Archive for July, 2009



Located 12km northwest of Trujillo, the small coastal village of Huanchaco is famous for these high-ended, cigar-shaped totora boats called caballitos, or little horses, that are used by the local fisherman to paddle out to sea and later surf back to shore with their catch.  In recent years Huanchaco has also been gaining popularity amoung surfers and tourists.  There was even a small surf competition taking place on the day we visited.

las Huacas del Sol y de la Luna

moche people

The Moche temples of the sun and the moon can be found 10km southeast of Trujillo.  The Moche lived in the deserts of northern Peru around 700 years before the Chimú.  Built using 140 million adobe bricks, La Huaca del Sol is Peru’s largest pre-Columbian structure, though it has yet to be excavated.  The smaller La Huaca de la Luna is currently undergoing excavation and has on display numerous colorful polychrome friezes for which the Moche people are famous.  Many of the designs and patterns tell the story of the human sacrifices that played such an important role in their culture.  The men pictured here wearing traditional Moche clothing are descendants of the Moche people, though as our tour guide joked, they now work in tourism posing for photos at the site and also speak a bit of English.

La Ruta Chimú

chan chan

In the north of Peru the Chimú and Moche cultures constructed fascinating adobe brick cities in the middle of the desert.  Built around A.D. 1300, Chan Chan is the largest mud brick city in the world.  At the height of the Chimú empire it consisted of approximately 10,000 structures with walls that stood over 10m high.  The central Palacio Nik-An remains a fascinating site to tour and in 1986 all of Chan Chan was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.  Other interesting stops along the Chimú route include the stepped-platform adobe temple of la Huaca Esmeralda and la Huaca Arco Iris.  Translating to  Rainbow Temple, la Huaca Arco Iris is one of the best preserved Chimú temples and gets its name from the repeated rainbow designs that cover its slightly pyramidal walls.  Peruvian hairless dogs can be spotted around la Huaca Esmeralda and la Huaca Arco Iris.  With unusually high body temperatures, they have traditionally been used to treat people with arthritis.

crossing into Peru

ecuador borderperu border






What should have been a simple and easy border crossing from Ecuador to Peru aboard an international bus line was complicated when immigration officials at the border informed us that Mexican passport holders require visas to enter Peru.  We were then forced off the bus and sent back to the closest Peruvian consulate in the border town of Macará, Ecuador.  After waiting for the office to re-open following an unusually long lunch break, we were told that Carlos did not require a visa after all and to try to cross again. 

We returned to the border wondering who had provided us with the correct information.  Luckily, it turned out that the worker at the consulate was right and we were eventually allowed to enter Peru.  Unfortunately, our bus was long gone and we had to purchase new tickets for the next bus as well as turn over our previously purchased tickets all the while knowing that the driver would just pocket our cash and have the company reimburse him anyway.  But it didn’t matter, after such a long day we were just glad to be continuing on our way and not stranded all weekend in a dusty Ecuadorian border town.

peru desertAnd so we continued into Peru, stopping overnight in Piura and continuing another eight hours the following day south on the Panamericana through the desert to the city of Trujillo.  Check out the view from the bus window!



Located 50km north of Cuenca, Ingapirca is the most important Inca site in Ecuador.  It was built toward the end of the 15th century with the same mortarless, polished stone technique used by the Inca in Peru.



Located in Ecuador’s southern highlands, the charming colonial city of Cuenca boasts narrow cobblestone streets, whitewashed red-tiled buildings, handsome plazas and impressive domed churches in a beautiful setting overlooking the Tomebamba River.  With a population of just under 500,000 Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city and a lovely place to explore.  We’ve found the cities and towns in Ecuador to be very clean, especially when compared to other Latin American countries, and Cuenca is no exception.  In fact, Cuenca’s spotless 9 de Octobre food market is the perfect place to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables, or head up-stairs where freshly prepared fruit shakes accompany heaping portions of chancho and potatoes for just $2.

Baños, Riobamba, Alausi and the train

BañosWhile in Baños we passed up a visit to the thermal bathing pools and a drive around town in a rented go-kart or cuad-runner, but we did make time for the popular waterfall tour aboard a old-fashioned chiva bus.  The waterfall pictured here can be seen from the roadway linking Baños with the town of Puyo, which serves as the gateway to Ecuador’s slice of the Amazon Basin.

That Thursday we departed Baños headed for Riobamba, the starting point for the world-famous Riobamba-Alausi-Sibambe-Alausi tourist train ride down the Nariz del Diablo, or Devil’s Nose.  It’s primarily a tourist train because it doesn’t really go anywhere, just through the mountains and back to where it started.  We were expecting a Friday morning departure, but upon arrival discovered that Friday’s departure had been suspended and that tickets for the next departure date (Sunday) were already sold out.  Apparently, it’s not uncommon for tour operators in Quito to buy up all the seats and run tours from the city. 

Then we were told that there might be a chance of boarding the train when it stops in Alausi.  We took a bus from Riobamba to Alausi, and as it turns out, the train tracks and the highway run parallel for much of the journey between the two towns.  The real highlight of the train ride is the series of switchbacks that take place between Alausi and Sibambe, so we remained hopeful.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have any better luck in Alausi.  And since we didn’t want to hang around in the small railroad town indefinitely, we  decided to continue our journey south to Cuenca without having taken the spectacular Nariz del Diablo train ride through the Andes.

Quilotoa Loop

Laguna Quilotoa

After several days of exploring Quito’s historic old town and enjoying life in the big city – Ecuador’s second largest – we headed south to the town of Latacunga which serves as the jumping off point for the Quilotoa Loop.  A spectacular mountain road thatQuilotoa Loop road loops off the Panamericana, the Quilotoa Loop connects remote Andean villages that are home to small indigenous groups, some of the country’s most traditional markets, natural wonders  and beautiful countryside panoramas in the central highlands of Ecuador.  Travel along the loop is challenging, but the rewards are abundant.

Arriving in Latacunga, the largest of the towns along the loop, we immediately set off to visit the Thursday morning market in Saquisili.  The indigenous people of Saquisili dress in felt pork pie hats and red ponchos.  Entire blocks and plazas were filled with women sitting alongside sacks of potatoes and blankets covered in vegetables.  There were also live chickens and ducks for sale.  The going rate for a pair of adult ducks was $12.  Interestingly, on the ride back to Latacunga that afternoon the unsold ducks ended up in sacks in the luggage compartment under our bus while a couple of sheep rode on the roof-top luggage rack. 

After returning to Latacunga from Saquisili we set off again in the opposite direction, this time headed for the town of Zumbahua.  Famed for it’s Zumbahua mktfascinating Saturday market, Zumbahua is a tiny town surrounded by farmland and green patchwork peaks.  Beginning before 6a.m. Saturday morning hordes of people all in felt hats, the men wearing ponchos and the women  wearing  felt knee length skirts, colored stockings and layered ponchos crowd into the central plaza.  In addition to the usual market offerings, the market at Zumbahua has a fascinating and disturbing twist, an open-air butcher shop where animals are slaughtered on-site and sold immediately. 

Following the market we hopped into the back of a pick-up truck to make the 14km journey along unpaved mountain road to Laguna Quilotoa, a stunning volcanic crater lake and one of Ecuador’s most impressive natural wonders.  Standing at the top of the crater the view overlooking the lake with the snow-capped volcanoes in the background was amazing.  The hike down inside the crater to the lake and back, however, was exhausting and as we struggled local women and children,  many with babies strapped to their backs, ran up and down leading horses that were carrying others who had already given up walking. 

The area surrounding the lake is barely a town at all, just a few simple accommodations that offer inclusive food and lodging options to visitors and it was in one of these lodgings that we spent a very cold night.  Despite Ecuador’s location on the equator, due to the high altitude temperatures along the Quilotoa Loop, especially at the lake are extremely chilly.  The following day, having visited many of the towns and attractions along the loop and desperately in need of some relief from the cold, we headed back toward the Panamericana passing once again the towns of Zumbahua and Latacunga and continuing south to the tourist hot spot of Baños.  Traveling the Quilotoa Loop has been, without a doubt, one of our best adventures yet.



Cuy (pronounced cu-ey), or guinea pig is a popular dish in both Ecuador and Peru, especially among the indigenous communities.  We got our first look at their little roasted bodies in the Zumbahua market along the Quilotoa Loop.  I guess that explains the hundreds of guinea pigs that were for sale in the animal market in Otavalo.  I had a hunch they weren’t being sold as pets…


ChugchucaraThe traditional dish of Latacunga is  chugchucara.  It’s fritada (fried pieces of pork), mote, chicarrón (fried pork skin), potatoes, fried banana and tostada served with cheese empanadas.