Trujillo to Lima – ¿Vale la Pena?

It’s been two months since we left on our voyage. Back then, I put up a snarky post in answer to the people who thought we’d lost our minds. Recently though, I’ve had doubts about my ability to hang in there and see the journey through. The last thing I want to do is quit, go back to the U.S., and get a soul-crushing job. On the other hand I have to ask if I’m still enjoying the experience or if I’m sticking it out for the sake of stubbornness.

The thing is, there’s so much left I want to do. Machu Picchu is so close (relativey speaking). I want to see the Bolivian salt flats and the stars from the Atacama Desert. I want to swim in a pool big enough to see from orbit. I want to spend the longest day of the year in Tierra del Fuego. I want to bask on the beach in Uruguay. And I want to write stories, novels, and finish this blog, dammit.

The spirits of my ancestors agree.

The problem may be that Ecuador was easy from a travel standpoint. Peru, on the other hand, is hard. You wouldn’t think there’d be this much culture shock crossing a simple border – not like walking from Israel to Jordan and back last year, for instance. But I’m telling you, Peru just makes everything difficult.

Por ejemplo, Quito was nice enough to upload their metropolitan bus routes into Google. Lima, whose routes are much more confusing, did not. Everywhere else, the buses have their major stops printed in the front window so you can tell where they’re going as they approach. In Lima, the destinations are printed on the side, so you can’t tell if it’s the right bus to flag down until it’s already passed you by.


And it’s the little things, like the lack of hot running water (probably true everywhere in S.A.) that makes it impossible to really clean pots, plates, and silverware. It’s the fact that we booked an apartment with a kitchen that it turns out has no pots, and no bowls, and a single skillet so small you can only fry one egg at a time. It’s the fact that getting around has become a logistical nightmare.

Lima is a labyrinth with streets that weave and split and merge in horrific traffic scrums. Our home town of Atlanta recently made a list of top ten cities with the worst traffic in the world. I can only assume Lima wasn’t counted because the analysts they sent here are still stuck in gridlock.

The spirits of my ancestors laugh at my feeble attempts to get from one side of town to the other.

One point in Lima’s favor: So far all the places we’ve visited have been overrun with dogs. Lima is full of cats.

I’m typing this from a fourth-floor studio apartment near the historic city center. Someone somewhere in the building has been playing (and badly singing along to) the exact same song over and over again for hours. We spent the last four nights in a very nice hostel in a sketchy part of town, but we haven’t had a chance to explore the museums, cathedrals, and other historic sites. Plus, we need a week off from long-haul bus trips.

Trujillo at night.

We came here from Trujillo, a much more sane (in my mind) city that wasn’t too hard to navigate. Trujillo sits right between the ancient capital cities of the Chimu and Moche cultures, each of which is entirely different from the other, and both are very different from the civilizations up in the Andes. The diversity in art and architecture styles is astounding.

Carvings on the walls of Chan Chan.
More of Chan Chan with a design that is probably a seabird, but all I see is “sideways rabbit on a pyramid.”
The face of the mountain god at Huaca de la Luna, Moche.
The uncovered exterior of Huaca de la Luna, original paint still intact.

Truth be told though, Lea and I are getting ruined-out. Archaeology is one of the main draws for Peru, to be sure, but we’ve been visiting archaeological sites and museums several times a week for a month, and the ceramics are bleeding into each other at this point. We’ve made reservations for Machu Picchu – a logistical nightmare in itself – but after that we may have to put a moratorium on visiting anything not built in the last hundred years. After all, South America’s got to have something else to offer, right?

Actually, yes.

(Side note to email subscribers: click here to watch the video.)

That is the Peruvian Paso, a horse breed known for its smooth ride and silly walk. The horse show in Trujillo is not to be missed if you’re down there. The program is normally in Spanish, but we happened to crash the party on a day that a Holland America cruise ship booked the event for its English-speaking passengers. We got to enjoy the show, but las turistas from the cruise ship were treated to empanadas and pisco sours. (emoji angry face)

In Lima we’ve spent four days learning how to get around the city, how vitally important it is to ask the bus conductor whether it goes to the stop you need even if it’s listed on the bus itself, and to just accept that you’ll probably have to walk five blocks at the end of your ride in any case. We went all the way out to La Punta, the tip of Lima’s harbor that juts out into the Pacific, in search of an excursion company – to no avail; one was closed and the other’s office wasn’t open to the public. On another day we went all the way to Miraflores (the part of Lima where the rich people live) to buy our train tickets to Machu Picchu – to no avail; the office only accepted credit cards, which we prefer not to carry.

Each of those trips took far, far longer than any bus ride should. The trip from Callao to Miraflores was an hour and a half each way. On the way back, we discovered that Lima must be South America’s Las Vegas from the sheer number of cheesy casinos we passed. All was not lost, though. We were able to sort out the Machu Picchu reservations online (though we still need to find somewhere to print our tickets) and after twelve back-and-forth emails with the excursion company we were able to set sail for Palomino Island to swim with the sea lions!

The technical name for a large group of sea lions is a “poopberg.”

Isla Palomino is a small rock off the coast that is home to a large sea lion colony. It’s an hour and a half by boat from Lima’s harbor, around the large Isla San Lorenzo and the smaller El Frontón with its spectacular swarms of seabirds. The tour’s promotional material shows happy swimmers smiling in the sun surrounded by inquisitive lobos marinos. The truth, dear readers, is that in late September the Humboldt Current is still merrily turning this part of the tropics into an extension of Antarctica. It was cloudy, windy, and cold as Dante’s Inferno.

Didn’t matter. I squeezed into my wetsuit and flippers, pulled on my goggles and snorkel gear, jumped in the water, and headed for the sea lions.

Only a guide and one other passenger were brave enough to join me. The water was too murky for the goggles to do any good and the cold went right through my bones and came out the other side. And the smell – no BBC Planet Earth documentary can ever clue you in to the smell of that many animals in one place, doing all the things that animals do (in the water too). Still, I did it!

And that probably answers the question as to whether I’ve lost my mind.