Trujillo: Kaleidoscope Streets
Images & Words by Sarraounia Christianson
"Es coco, rallado y horneado". It is coconut, grated and baked, the deeply tanned old woman says. She is in the shade on one of the ancient pedestrian streets that make up the grid-like layout of the Trujillo old town, Peru. Smiling knowingly as she mixes the little golden suns of sticky coconut with a battered metal scoop, seated on a rickety steel foldout chair, behind a table topped with a tray packed with tiny treats. As I walk away, paper bag clutched in hand stuffed with this unknown sensation, I pop one in my mouth and the saccharine candy melts on my tongue. Eating Cocadas heading back into the maze of streets is the perfect energy boost for a day to be spent walking the streets of Trujillo. A city that feels for the most part as though not much has changed in hundreds of years.
I have come to the north of Peru as part of a journey from Patagonia in the south of Chile, all the way north to the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
The city of Trujillo is a gentle fusion of old and new. A friendly cosmopolitan place with a colonial heart that is timeworn but bold and carefully preserved. Crumbling facades are backed by perfectly kept courtyards bedecked with flowers, while polychrome, freshly painted colours pop from ancient city walls. It surrounds a plaza dominated by a glorious canary yellow cathedral glinting in the blazing sunshine. Broad pedestrian promenades give way to churches and leafy squares flanked by Spanish-era houses painted a riot of shades.
The adornment of the buildings seems at odds with the relaxed vibe of the city. Eight hours north of Lima, this part of Peru could not be more different. The climate here on the desert coast is not quite as hot as it can be further north and none of the mist that sometimes obscures the Lima coastline exists here. Not far from the ocean, Trujillo is making a soft mark on the tourist trail whilst mostly remaining a fleeting haunt for surfers heading for the Pacific waves of nearby Huanchaco and Chicama. Life appears easier here and less frenetic, the pace is slower than down south. Things can be done later, tomorrow, just don't stress about it now. Here, tranquility is retained in what is a true oasis in the desert. Even the spluttering traffic that speeds around the ring road doesn't quite hold the same fevered quality as it does in the south.
Trujillo is known, as the cultural capital of Peru and it is really easy to see why. So much history is unique to this part of Peru. The indigenous Moche tribe, a great pre-Incan society, originated here and the remains of the unique civilization can still be viewed in the shape of pyramids and other sites that surround Trujillo. It was the first city declared independent from the Spanish in 1820 and was recognized by Peruvian congress for its role in the emancipation of Peru from colonial rule. A place which also possesses a certain allure for writers, with famous Peruvians authors linked with the city. This is the home of Peruvian paso horses, the dance of the Marineras and a distinctive coastal gastronomical style. Festivals are held throughout the year in homage to these inimitably northern traditions. Also home to a prestigious university this modern city is by no means a forgotten provincial capital and, although kind-hearted and welcoming Trujilleños are equally fiercely proud of their region.
As a sultry morning turns into a sweltering afternoon I seek sustenance in the shady courtyard of an old colonial house turned restaurant, tucking into some fresh local ceviche. The world famous Peruvian seafood dish of raw fish marinated in lemon juice, chilli and fresh herbs, is said by some to have originated in this area. Satisfied and ready for more exploration I head out into the city once more for a wander around Casa Urquiaga, a neo-classical house built in the 18th century and used by Simon Bolivar during his campaign to release Peru from the Spanish. Intricate tiling designs leap from the walls as I walk amongst the maze of rooms, deliciously cool compared to the heat of the streets.
Next, stepping into the old covered market in Trujillo is an absolute riot for the senses. A timeless gem of a place packed with fresh and dried fruit, spices, meat and seafood piled lovingly yet haphazardly. Hessian bags of countless pasta shapes jostle for space amongst stalls laden with enough rice and beans to feed an army. The comedor dining area is full of hungry diners tucking into hot bowls steamed fish and shambar, a local specialty soup made of beans and ham. There is no better way to get to the heart of somewhere than seeing and smelling all the fresh local produce alongside the locals. Trujillo market is rough around the edges but full of character and the perfect place to taste the north of Peru.
Peruvians know of the beauty of their third city, but the audacious attractiveness of the buildings and unique culture is truly disarming. Trujillo represents a moment of much needed respite after the dizzying heights of the Andean mountain chain, where the majority of visitors to Peru spend their time. Many never make it this far, but in contrast with the usual whirlwind of packed attractions, the serenity of the desert coast of Peru is a salve for the soul.
Hailing from London, Sarraounia has a literary background, with a degree in English Literature. After graduating from university she spent five years working in the publishing industry.
In February 2017 Sarraounia decided to follow her heart and took a one-way flight to Chilean Patagonia. Sarraounia has a passion for writing, curious eye for photography and obsession with delving into new cultures. She likes to travel slowly and seeks offbeat experiences. Currently Sarraounia is still in South America, writing her blog and enjoying the visceral technicolor delights of Colombia.