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Feldmans in Peru, Parts II & III

Marv and Carole relax in the Santa Catalina Monestary, Arequipa. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Marv and Carole relax in the Santa Catalina Monestary, Arequipa. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Editor’s note: The following are the second and third parts of the Feldman’s recent trip to Peru. The first article covered their travels in Lima and appeared in the July-August edition of the R&R Travel News®.

Trujillo In less than a one-hour flight north on TACA Airlines from Lima’s ultra-modern airport, we were descending over the beautiful tropical Pacific beaches of Trujillo. We wound our way through the city, passing many colonial buildings for which Trujillo is famous and then we arrived at our centrally located, atmospheric small hotel.

Trujillo obviously impressed Conquistador Francisco Pizarro as well since in 1534, he named this city after his own birthplace in western Spain. Over the years, Trujillo enjoyed prosperity and also gained a reputation for political independence so no surprise that in 1820, it was the first city in Peru to declare its independence from Spain.

On a Saturday evening, the city took on a new light—buildings were bathed in floodlights, people were out enjoying the evening, an elegant wedding was taking place before the magnificent golden altar of the Church of San Francisco opposite our hotel, and we concluded our day in a memorable way. Just steps from our hotel was the 300-year old enormous mansion of the former Royal Tax Collector for the King of Spain, full of cobblestone courtyards and a room, in which we dined, with original roof and thatched ceiling, and modern art displayed. What a delightful introduction to Trujillo.

Archaeological Wonders The Incas only ruled this area for less than 100 years, so why are they so well-known? They were in power when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived and defeated them in the early 16th Century so the Spanish published a lot on the Incas.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, well pre-dating the Incas, were the lesser-known Moche, whose capital, of some 25,000 people, is just outside Trujillo. The city was only discovered some 30 years ago. We visited a fabulous brand new museum containing artifacts in such perfect condition that we thought they were replicas—their bright colors, ceramics, gold work and attention to detail well-explain their culture. Excavations of this vast area are on-going and we could only visit the Huaca (Temple) of the Moon—the largest pre-Columbian structure in Peru. The sands of the desert cover most of this area, preserving the ruins, and archaeologists are now carefully removing these mountains of sand, a handful at a time.

Following the Moche were the Chimu (900 to 1500 AD) who built their civilization near the Pacific Ocean. (The Incas conquered the Chimu and took their best goldsmiths to Cusco—of course. The Spanish conquered the Incas and took every bit of gold they could find back to Spain!) The Chimu capital of Chan Chan (pop. 35,000) was the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world! For several hours, we explored the nearby excellent museum and the enormous ruins of this fishing-dominated society. In fact, at the nearby beach town of Huanchaco, the 1,000-year old Chimu narrow reed fishing boat design continues to be in use. The entire Chan Chan complex compares in size to that of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Excavations also continue here.

We had no idea such extraordinary finds existed. We think one day they will surpass Machu Picchu as one of the best known ancient civilizations.

We often have the most fun on unstructured days with nothing planned at all. We call this “looking just around the corner.” So it was as we set out on foot to check out the magnificent, well-kept buildings in the central part of Trujillo.

As we were peering through the iron gates of exquisite buildings, most of which were hundreds of years old dating back to Spanish colonial days, we were noticed by a very high-ranking Peruvian National Police officer. While we did not know his rank, he sure had a lot of gold on his uniform and the other police saluted him! We were at the gates of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru which was heavily guarded with armed security. Most fortunately, our Spanish was good enough to exchange greetings and tell him what a wonderful edifice this was. He ordered his staff to open the gates and personally escort us through this normally off-limits complex. It turned out the building was also once the residence of Spanish nobility, dating back to the 1700s. We were even shown the hand-written message declaring Peru’s 1820 independence (like the U.S. Declaration of Independence).

Our same good fortune continued as we were also invited into the (closed to the public) offices of the Governor of the Province of La Libertad. Magnificent!

We concluded our day by taking out the young American, 18-year-old daughter of our friend who is here in Trujillo for a few months teaching English to the local unprivileged. Wonderful that there are still idealistic people who want to change the world and are doing so, one person at a time.

Marv poses in front of reed boats on Huanchaco Beach, Trujillo. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Marv poses in front of reed boats on Huanchaco Beach, Trujillo. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Huanchaco On our last day in Trujillo, the City of Eternal Spring, we headed to Huanchaco, a beach town over which we had flown on our way into Trujillo. This once-tranquil fishing village is now a haven for Peruvians and foreigners alike, from backpackers and aging hippies to surfers and others (like us) content to wander around and enjoy the scene. Huanchaco is also the town where narrow reed boats used thousands of years ago by the Moche fishermen are still made. Tourists can also now ride these out into the surf.

Before the heat of the day, we went by taxi from Trujillo to the beachfront which we briefly visited on a Sunday when it was completely packed. Today, it was a different place. We could calmly stroll along the malecon (promenade), walk out on the fishing pier, gaze at the enormous waves (some as high as 30 feet) and easily negotiate good prices for souvenirs. After all this walking, we settled into a table on the second floor of a local restaurant with a panoramic water view. Here we enjoyed a simple but absolutely delicious lunch of perfectly grilled fresh fish, just pulled from the water. What a pleasure!

Carole Feldman with her tour guide in the 500-year old Santa Teresa convent in Arequipa. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Carole Feldman with her tour guide in the 500-year old Santa Teresa convent in Arequipa. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Arequipa What a dramatic change—from the warm tropics of Trujillo (northern Peru) to the snow-capped Andes mountains of Arequipa (southern Peru)! Our journey, on two connecting flights on two local airlines, brought us to Peru’s second largest city (of just under one million), and was well worth the day’s trip. Because of the 7,500 ft. altitude, our first afternoon and evening were slow and relaxed in order to acclimatize.

Next day, we took a half-day tour of the local area, including beautiful parks and the magnificently restored 17th Century estate of the founder of the city. We returned to some of these places on our own.

Over the years, Arequipa has been destroyed a number of times by earthquakes (one as recently as 2001) and while many churches and the Cathedrals suffered significant damage, in other cases, important buildings have been quickly repaired. Many structures around here appear to be low rise with numerous colonial buildings dating back to the 1500’s. Our comfortable and inexpensive hotel was just across the street from the enormous Santa Catalina Monastery. Founded in 1580, it is a walled city in itself. This is Arequipa’s foremost tourist attraction and may well be the world’s largest convent.

We took a private-guided walking tour of Santa Catalina (actually a Dominican convent) and received a wonderful education about her 500-year history. As we walked her narrow streets, we could easily imagine what life would have been like for a young 18-year-old novice nun who was not allowed to speak a single word for weeks at a time! Marvin wanted to hire the Mother Superior to teach wives to be quiet, but Carole firmly instructed him to be quiet as the nuns might have been offended by his “humor”!

Carole with a new local friend in Arequipa; Photo by Marv Feldman.

Carole with a new local friend in Arequipa; Photo by Marv Feldman.

For centuries, only wealthy women with huge dowries could enter the convent—they even had their own homes and possessed servants and owned African slaves. In 1871, things changed when the Pope decreed that the nuns should no longer have such privileges but should all sleep in a common dormitory and have a simpler life.

After the tour, we relaxed in the monastery’s cafe where we enjoyed great Peruvian coffee, accompanied by chocolates and cookies made by the nuns from centuries old recipes.

Later in the day, we explored one of Arequipa’s many stately colonial mansions, the 1739 Casa de Moral (mulberries), beautifully furnished and displaying a fascinating collection of antique maps showing South American development. To conclude our Saturday, we had drinks at an outdoor terrace overlooking the grand Plaza de Armas, watching the activities below, then followed it with dinner in a wonderful Moroccan restaurant—who would have thought such a place existed here—as “Stars Fell on Alabama” played in the background.

On crystal-clear Sunday morning, we looked through our hotel room window and were dazzled to see the snow-capped 20,000+ ft. mountains of El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu rising majestically. What a spectacular sight!

While human sacrifice is offensive to us, this was part of the culture of those who lived here for thousands of years. We visited a museum now part of Arequipa’s Catholic University where the 500+ year old, amazingly preserved body of a young Inca maiden (“Juanita”) is on display. Only discovered in 1995, at high altitude, the frozen body and its accompanying artifacts are shown with respect and dignity. Much to our amazement, the pottery, gold figurines, clothing and feathered head-dress still maintain their bright colors and perfect detail.

Both of us love to find small, family-run eateries. We discovered one that only serves fresh mountain trout. This had to be the best lunch we ate in Peru and the proprietor, with whom we joked, could not have been friendlier. Our ability to communicate in Spanish really paid off!

No wonder this city is so clean! An army of street sweepers work round the clock to keep Arequipa “clean and green.” Garbage bins are placed all over town. At the same time, dozens of laundries keep clothes fresh and clean (we had a mountain of clothing washed and dried for about $3). Peru has a law forbidding smoking in all public buildings and even interior open-air courtyards. We saw almost nobody smoking on the streets so we saw very few cigarette butts as litter. Such a change from many other countries we have visited.

As stated before, our unstructured touring style is to “look just around the corner.” Our month-long visit of Peru gave us plenty of time to do things this way. One day, we had nothing on our itinerary, so after breakfast we wandered across a bridge where we came upon a luxury boutique hotel on the banks of the Chili River. As we relaxed in the beautiful and manicured flower garden, we were serenaded by dozens of brightly colored birds in cages throughout the estate.

Afterwards, we discovered and explored another convent, the 1710 Carmelite, with priceless paintings and bejewelled works of art, and more beautiful colonial mansions from the mid-18th Century, including a huge one, with lovely interior courtyards now turned into a working bank. We also visited the University of San Augustin which housed a fascinating photo exhibition of indigenous mountain villagers.

A third discovery was a cooking school, the College of Gastronomy, steps from our hotel, where we watched budding future chefs de cuisine chopping and beating ingredients, under the watchful eye of instructors. Wanting to photograph the institute, we told the instructors that their school was world famous. They were so flattered that they gave us permission to tour and take pictures!

Continuing our unstructured day, we patronized the tiny little cafe and shop run by former street children—an establishment to support them and abused women. It reminded us of similar places in Cambodia.

Marv & Carole prepare for boarding. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Marv & Carole prepare for boarding. Photo by Marv Feldman.

As we reflect on our trip to Peru, here are our lasting memories:

Peruvian people: kind, warm, proud, friendly, welcoming, and many poor.

History & Culture: civilizations which go back thousands of years, amazing archaeological findings with detailed gold and silver work, clothing whose collars remain intact and even frozen bodies revealing and preserving Peru’s ancient heritage.

Food: huge variety, fresh tropical fruit, excessive carbs (always potatoes & rice on the plate), and very low cost.

Good value: South America is one of the last places on earth where the American dollar has value. Hotels, food, transportation, etc. cost far less than in Europe, Asia, Australia—or even the USA.

Spanish language: Our week-long, private and intensive language school in Lima brought us to a new level of ability. Even more so was our daily use of Spanish which opened the doors for us to make warm and close relationships with many Peruvians.

Our four week-long, unstructured stay allowed us time to “look just around the corner” and gain an in-depth understanding and appreciation for this wonderful country.

If anyone has any questions, we will be happy to respond to emails. Also, we have built a Kodak Internet slide-show which takes about 13 minutes to view and will be happy to send this to anyone who makes this request to us by email.

Thanks again for coming along!

Happy traveling, Col. Marvin Feldman, USAF, (Ret.) and Carole Feldman Jacksonville, Florida

Reprint from Nov-Dec 2012 • Volume 42, No. 6


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