Heading Out to the Highway

Our friends from Doom Metal/Heavy Rock band Reino Ermitaño; Julio (Ñaka) and Tania, invited François and myself to a small 4-day vacation tour to the North-Center of Peru. The goal of this vacation was to visit lesser known archaeological sites as well as try local cuisine. With Julio as our official guide (that’s what he does for living), we visited tons of interesting ruins, the sea side, a unique fog forest and some kickass sand dunes – all of that with an nice soundtrack of heavy rock and doom metal:

Roadtrip!!

Norcentral peruano car playlist:
Judas Priest – Unleashed in the East
Trouble – Trouble
Witchfinder General – Death Penalty
The Obsessed – The Church Within
Spirit Caravan – The Last Embrace Disc 1
Jerusalem – Jerusalem
Pappo’s Blues – Volumen 3
Color Humano – Color Humano
Cream/Jimi Hendrix compilation
Mazo – Mentenegra
Angeles del Infierno compilation
Ramones compilation
AC/DC – High Voltage
Reino Ermitaño – Veneration del Fuego
…and more!

We traveled a few hours until we reached the Sacred City of Caral, at 200km from Lima. The Sacred City is a large and well-studied site of the Norte Chico civilization (30th century BC to 18th century BC). What’s truly interesting about this place in particular is that it is the most ancient city of ALL Americas, with its 5000+ years old age! It was already a thriving metropolis at the time the pyramids of Egypt were being built! This was only discovered very recently. Due to this, all guides and history books had to be adjusted… crazy!

The Norte Chico civilization lacked ceramics and almost no art was discovered. They created monumental architecture, including large mounds/pyramids and circular plazas, and they were a peaceful society, as no trace of warfare has been found in the Sacred City of Caral.

Remains of the Caral pyramids in the arid Supe Valley

The ruins themselves were built differently than anything we’ve seen so far. They are made in a very primitive way, and the stonework doesn’t look as impressive as what we have seen in Inca structures. Of course, this is tremendously interesting anyway due to its antiquity and HUGENESS! The site was almost as big as Teotihuacan, in Mexico!

The first thing we visited was the Altar de Fuego, a fire altar, which they used for ritual ceremonies. Under it we could find a ventilation system which was built in order for the fire to be kept alive by the strong wind of the region. (You know, like when you blow on embers to start a fire). These guys were smart!

Altar de Fuego

One of the pyramids from up-close

Ancient civilizations had a habit of covering up completely their structures with sand or other material before they abandoned it. This would prevent other societies taking over and using the structures for worshiping of other religions and so. Before being discovered, the Sacred City of Caral looked like just a bunch of hills built of sand which seemed to be naturally part of the landscape:

Imagine those pyramids if they would be covered with sand; it'd be just other mountains in the background. No wonder they stayed hidden for thousands of years!

A half-buried pyramid

La Huanca pyramid, one of the major structures of the site

In front of this pyramid you can see a hieroglyph of a spiral carved on a stone, which inspired the new logotype of Peru. Check it out:

The infamous spiral stone

The new Peru logotype

This civilization ate some seafood/fish (we are at 25 km from the sea) but mostly squash, beans, lucuma, guava, pacay, and sweet potatoes.

Another view of the pyramid

There were all sorts of really cool artifacts on the site, like the following:

A long and thin rock, which was believed to be a sun dial (solar clock)

Not just a stone with holes; the holes here are the perfect replica of the stars. When filled with rain water, they become star mirrors!

A circular plaza, typical for this civilization. In this one, more than 60 bone flutes were found. I guess they loved to party!

The entire tour took 2 hours, and was really interesting! After that, we went to Barranca to eat some famous local food…

Some scenery from the countryside on the way to lunch

Another beautiful countryside scenery

So we went to a restaurant called Tato, a very famous place that is located straight on the seaside of Barranca. They specialize in a dish called “Tacu Tacu”; a fusion of Peruvian and Afro-American cuisine (African people were brought here for slavework centuries ago). Beans, rice and yellow pepper “tortilla” served on top of eggs and fish/sea-food with fried plantains. It sounds weird, I know, but it’s really tasty! It was originally a way of cooking leftovers, but it became a traditional dish:

Tacu tacu de pescado

And since we were located right next to the sea, François ordered a ceviche:

Ceviche with corn corb, sweet potatoe, yellow potatoe and cancho (fried corn).

Thanks to Tania’s father for inviting us to this meal, we really appreciated it!!! It was absolutely delicious!

After this, back in the car; we still needed to drive a few hours more towards the north to our next destination. Along the way, we saw some really really fantastic dunes so we had to stop:

The roadtrip car

François doing like in Judas Priest's "Heading Out to the Highway" video clip

Sand dunes!

Julio shooting from trenches

François and myself being very excited on the dunes!

An epic photo of Julio, "Desert Rock" style

The sun setting on the sand dunes

We drove for a few hours more, and arrived in the night at the Tortugas bay beach, where we found a hotel room. It was very rustic and the electricity of the entire city shut down at 11:30 at night! The stars were absolutely beautiful; we saw dozens of shooting stars. Also, for dinner that night, we had “baby bread”, which Julio sliced up with pleasure:

Baby bread, pan de wawa or something? I forgot the name haha

The Tortugas bay in the morning. Our hotel was right next to this beautiful beach! Apparently there were gigantic sea turtles on that beach, a long time ago. There aren't any now unfortunately.

The next morning we went to visit the ruins of the Sechin temple. Built in the archaic period (1600 BC), they were some of the coolest I’ve seen! The site is located in Ancash province of Casma and 5 km from the city of the same name. The weather is hot, dry and with little rainfall annually and the sea is about 10 km away.

But before we arrived on the site, we encountered a fruit seller which had some strange locally grown fruits, like the following:

Totally don't remember the name of this fruit, but it was very hard on the outside, kind of like a coconut

Peeling the skin revealed hard flesh with a soft sweet exotic taste

To make it even more Peruvian, typical pre-Inca hairless dogs were hanging out on the site. They were really bad-ass looking. Never saw dogs like this in real life before…

Filth hounds of hades! According to an old myth, the dogs are so hot that you can have them rest on your stomach to cure stomach pains haha

We then went to a cool little museum, which had some awesome ancient artifacts from the region:

Mummified tattooed hands. Tattoos were usually reserved for high members of the society like leaders and warriors.

Some remains of textiles

Awesome mummy. Never get tired of seeing those!

And then we saw some bone flutes; similar to what they found in Caral:

Bone flutes

These flutes made me think of this classic Morbid Angel artwork:

Leading the Rats!

The Temple of Sechin is a small one, but had a unique facade built with stone slab engraved with warriors in procession and decapitated bodies.

The front facade and the entrance to the Temple

What looks like hair or water is actually blood flowing from the body parts. Awesome!

The closed eyes signifies death. All the heads are decapitated here... notice the blood flowing from one of the eyes!

An awesome warrior with rows of decapitated heads

This temple was made with stone and clay (adobe), like most other structures from the same time.

Cut off limbs. Check out the bones sticking out from the arms...

Human guts!

Super cool warrior with trophy heads on the left. The weird squares are spinal cords, according to Julio.

ARRRRGHHH

There was a mirador (a little mountain with a nice view) that we could climb to see the ruins a bit better:

The temple from the top. It was used for religious ceremonies.

A view of the beautiful fertile valley from the top

After this, we needed lunch – so we drove to the port of Casma in search for ultra-fresh seafood. It was really sunny and warm; it was nice seeing the sun again! Lima is always full of fog and grey; I am becoming white again haha

François on the seaside

A close view of the port with sea birds (gulls and more giant birds)

Workers preparing fish for export

Fish heads anyone?

A family on the seaside

So we found an open restaurant, which only served fried fish – but caught only an hour or so ago. Julio had bought some fresh fish, which we brought to the lady cook to make some ceviche. Here’s what it looked like!

Ceviche of tiny fish

My plate! This fish was called "coco" and it tasted very very yummy and fresh!

Miaooow!

We asked the lady what else she had, and she said she could make ceviche de pato (duck with some kind of sauce) and guinea pig (cuy). I’ve been meaning to try cuy for a long time, so I ordered a plate for the following day.

The cuy awaiting for its destiny! Photo taken at the back of the restaurant.

The next day, we went to the beach, François and Julio swam a bit, and then we came back to the restaurant. Our food was ready in a few minutes:

Cuy! Amcash highland-style, with its potatoes. Notice the whiskers, still there! The red sauce is hot peppers mixed with garlic. To be honest, I could barely taste the meat because there was barely any. It was like eating frog legs or something! The taste was similar to the dark parts of chicken.

Cuy remains. I know, this is pretty disturbing to me too, even though I ate it.

Some mazamorra morada (purple corn pudding) for dessert in a Casma cafe.

On this fourth and last day, we went to the most recent ruins of this trip; the fortress of Paramonga. It is actually a temple, but when the Spanish saw it, they thought it was a fortress due to having towers on each side of the structure. Built in 1200 by the Chimú people, Paramonga was an important religious center built in the shape of a llama. We thought it was really strange because it seemed almost exactly like a medieval castle… and it was built around the same time too!

The Paramonga fortress

The entire fortress was colored in red, and according to some Spanish chronicler, the walls were painted with many ferocious animals and birds. Nowadays we can only see a little bit of paint left:

Wall of Paramonga

The bricks were made of adobe, thus they are very soft. I can't believe they have survived for so long!

François standing beside the "puma's head" (on the left)

Unfortunately, the stupid people that visit this place did alot of damage by carving their names on the wall. I mean, what the hell? They are destroying their own history! The names were everywhere…

Bricks damaged by name carving. By the way, this is an Inca door, like we saw in Cusco and Machu Picchu! A double frame indicated that the following room was an important one. The Inca took over this temple and built on top of it, but keeping the style of Chimu culture before them.

Tania, François and Julio doing some exploring

Some more walls of Paramonga

We then went to look for a nice lunch in some local restaurant. The specialty here is duck, so that’s what we had:

Arroz con pato; a killer leg of duck with coriander rice!

Tania's meal; seco de cordero - a very very tender sheep dish, served with beans and rice

Tania in a very very happy mood haha

We then did a bit of road again on the way back to Lima, and stopped by one of the coolest places I’ve seen in Peru so far… the fog forest of the Lachay Natural Reserve!

Just arriving there made me feel like I was in a Tim Burton movie… The area features a unique mist-fed ecosystem of wild plant and animal species which are located in the Yungas (hills between the coast and the Andes mountains). The mountains trap the fog, covering the area the majority of the year.

Arriving at the site. It felt like a forest on Halloween, or in a cemetery or something...

Evil looking trees

Creepy landscape...

A tree and a moss-covered rock

Closer look at the moss. It's so beautiful and rich looking!

Tania, François and Julio standing on a very mystical looking rock

The reserve features many trails for hikers; 20 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, etc… it’s even possible to do some camping and bbq in there!

The trail

Julio and Tania

Alternate cover for the first Black Sabbath album?

Some local vegetation

Moss/grass growing in the forest

Julio

More trees

Le cimetière des arbres

Close-up of a tree trunk

Yellow leaves against rich green vegetation

François

Leaving the park...

This was just absolutely mind blowing – the photos don’t do the place justice, it was truly a great experience to walk in this magical place! Reino Ermitaño actually did a photoshoot here for their first album; but unfortunately it was a day with not as much fog as the day we visited it:

Reino Ermitaño photoshoot in the national park

And if this wasn’t enough kickass, we finished the day by stopping at a traditional dulceria (a dessert place) in Magdalena – a suburb of Lima. Tania told me that this is the kind of place they’d bring Antony Burdain to. We ate 6 different desserts, which gave me an intense sugar rush, Cornholio style. Haven’t felt this buzzed off sugar since my young tender Halloween days as a kid!

Front: bead crums with mollasses and cheese. Left to right: Bien me sabe (almond and sweet potatoe purée), sweet bean purée (like in the middle of Japanese mochis!), manjar blanco (dulce de leche), suspiro de limena (like sucre à la crème with meringue on top!) and coconut cake.

Some of the sweets. Apparently it was quite empty because they had had tons of clients that day!

Some more stuff! I wish I could have tried everything!!!

And so the day and the mini-vacations ended… it was an absolute killer time, and I feel really grateful that we got to share it with Julio and Tania. Thank you for showing us some other faces of Peru!!!!! We will do the same when/if you come to Canada, of course!

Wooo!

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