At around midnight, we slip quietly across the equator and back into the southern hemisphere. We are at last approaching South America proper. Our first stop is the port of Manta on the desert coast of Equador. Along this part of the coast of both Equador and Peru, there is very little rainfall and the desert comes right down to the ocean. If it weren’t for the underground aquifers, it would be difficult to live here.
There is a cold current running up this coast of South America. This has two results; first the crill that come up in this current provide the basis for the extensive fishing industry and second, the daytime temperatures are much lower than we expect just south of the equator where the sun is hidden by the coastal cloud.
Above all else, Manta is a fishing port. Fishing is a major export for this country and the harbour is full of large fishing vessels. On the opposite side of the pier a fishing vessel is waiting to unload and the crew watch us docking before they start unloading their catch.
It is Sunday and we expect most places to be closed.
It seems that the Market comes out on a Sunday. Manta doesn’t see many cruise ships, so this if definitely for the locals. The stalls are filled with high quality arts and crafts including, of course, the Panama Hat, for which Equador is famous.
We arrive in Peru in the port of Salaverry, the main entry for the city of Trujillo. Feeling we ought to see at least one of the ancient sites, we decide to take a tour to see the Chimu city of Chan Chan. The Chimu people predate both the better known Mayan and Inca peoples and here on the coast they built a city with a population of 100,000 almost entirely from sun dried mud bricks. The archeological site is enormous but much of the city has already been built over in the race to house the ever increasing population. The Chimu were people of the sea and Pelicans and Anchovies feature largely in their decorations.
Surprisingly, the fact that they used adobe as their main building material is the main reason that as much of the site still survives. It provided resilience when the many earthquakes that occur in the area made themselves felt.
The port of Callao and a visit to Lima
Callao (pronounced Kayo) is the gateway to Lima, the capital city of Peru with a population of more than ten million people. We will be here for two days and on each day choose to take a shuttle into town. On the first day we go to “downtown” Lima and the second to Mille Flores, the up market area on the coast.
Once again, it is cool (around 17 centigrade) and cloudy.
We stroll down Jr de la Union, the pedestrian mall that connects the two main squares. Full of shops and a mish mash of architecture that varies from building to building.
We were warned not to wander out of the main areas of the city and to watch out for muggers. Apparently, there have been a number of cases of tourists being robbed. This is reflected in the high police and military presence everywhere.
The coastal district of Mille Flores is the up market area of Lima with wide streets, parks and sculptures on the coastal walk.
One thing has been very striking as we visit these cities in central and south america. There is always a “tourist” or “cultural” or “colonial” area that tourists and travellers are funnelled to.
While we are being funnelled, however, the increasing homogenisation of cultures becomes obvious. We travel in luxury coaches … even the local buses are comfortable … down wide roads filled with cars, trucks, buses and traffic jams. It takes an hour from the edge of the city to reach the centre and the bit you have come to see. Along the way the buildings look the same everywhere, the clothes people wear are all the same and shopping seems to be the main activity. The skylines are of tall blocks of apartments, mobile phone towers, cranes on construction sites, industrial areas and every port has it’s container terminal. Huge shopping malls abound … no sign of bicycles or mules; carts or gardens here. We are all blurring into the same mould.
On that note, I will finish this missive. Next is Chile and the gateway to Santiago.