Pre-Incan Ruins near Trujillo

We arrived in Trujillo around 7 am on Friday via an overnight bus from Máncora. We booked another place that let us check in super early, so we went back to bed for a few hours before heading out to walk around the city. When we first arrived, it was hazy outside and the city seemed a bit dirty; however, once we got to exploring, our views of it were totally changed as we discovered its charming streets and awesome pre-Incan ruins.

We visited the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chan Chan first, the capital of the Chimor empire from AD 900 to 1470. The ruins are huge! There are ten structures within the 20 square miles, only one of which you actually visit since it’s the best preserved. Each structure was used as a palace for royals and the king’s family, and then when the king died, the new king would build his own palace - thus ten different generations in ten different structures. Throughout the one we toured, there were several animals decorating the walls including otters, fish, and pelicans, which symbolized the relationship between land, air, and sea. The Chimor people were ultimately defeated by the Incas and incorporated into their society.

Some of the animals decorating the walls symbolizing the relationship between land, air, and sea.
Our friend Bea, who we met in Máncora, joined our exploration of Chan Chan.

The Chan Chan ruins are about 5 km outside of Trujillo, so we hopped on a colectivo to ride back to the city… but it turned out to be the most indirect one. Colectivos are basically large passenger vans with a conductor (separate from the driver) who hangs out the window yelling various destinations to pedestrians. When we asked the conductor if he was going to the city center where our hostel was, he said “¡Sí sí!” so we hopped on. We ended up on an hour long bus ride that basically turned out to be a tour of the entire city! It was awesome to see a lot of the areas we probably wouldn’t get to on foot, even if the ride took three times as long as it would have had we been on the correct bus. Plus, it only cost 1 sol (aka 30 cents).

After we visited the ruins, we were ready for some lunch and headed toward a restaurant that was supposed to have awesome ceviche. Along the way, we struck up a conversation with two locals who were shocked to learn we knew about this cevicheria since “only locals go there.” (Thanks, Internet!) They asked if they could join us, so we ended up spending the afternoon eating delicious ceviche and learning about the city from locals over cervezas. Things we learned included:

  • Colectivo drivers are paid based on the number of passengers they have. To get as many passengers as possible, they could try to drive very slowly, but this would not be fair to the colectivo immediately behind them who wouldn’t get any passengers. To prevent this, drivers must punch a time-card at several checkpoints. If they’re late to these checkpoints, they can end up owing the driver of the bus after them some money.
  • Trujillo is attempting to apply for a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the city’s historical center. The result of this is the brightly colored buildings and ongoing restoration projects (apparently the previous mayor had installed fountains with colored lights, which aren’t kosher with UNESCO).
  • After we mentioned we had tried Ayahuasca in Ecuador, they were a little surprised. They have no plans of ever trying it because they have friends who have tried it and had drastic personality changes (some good, some bad) because of it. We don’t feel any different, but it’s something we will think about if we have the chance to try it again.
  • After we finished our ceviche, they asked the waitress to pour the remaining juice into a cup for us to drink. It wasn’t until after Vesper chugged it that they mentioned it is an aphrodisiac.
Plaza de Armas with Catedral de Trujillo behind.

The locals also told us to check out the ruins of Huacas del Sol y la Luna, which they thought were more interesting than Chan Chan. Intrigued, we went there the next day to learn about the Moche people, another pre-Incan culture that also existed 700 years before the Chimor empire. You can only visit the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) as the Huaca del Sol was partially destroyed in the 17th century when the Spanish redirected a river towards it to help with looting gold. We first visited a museum to learn about the structures and Moche customs, which often included human sacrifices. There were two types of sacrifices: one to help restore order when the people were plagued with bad weather (El Niño type phenomena), and the other to ask the gods to maintain balance when things were going well. In addition to the museum, our ticket also included a tour of the Huaca de la Luna… in Spanish. Good thing we went to the museum first. Although the tour was less informative than the one we had at Chan Chan, the ruins here were so well preserved that you could see the original murals with vibrant colors on parts of the structure! The temple consists of several different levels, which were built on top of each other over the course of six hundred years. Each time a new level was built, the previous level was completely filled in with bricks to become the base for the new temple. We learned in the museum that archeologists think this rebuilding may have coincided with a religious calendar.

The remains of the Huaca de la Luna, with views of Trujillo in the background.
A mural of the mountain god and steps of an altar with original colors still intact.
The many layers of the Temple of the Moon.

Despite our initial slightly negative impressions of the city, we ended up really enjoying Trujillo. Maybe it was the awesome people we spent our time with or a blessed relief from the heat and mosquitoes of Máncora, but we were glad to have our views changed and learn more about the history of this awesome country.

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Sun and Ceviche in Máncora, Peru

We’re in Peru!! We have very fond memories of our previous trip here, and we couldn’t wait to come back. We took an overnight bus from Cuenca, Ecuador that left at ten pm, crossed the border into Peru around two am, and arrived in the small surf town far too early at five am. We planned ahead and booked a hostel that had 24 hour check in, so we were able to go straight to our room and catch back up on several hours of sleep. Thank goodness!

When we got to exploring, Máncora didn’t have much to it. There were several touristy shops and restaurants, but the beach honestly wasn’t that pretty - then again, it doesn’t really need to be if you’re just there to surf. We did manage to find a decent stretch of beach our first afternoon and played in the huge waves and enjoyed some local cervezas.

Enjoying some beer and sunscreen on the beach, then watching the sun set.

We also spent some time with our new friend Bea (check out her blog!), who we met on the overnight bus from Cuenca. The three of us found the local market one day and a had a delicious super cheap lunch, where we had the first ceviche of this trip. Peru is known for its ceviche, and we will eat it any opportunity we can get.

Two types of ceviche we enjoyed.

Our three days in Máncora were pretty relaxed, mostly filled with reapplying sunscreen, watching surfers, and swatting (or in Laura’s case, being eaten alive by) the millions of mosquitoes that live there. We probably wouldn’t go back there to hit up the beach, but we met an awesome new friend along the way!

Not Bea, but another one of our new friends.

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Final Thoughts on Ecuador

After 18 days in Ecuador here are some final observations we had:

  • Since the year 2000, Ecuador has been using the US dollar as its national currency. This is great for avoiding foreign transaction fees and doing conversions in your head (hint: multiply by 1).
  • We took our first few long bus trips here and noticed several things:
    • These bus rides are all on coach buses, most with reclining seats, air conditioning, and bathrooms (but not all, so plan ahead - some of us learned the hard way).
    • If it’s a long ride, there will be dubbed movies. For our rides in Ecuador, they tended to be either kungfu or Adam Sandler films, usually with the volume far too loud.
    • Salesmen selling practically anything under the sun have surprising success with their captive audiences. The worst vendor was selling perfume and stinking up the entire bus, while the weirdest was a vendor selling books ranging from children’s coloring books to DIY kama sutra. I guess something for everyone, eh?
    • Food vendors are our favorites, and if you’re lucky you’ll hit the jackpot with things like delicious empanadas or some freshly sliced fruit. However, we’ve also learned that not all buses have good or even any vendors and you should always come prepared as though you won’t get fed, no matter how long the ride.
  • Speaking of buses, we didn’t see any chicken buses in Ecuador. So far the only time we’ve seen the repurposed yellow school buses have been in Guatemala.
  • Our standards for beer are changing. When things are now “decent” that means a success! At home mediocre beers were crap, but we will celebrate anything other than flavored water.
  • The Galápagos are really expensive. We wanted to go, but with roundtrip flights alone being $500/per person (not to mention all the expenses once there), we couldn’t justify it when that same amount will hopefully last us much longer in southeast Asia. We have been told that there are some islands dubbed the “poor man’s Galápagos,” so we might check those out instead.
  • Garbage trucks play music just like ice cream trucks at home. We actually only heard this in Baños, but it was still pretty awesome.
  • Our collective Spanish is improving! Vesper can speak and understand most of the time pretty well, and Laura somehow conveniently can pick up enough words when he doesn’t understand (or isn’t listening?) to fill in the gaps.

Fast facts:

  • Favorite city: Quito
  • Favorite food: grilled street kebabs
  • Favorite beer: Iguana IPA by Camino Del Sol
  • Favorite experience: Los Monos!

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Cuenca: Closed for Business

Or at least, everything seemed to be closed. We had heard many good things about Cuenca, but apparently Sunday and Monday were the worst days to visit.

The only activity we could do (without a several hour bus ride outside of the city) was a tour of the New Cathedral of Cuenca, which included the church’s crypt and climbing to the top of its towers for views of the city. It was a surprisingly informative tour, and we’re glad we were able to at least do this!

New Cathedral of Cuenca on the main square.

Street food was another thing we were able to enjoy. Near the main square we found kebabs, cheese covered corn called choclos, and something that looked like ice cream called espumillas, a fruit-based meringue dessert. It is a bit disappointing if you were expecting ice cream, but a tasty treat otherwise. Plus, espumillas were everywhere in Ecuador and we hadn’t tried them yet.

Not street food, but look at this happy pig found at a local market.

We were also able to find a few decent beers to try. La Compañia Microcerveceria offered great prices on four of their own tap brews. We can’t complain about that! We even shared a few drinks with another American couple we met while searching for beer with actual flavor. Cheers Sarah and Andy, and good luck with the rest of your travels!

La Compañia's stout. Size of $3 Beer has not been altered in photo.

On our final day in Cuenca we booked our first night bus to Máncora, a small surf town in northern Peru. The schedule was less than ideal (leaving at 10 pm, arriving at 5 am), but it was literally our only option.

We really wanted to like Cuenca since we’d heard good things about it, but it was hard to appreciate it with everything being closed. It was poor timing, so maybe we will have to come back another time.

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Hiking and Waterfalls in Baños

We’d heard great things from friends about Baños de Agua Santa, so we decided to head there after our time in Quito. Commonly referred to as Baños (Spanish for “baths”), it is a small city a few hours south of Quito popular to both foreign and Ecuadorean tourists because of the hot springs and adventure activities.

When we arrived in Baños, we had a short walk to our hostel where we were greeted with amazing views from our room. Baños has some great hiking trails, so one day we set out to do a hike that was supposedly only two hours up and one hour down - easy, right? I’m not sure the last time our hostel owner did this trek, but either his timing is off or he is in way better shape than we are! It only took us 30 minutes to make it to Bellavista, a steep hill that has beautiful views of Baños. At this point we were pretty confident in our hiking abilities, assuming that of the two hours up, we were already halfway there.

Hiking up to Bellavista, past a house for sale on the cliff.

Oh man, were we wrong. It ultimately took us at least 2 more hours to reach the top! The trails were not well marked, half the time we were on a road, and whenever we came across other hikers making their way down, we had to confirm we were still going the correct way. We had met another guy who had gotten lost several times that day and didn’t want to end up in his shoes. Eventually we made it to Casa del Árbol (The Treehouse), which is famous for its Swing at the End of the World and has killer views of the Tungurahua volcano on clear days. Of course it was cloudy so you couldn’t actually see the snow-capped, active volcano but the other views were still amazing.

The trail to the top which I am guessing is otherwise a river, and some cool flowers along the way.
Beautiful views at the top, and a cool swing to boot.

In addition to hiking, we were also planning to bike along the Ruta de las Cascadas. This scenic route from Baños to Puyo has numerous waterfalls, and you can rent a bike in town for only $5/day! However, we were both coming down with colds the day we planned to do this and spending several hours biking in the rain probably wasn’t going to be the best way to get healthy. Instead we rode a chiva, a colorful open-air bus that stops at all the sights with Latin music blaring as loud as possible. It was a great way to see the waterfalls, even if our eardrums were blown out by the end of the trip.

Taking a cable car out over the gorge, and hiking over it later.
El Pailon del Diablo waterfall.

In addition to nature, we also had to check out the beer scene! At Stray Dog Brew Pub, a small microbrewery, we tried an Irish Red and the Mora Sabora, a fruit beer made with local Andean berries. We also tried some beers from two other Ecuadorian breweries, which were all pretty good! From Sabai we tried their Chaquiñán IPA and Cerveza con Guayusa, which is made with an Amazonian plant that is often brewed as tea for its health benefits and mega amounts of caffeine. At Amarelo Cafe & Resturant down the street, we found two beers on tap (a rarity - most bars only have bottled beers) from Cherusker, including their oatmeal stout La Negra and strong ale Super Doble. The only disappointing part was that we learned both breweries are based in Quito, so we missed out on our chance to visit the source. Maybe next time!

A few of the beers we tried.
Cheese covered pulled pork fries, and delicious street food.

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