To cross to Peru I decided to take a less travelled path and get off the beaten path for a little while. My plan was to eventually end up in Huancabamba which is famous with the Peruvians for their shamens, or traditional healers. Once again a guide book listing that certainly did not live up to expectations by a long shot. I did not have great visions going in on what to expect, only a chance to touch upon a tradition steeped in Peruano history. Being a believer of traditional and alternative practices I thought this was worth exploring.
I must say the journey there and out was still an adventure in itself which I did enjoy. Over 5 days the round trip from the Peruano boarder to the coastline city of Chiclayo took over 44 hours, made up in a combination of buses, chivas, cars, a truck, taxi’s and a very long uncomfortable donkey ride. The truck took me from a tiny town in the midst of the mountains all the way to Huancabamba, which was a 9 hour ride, basically spent in first and second gear the whole time. I did have to laugh to myself at the frustration of the driver ever time he tried to grind the truck into second gear, but each time he got it in it was time to change down again. This was certainly one of the worst roads I’ve ever been on and at the time the scariest too. It was also a beautiful landscape, even if they day was bleek and overcast and at times I was too timid to pull out the camera to photograph it. It took me though small towns were all eyes were on me.
So when I finally arrived in Huancabamba I asked around about the local ‘brujos’, thinking that I had a good reference. So off I went, on a car ride into the hillside of the area. On arrival the shaman charged me much more than I expected. But at this stage I was not prepared to drive back into town and hunt for another, so I accepted his price.
Late into the night, the ceremony began, with a group of 7 others. So the ceremony involves chanting, singing, being cleansed with a silver sword, having colognes such as agua de florida and Cariña spat all over you by the shamen and then taking your turn to drink and spit these colognes into the world. Even the much talked about san pedro had no effect on me what so ever. The whole process was about cleansing, but did it really have to take all night, repeated over and over and over. I found myself falling asleep while I waited my turn for the shamen to spit all over me again. He kept calling me ‘extrañjero’ which is ‘foreigner’ in Spanish. Would have it been that hard for him to remember my name like all other other locals? By this stage I realised that this experience was not working for me and I had had enough.
But the next day involved more. My ride was not organised till late afternoon…and plus I had paid for this too. So a whole bunch of horsemen and horses and one donkey rock up to take us to Laguna Shimbe, which are the lakes famous for their medicinal properties. Being the tallest person in the group, I am still unsure as to why I got stuck with the donkey. The lake itself was quite beautiful but not the 4 hours of riding on a donkey to get there. Once we were there, the whole process continued over again along with more cleansing and a very cold dip in the lake. At the end of that day,I was one happy camper to return to town.
Sometimes you win some, sometimes you loose some. Thankfully I can laugh about the whole thing now. As many who know me know that I’m open to alternative practices, but I will never recommend the Peruano shamens to anyone!
Since the shaman cost me more than I was told, I was out of cash. Ok, no worries, just head into the bank…but the bank in town would not accept my card. Great, so potentially this meant being stuck in a town a long way from anything with out access to cash. So I headed to the bus terminal and tried to explain myself to the bus company, saying I had cash, but none on me, but they would not help me at all. Luckily, some people who also saw the shamen were heading to Chiclayo on the same bus and thankfully helped me out. The man was very friendly and kind but the lady had her eye on me like I was going to do a runner at any moment (not worth it for 8 bucks, and the mans kindness to say the least).
So after Huancabamba, I decided it was time to get back to the well-trodden tourist route for a while again…I guess sometimes there are reasons why they are so well trodden. I got myself some cash, breathed a sigh of relief and chuckled about the experience.
Chiclayo provided me with all that I was after, some great pre-inca sites and a township of friendly people. Sipan is a site from the Moche culture, dating back to 300AD. The pyramids are fascinating constructions but today bear little resemblance to their former glory. Being adobe bricks, over time these pyramids have been eroded away to resemble dirt mounds arising from the ground. Still, the moche culture was incredibly talented, which was on show at the Museo Tumbas Reales in Lambayeque. Perhaps one of the best museums I have been to, as the excavation of artefacts and mummies was documented as it happened. So you could appreciate the artefacts and see photos at the same time they were unearthed. The museum was shaped like a Moche temple, so you started at the top and worked your way down to the tombs.
Another fascinating site was Tücume, or El Valle de los Piramides. This site was under better condition and in parts you could see the adobe bricks under excavation.
An afternoon trip to the beach town of Pimentel gave me a look at the caballitos de totora, which is a very small reed boat that the fisherman braves the sea in.
Next down the coast was Trujillo and the largest mud brick city in the word, Chan Chan and the ancient culture of the Chimu.
Chachapoyas is known for the fortress of Kuelap, which is certainly an impressive structure. The structure is almost 600 m in length and its walls rise up to 19 m in height. At a height of 3000 meters it’s an incredible thought to where all the materials came from and how they carted them to such heights. The site has only three entrances, which are narrow hallways which was a tactical defence. With the 360 degree views from all around, I’d say the Chachaypoyans were mighty safe.
Also in this region is El Pueblo de los Muertos, the village of the dead. Build into the hillside are round houses, where the dead were stored. It’s an amazing feat as these houses are basically built right into the hillside. One wrong step and it’s all over. Another site that had spectacular views, for the living and the dead.
Huaraz is known for having the worlds second highest mountain ranges next to the Himalayas. As soon as you arrive in the township you are surrounded by these beautiful snow capped peaks, known as the Cordillera Blancas. This place is filled with hard-core trekkers and mountain climbers. After my attempted climb of Cotapaxi, I was happy to do nothing too hard core, so opted for the Santa Cruz trek. The Santa Cruz trek is over four days, which takes you though Parque Nacional Huascaran. Day three took us though the pass of Punta Union, which as a height of 4750 meters is apparently the same for the first base camp for Everest. Spectacular views all around made every step of this trek worth it.
A visit to Chavin de Hauntar was a chance to explore another ancient civilization and walk though the underground tunnels which are a maze of alleys and chambers underneath the ruins.
After having some time with the flu and also dealing with altitude sickness in Huaraz, I decided it was time to take a break. One of the places on my list of volunteer options was and hour and half north of Lima. So I headed to Eco Truly Village for 8 days of volunteer work, yoga classes and some rejuvenation. The place was run by Hare Krishna’s, which meant good veggie food every day and a chilled out pace. The work was pretty easy, my favourite was time spent painting the ashram.
After my 8 days on the coast I was ready to head back to Lima and continue the adventure.