A distinct and familiar anxiety swept over me as I scanned each passenger climbing aboard the night bus from Huaraz to Trujillo. The seat next to me was empty, and the odds of a South American bus leaving with an empty seat are 0.02%. Some stranger would almost definitely be sitting beside me for 10 long hours. I rooted for a petite grandmother who occupied almost no space. And then I spotted him. Many open seats remained, but I knew immediately and with certainty that the middle-aged Peruvian man who had just appeared was headed my way. He was obese, as wide from front to back as shoulder to shoulder, but with skinny legs. He looked like a gigantic tadpole. (And why else would someone need so much extra weight if not to fuel some kind of dramatic metamorphosis?)
The man wedged himself into the seat next to me, breathing heavily from the effort. Within five minutes – even before the bus pulled out of the terminal – he was asleep, and the snoring began. Aside from the consistently high volume, everything about the unnatural noises he made changed constantly. He wheezed, puffed, snorted, whistled, mumbled, grunted, whined, hissed, and hacked. Even with my headphones on, the music so loud it almost hurt, I couldn’t drown him out.
Worse than the snoring was the smell. Every few minutes a noxious cloud wafted over, so vile it overwhelmed my nose and clung to the back of my throat. I tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep. Whenever I managed to temporarily ignore the snoring and the undulating blubber pressing against my right side, the odor would hit my nostrils like smelling salts and abruptly return me to full consciousness. Exhaustion didn’t knock me out until 4am. We arrived in Trujillo three hours later.
From Trujillo I took a short taxi ride to a little surf town called Huanchaco. I found a hotel, crashed hard until mid-afternoon, and then walked along the beach as the sun set, giddy at the prospect of a full night’s sleep in a quiet, odorless room.
My only big outing in Huanchaco was a trip to Chan Chan, once the largest city in pre-Colombian America, and, according to Lonely Planet, also “the largest adobe city in the world.” Chan Chan served as the capital of the Chimu Kingdom, which peaked in the 15th century and was subsequently conquered by the Incas. UNESCO somewhat enigmatically describes this city of mud as “a masterpiece of inhabited space and hierarchical construction which illustrates a political and social ideal that has rarely been expressed with such clarity.”
The main ruins were just down the coast from Huanchaco and I rode a local bus there for thirty cents. I started at the monochrome Palacio Nik An, where I bumped into more workers than tourists. The site was actively being reconstructed, and I often struggled to tell which areas were original and which had been rebuilt. Metal roofs covered many of the excavations in an attempt to protect the site from the erosion that slowly eats away at the adobe.