The northern coastal town of Chiclayo hasn’t a lot to offer, yet, we have been well entertained in the market and along the beaches.
If you have checked the map, you ‘d be forgiven for thinking that I have skipped a major part of this travelogue. In fact, and against our usual approach, we have taken a flight out of Cusco, in the Southern Highlands of Peru, to Chiclayo, quite far north on the Pacific coast. Change of plans, like we have had so many times already, this trip. It is just that we are keen on doing the northern part of the country, too, before we run out of time.
So from early morning, chilly and high-altitude Cusco, we arrive a few hours later in sweltering Chiclayo, a busy trading town at sea level just 15 km inland. Which, unlike Cusco, has very few touristic highlights of its own. Perhaps the most uninspiring Plaza de Armas we have seen so far. Not really compensated as far as we are concerned by what is called Real Plaza, a shopping mall that is bustling from activity on the Saturday afternoon, with seemingly the entire town congregating here. It is only after we have discovered the sweets shops that we start to appreciate Chiclayo in its own right. Figs with manjar, the local term for what we know so well from Argentina as dulce de leche (a kind of caramel sauce); pecan nuts covered with fondant, ‘alfachorcitos’ – biscuits with manjar in between -, caramalized peanuts, sweet sesame seed sticks. Enough to keep us entertained for a while.
Of quite different ‘taste’ is the Mercado Modelo, the main market in town, which is famous for its ‘brujas’ section, the section of the witch doctors. Obviously something to explore, but I am afraid we have seen much more exciting witch doctor markets than this one. A few herbs, a dried guinea pig, a couple of bottles with snakes in liquid, and for the rest Voodoo-like amulets for black magic sessions, not really frightening, not really convincing. Once they realised we were not interested in buying, the sellers ignored us, non-believers, completely.
The rest of the market proved rather more interesting, the usual colourful and exotic fruits and vegetables, a section with flies, or fish, it is unclear which species is in the majority. Everybody friendly, interested in a chat – obviously, Chiclayo doesn’t get that many foreign visitors. Quite a different reception from the ‘brujas’ section, in fact.
So close to the coast, we have to go and see the Pacific, of course. So we take a combi, a minibus, to Pimentel, the beach resort of Chiclayo. Impeccable beach, long and wide, parasols for hire; an old and nondescript pier stretching into the sea. Fish restaurants along the boulevard. And, towards the south side of the beach, hundreds of ‘caballitos’, small fishing canoes made of reeds, with which the fishermen get out to sea to manage their traps and nets in the shallow water offshore, coming back around lunch time with their catch. And it was lunch time. So instead of our usual activity around lunch time, we spent an hour watching the fishermen come in, skilfully surfing the waves with their canoes. And subsequently displaying their catch, and selling it almost immediately.
For the real fishing boats – and for a sumptuous lunch with ceviche, a Peruvian cured fish speciality – we went to Santa Rosa, a little further along the coast. Here the boats are lined up on the beach, and launching them is done with the help of a dragline-type of vehicle, that pushed the boats through the surf until they have enough clearance to manage their own engines. Here too, the catch is being sold swiftly, but apparently, most of this is turned into dried fish, and sold to large Ecuadorian companies, that control the trade of this eastwards, into the Amazonian jungle where it is highly valued. Well, except that some of the fish ended up in our ceviche – there is still hope!
next: the pyramids, the sites outside Chiclayo