Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Peru: Day 8

by Kathy 30. November 2009 15:10

<< Day 7: To Cajamarca, The Guessing Game | Day 9: To Chachapoyas, Why We Ride >>


To Celendín, Fiestas Galore


We could hardly believe the view when we entered the hotel’s breakfast room this morning.

The hotel, Costa del Sol, sits on the corner of the Cajamarca’s main square, Plaza de Armas. We could see across the recently renovated plaza to the baroque towers of the Iglesia San Francisco.

Here is the front of the hotel, showing the glass-enclosed breakfast room on the right side.

Another view of the hotel with the cathedral next door, which took almost 100 years to complete (1682 to 1780).

A close-up of the cathedral’s front:

Inside the cathedral is a baroque altar that was built in 1689.

The city of Cajamarca was the site where the Spanish conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, captured Inca Atahualpa, the leader of the Inca people. Atahualpa struck a deal whereby Pizarro promised to release him if he filled a large room with gold and another two rooms with silver. Over the next seven months, the Incas delivered thousands of gold sculptures, chalices, jewelry and other exquisite items to the Spanish, who melted everything down into gold and silver bars. One historian estimates Pizarro received over 13,000 pounds of gold and 26,000 pounds of silver. Despite upholding his end of the bargain, Atahualpa was killed anyway.  His oh-so-thoughtful "Christian" executioners allowed him to be baptized right before his death so that he could be hanged as a "Christian" instead of being burned at the stake as a "heathen".  The murder of Atahualpa occurred in July 1533 and marked the demise of the Inca empire. 

After breakfast, Ben and I strolled around the plaza. Guy had some business that he wanted to take care of this morning, so we had agreed to leave in the early afternoon. Guy had really wanted to spend the whole day here, but we had adamantly told him that we wanted to ride—which prompted his comment, “You aren’t like other tourists.” He also said that he didn’t know if he could keep riding without a break. This was surprising to me, as we had gone over our planned route in detail via email before arriving, and I had stressed to him that we wanted “long days” of riding.  

Getting a late start today meant that we were already deviating from the original itinerary, which had us traveling to the city of Chachapoyas today on an all-day ride. Chachapoyas is located in a cloud forest and has many stone-city ruins. We had planned to spend tomorrow visiting one of the more famous ruins, called Kuélap (whose beauty is supposed to rival that of Machu Picchu). However, the day off of our bikes could also be used as a “cushion” day that could be eliminated if we needed additional time to ride from one town to another.

We were absorbing our “cushion” day today. We would be riding to the town of Celendín this afternoon, which was located between Cajamarca and Chachapoyas.  We would be riding to Chachapoyas tomorrow, and skipping the tour of the Kuélap ruins.

Ben and I walked by the wonderful restaurant where we had eaten dinner last night—El Quérubino. It was closed this morning, but here is the sign:

In a tiny shop near the restaurant, we found some postcards to mail to our children’s classrooms (although today was Sunday, so the post office was closed). We also wandered across the plaza and found a camera shop, where we bought a new memory stick for Ben’s camera. Here is Ben outside the camera shop:

A view above the plaza area:

Along the building walls were strung tall banners with photos of some of the local people who are a familiar sight at the plaza. Here is a banner showing a man in a wheelchair:

Last night we had seen the man sitting in front of this building, with a small box out for donations. He arrived with his box again mid-morning:

Ben and I heard music and looked down the street. A parade was coming!

We were delighted to discover that today was the annual celebration of el Día del Turismo (the day of tourism). On this day, Cajamarca celebrates all of the cultural, social and geographical elements that draw tourists to the area. People from the city, as well as nearby towns and villages, dress in traditional clothing, participate in parades, perform music and local dances, and present exhibits and other entertainment. (Guy had not been aware of this celebration, nor did he express any interest when we told him about it.)

The women’s outfits were very colorful:


Many of the floats contained teenage queens, with some doing the stiff-hand-rotating-from-side-to-side wave.


The children were blowing kisses and throwing candy at the crowd.

Look at those sweet faces!

Here is proof that parents in the U.S. aren’t the only ones to dress their little ones up in cute animal costumes:

This float depicted the nearby famous site called Ventanillas de Otuzco (Windows of Otuzco), which consists of a volcanic rock face with about 200 carved niches that served as burial places for the Cajamarca people who lived here before the Incas.

More parade photos:












The end of the parade:

We saw some dancers heading toward the main plaza:

We stopped to watch a dance that started with the men throwing each other on the ground and jumping on one another:


Most of the people in the audience appeared to be Peruvian—we only saw a few light-skinned people throughout the morning, and we didn’t hear anyone speaking English. I asked the man next to me what was happening in the dance, and he explained that the men were fighters (luchadores) and the women/mothers were waiting at home.

The women soon joined in the dance:


Some of the local women had beautiful hats:

In the distance, we could see the hilltop shrine called Cerro Santa Apolonia.

A closer view:

We walked two blocks to the Complejo Belén, a religious compound containing a church and a former men’s hospital. On the way there, we passed a series of stairs leading up the hillside.

The church in the Complejo Belén was built from volcanic stone, and its towers were never finished.


The baroque façade of the church was carved in an elaborate design of standing figures and floating angels.


The souls of the dead were thought to enter into the church through the large central window.

The cupola on the church had little stairs built into the dome.

Inside the church courtyard:

Off of the courtyard was a building that served as the men’s hospital for over 200 years, operating until 1965. The hospital conditions were grim. Patients were kept in small dark recesses off of a central room where Mass was performed. Families were not allowed to use traditional medicines. Instead, the patients were allowed to watch Mass while they were being bled on an almost continual basis to allow the devil to exit their bodies. They often bled to death. After death, the families were prohibited from using burial rituals and had to pay a lot of money to the church so that their dead relative’s soul could be elevated from hell to heaven.

Here is a (fuzzy) photo of me in one of the patient recesses:

The main area of the hospital contained a large exhibition of local photographs. Here are some of them:

This beautiful figure was in a nook along one wall:


Across the street from the church and the men’s hospital was a building that had once served as the women’s hospital.

The front of the women's hospital had detailed carvings:

The back of the front tower was plain:

Depicted in the carvings were two female figures with four breasts:

The figures were carved by native artisans, not the Spanish. One of our readers clarified (below) that the figures represent Plesithea, the creation goddess from the Gnostic church. (Our guidebook provided the questionable proposition that the figures portray women from the nearby town of Chilaca, where multiple nipples--medically known as polythelia--was supposedly a common occurrence.)

The women’s hospital now contains the Museo Arqueológico (Archeology Museum). The main hall was full of ceramic vessels. There was a display near the entrance showing which parts of Peru produced the various styles of pottery.

This cat’s head vessel was produced in the southern area of Nazca:

This similar, but much simpler, design was produced by the Incas in Cusco:

Traditional Nazca pottery has some of the most detailed and colorful designs in all of Peru:

Ben and I both studied ceramics (as well as painting and sculpture) in art school, and we found the pottery exhibits to be fascinating.

More pottery:

We thought the vessels shaped like squash were especially interesting:

These skulls were found by archaeologists when excavating some ancient ruins in a site called Huacaloma, near Cajamarca:

Among the pottery exhibits was a photo showing the burial ventanillas (windows) carved into the cliff face, as well as drawings of how the bodies were positioned inside the niches and how the openings may have been covered.

Some historical accounts claim that the Incas plundered and destroyed many of the ventanillas when they invaded the area, and others say that the destruction of the burial sites was caused by the Spanish conquistadors.

Also on display in the museum was a portion of an ancient plumbing system:

Outside the museum, local organizations had set up booths and displays about how their projects benefit the community. There were exhibits about schools, conservation programs, plans for a new hospital, agriculture methods, and many other things.

During lunch, Ben and I were entertained by the melodies of these musicians:

On the way back to the hotel, we were thrilled to catch the enthusiastic dancing of this group:





This small girl/woman had difficulty peering from under the brim of her hat:


When the music ended, each male dancer picked up a female dancer, slung her over his shoulder, and carried her out of the dance area. One woman, however, picked up one of the men and carried him off on her shoulder!

What a treat to see!

Experiencing this festival was really special. Even though Ben and I were obviously “tourists,” I felt like just another face in the crowd, enjoying all the festivities.

We were soon back on our bikes and heading out of town.


As we traveled north, we saw that the walls of the homes and buildings in this area were constructed with alternating layers of adobe and rocks:

In a nearby village, people were hanging out at the main square waiting for transportation:

On the rolling hills, low rock walls divided the earth into fields for crops and grazing:



As we climbed in elevation, my fingers were becoming numb from the brisk air. In anticipation of cold temperatures in the Andes, Ben and I had packed about 16 sets of handwarmers (small packets of chemicals that produce heat when exposed to the air—they fit nicely on the top of each hand inside of a glove). In our limited luggage space, the zip-loc bag of handwarmers had been taking up a relatively large chunk of room, and we hadn’t yet had to use any of them (tempting me to consider leaving them behind several times in one of our hostels). Ahhh, finally—this afternoon the handwarmers were much needed and appreciated.

Some donkeys were standing by the side of the road.

We passed by quite a few people riding horses, often with 2 or 3 people on top. I was riding behind Guy. The first time that he passed a horse, he roared by so fast and loudly that the animal reared up in fear, almost dumping a man and young girl off of the back. I stopped while the man struggled to get his horse under control, and then I crept by v-e-r-y slowly, trying to be as quiet as possible.

The roads were packed dirt, with some muddy areas that caused problems for a few of the big vehicles. We waited about 20 minutes while this bus got unstuck. The driver and some passengers helped to pack rocks into the muddy area on the right front side of the bus.

This truck had tried to cut the corner too sharply and its rear wheels had gotten trapped.

We could see the road ahead, as it sliced across the mountains:


The green countryside contrasted greatly with the brown fields that had surrounded Cajamarca. Guy told us that a lot of cheese and milk were produced here.

A roadside cross:

On the outskirts of Celendín was a plaza that had a large white hat in the center:


Entering Celendín:

(Our hostel was located adjacent to the tall blue and white church towers you can see in the distance above.)

We maneuvered through the streets, looking for the way to the main plaza. Here is a roundabout:

The main plaza:


After arriving at the central plaza, Guy rode off to search for a good place to stay. I checked my guidebook, which indicated that the “best place in town” was Hostel Celendín, located on a corner of the plaza area. Ben went inside to check out the rooms, while I stayed with the bikes. The rooms looked clean; moreover, the owner told Ben that there was hot water at all hours of the day and that there was secure parking behind the building. The man also assured Ben that the plaza was very quiet at night—that had been one of my concerns, based on experience. Guy returned and said that he had found a place with questionable safety for the bikes, so we decided to stay at Hostel Celendín.

Ben and I had a large, basic room overlooking the plaza. The view from our room:


There was no hot water when we tried to shower.  I hadn't been optimistic about this feature, so I wasn't too disappointed.

The hostel had a central courtyard with some tables and chairs.

In the courtyard, we met Brian who was originally from Northern Ireland but now lives in London:

Brian had started traveling in South America three months ago, starting in Ecuador. He described his trip as a “slow meander.”  He had ridden the bus here from a town near Chachapoyas this morning.

Brian and Guy hit it off famously, talking for hours over glasses of beer.

Ben and I wandered around the plaza, finding some ice cream and chocolate after dinner. The most common form of transportation in town was a vehicle that had a motorcycle front end, with two wheels in the back area and a wide passenger seat. To protect the driver and passengers from the weather, the vehicle had a small roof, with side coverings of different colors and designs.

Other than Brian, we didn’t see any other obvious tourists. There was a huge party occurring in one of the buildings on the side of the plaza. A crowd of people massed around the door, and extremely loud music boomed into the plaza. A series of bands rotated playing during the night, and we could hear each tune clearly from the comfort of our bed.


<< Day 7: To Cajamarca, The Guessing Game | Day 9: To Chachapoyas, Why We Ride >>

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Comments (2) -

12/30/2014 7:58:43 AM #


My dear, regarding the depicted carvings were two female figures with four breasts, are representing Plesithea, the Church is Gnostic...let's put out ignorance and bring light into this world before shortness of time...

Sophia United Kingdom | Reply

12/30/2014 8:46:40 AM #


Sophia, thank you for taking the time to clarify the identify of the female carvings. Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

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