirt of the musician in front.
Events built to an impressive climax on Saturday with the beach-side arrival by boat of the Image of San Pedro himself. Tourists and Peruvians alike flocked around the pier to watch a large reed boat decorated with strings of red bunting and a Peruvian flag at the prow arrive escorted by local fishermen riding their Caballitos de Totora, traditional curved vessels crafted from the same type of woven reeds. Lifted on the broad shoulders of locals and shuffled up onto the sand, the boat was soon surrounded by a throng of people as the chaotic mix of armed local police, sweet sellers, pickpockets, confused surfers and self important Peruvian television crews crashed into one another in the good mannered nature of Latin American crowds. I was almost inevitably plucked from my vantage point by one particular local TV channel and duly grilled about how long I’d been in Peru, what I thought of the country and if the festival was any good. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to see this appearance on television, but it was a definite improvement on my last big media adventure dressed as a woman on national Mexican TV, both in terms of my Spanish under pressure and my lack of cross-dressing presented to an audience of thousands.
It’s delightful to see these traditions presented to such an attentive audience, both from the point of view of building awareness of cultural identity, and also from fostering and strengthening the sense of cultural identity amongst the local population itself. Every Huanchaquero managed to slip into the conversation some mention with muted pride about the event to me when I chatted to them after the event.
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Continuing the theme that seems to be predominant for this month, the next couple of months promise to be pretty tight on the purse-strings. Luckily I’ve been offered the option of house-sitting for the lovely couple who run a beach-front surf hostel and house themselves elsewhere across town while they fly back to Finland for a while to show their Peruvian-born new babbie to the family. Aside from keeping the living overheads firmly down, it’s also a great house; a three-storey oddity that stretches from flower bushes skyward in a steadily increasing state of dilapidation. I can’t imagine what inhabits the 3rd floor at night, but I’m sure as hell not going to go upstairs to find out.
One other perk of the deal is the house dog that I’m currently charged with taking care of, Tomasa. She’s perfected the art of looking up at you in an ‘I didn’t do it’ way (especially after a nose hair-curling bout of flatulence) and is a great companion when I’m trotting about town or hanging out in the house. As far as experiences go, this is a very big tick in the box for owning a house by the sea that contains a dog at some point in my fairly grey future.
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