Friday, February 04, 2005


Chiclayo: pop.480,000

I've just realised that I haven't written anything describing the city of Chiclayo in the whole YEAR (on Saturday!) that we've been here. That absence itself speaks volumes, I daresay, about Chiclayo... a decidedly untouristy little city. It has almost nil tourists for a very good reason, that being: there is virtually nothing to see or do in the city. Frankly, I've come to the conclusion that although it's not a bad place to live, it would indeed be a very boring place to visit. Living somewhere you have the opportunity to discover all those great little restaurants, coffee shops with character, what part of the beach is the best, which night is 2 for 1 at the movies - these are the some of the small things that make life in Chiclayo tolerable/enjoyable.

Chiclayo central is based around the enormous, white trimmed, banana yellow Cathedral, and the tidy Plaza de Armas park (a Spanish style of arrangement on which virtually all cities and villages in Peru are based). The Cathedral makes for a dramatic sight again the perpetually bright blue sky - but you daren't linger on a bench in the busy park to enjoy it - unless you have a great deal of patience with shoeshine boys, beggars, sweet and cigarette vendors and lecherous would-be-companions. The surrounding streets are extremely congested with yellow Tico taxis, and the pavements are alive with mobile vendors (superglue, sunglasses, puppies, Q-tips, you name it) trying to scratch a living - Chiclayo is the largest major commercial centre in the north, after Trujillo. The major avenue, Balta is pleasantly tree-lined, and it can be quite diverting to take a stroll around, as long as you've got a tight grip on your wallet or handbag and you're not trying to get anywhere fast. There are a reasonable number of high street shops selling fashion clothes (mostly, erm, jeans) but the real shopping centre of Chiclayanos has to be the markets.

Chiclayo has several markets, which seem to go on forever... so that it's not clear where one ends and the next begins. Modelo market sells everyday items: combs, gold jewellery, fruit, shoes, frying pans, stationary, etc. It's famous for it's excellent witchcraft supplies section - which stocks everything from hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus to traditional Peruvian wooden dildoes (I've been considering investing in the latter as a conversation piece). It's really interesting to peruse the stock of Modelo - though gringos get an automatic mark up, and you do have to be careful about the quality of what you buy - especially plastic items 'Hecho en Peru'! Another gigantic market is Moshoqueque, which sells mostly fruit, veg, fish and meat wholesale. The meat area, which seems to span covered indoor areas as well as a wide, dusty road, has to be the most exciting. This is solely because the meat is not dead yet - the cacophony of knackered pigs, cows, chickens, goats, and sheep on their sides with their legs bound fills the air. You can even pick up a fresh cuy (guinea pig) or two for your tea - yum!

Which leaves me with nothing much else to describe - except the people who are really what Chiclayo is all about. The city is widely known as 'La Ciudad de Amistad' - the city of friendship, and with good reason, I think. For those living in a situation in which material things are generally few, shoddy, and quickly broken or stolen, the value of personal relationships really shows. There are huge differences in social class - with the greatest group of course being the poor, who live in often dire circumstances on the dusty mud mountains that surround the city. However, Chiclayanos are - generally - dramatic, boisterous, easy-going, pushy, friendly, open, rude, generous, and ready to laugh at anything. They love gossiping, drinking, eating cebiche, salsa dancing, and going to the beach, in that order. Plenty of time is taken to relax with friends and family (there is still a three or four hour siesta here!). No matter what Peru may lack, it certainly does not lack people - people with an enormous zest to enjoy the good times they come across as fully as possible!!

Beautifully described. I have been once to Peru and you make me want to buy a ticket today and hop on a plane and go straight there.
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