In my second to last adventure in Peru, I finally got to take a trip with one of my marvelous Norwegian friends. It was the very end of our semester, right in the middle of exam time (literally, there are two weeks for exams and we went during the first one when we had free days), but we both knew our remaining weeks in Peru would be over before we knew it, and we were determined to see a bit more of the country. So we decided to strike out towards the north, and headed to Cajamarca.
Cajamarca is a zone that one would not easily imagine when thinking of Peru-rather than beaches or soaring mountain peaks, dry desert or lush rainforest, Cajamarca is the agricultural hotspot full of gentle, rolling hills, tall grasses, and fantastic dairy products. It seems like the happiest and quietest little valley on earth, but still it manages to have some sights well worth seeing. Today’s post will be about a few within/close to the city itself, although some of the most beautiful sights are farther out!
You’ll have to forgive me for forgetting its name, but my friend and I stayed in a large and airy hostel right on the Plaza de Armas, which was quiet and peaceful (I presume it was off-season) and we even managed to get a room with four beds for just the two of us completely by happenstance. Our location was central enough to be able to see two of the major sights right off the bat- The Iglesia de San Francisco, which is just lovely when lit up at night, and the Cerro Santa Apolonia, which consists first of a very tiny church perched atop quite a few stairs, and then even beyond that visitors enter a lush garden on a hillside.
The garden itself continues all the way to the top of the hill, from which one can get amazing views of the city and the surrounding hillsides. Naturally my friend and I took about a thousand photos going both up and down, so it took a bit of time and made for a nice afternoon walk. There are a couple of other easily seen sights around town that we covered on day two, including the Cuarto del Rescate (The ransom room)–the only remaining Inca building in Cajamarca, which is where Atahualpa was imprisoned after his capture by the Spaniards. (Atahualpa was more or less the last Inca emperor who was not put into power and controlled by the Spaniards.) Unfortunately it was undergoing a bit of reconstruction when we visited, so my one or two photos weren’t fabulous. It really is just a singular room, nothing nearly as impressive as one would find in Cusco, but an important historical landmark nonetheless. The other major historical site within the town itself is El Complejo de Belén. In the past it was a hospital (for women, I believe) and now houses an archaeological and an art museum, as well as a tourist office. My friend and I opted to not really explore it other than the attached chapel, which was small but impressive (as the Spanish always assured in their religious buildings.)
Two of our more beloved locations were located just outside the city, reachable by micros (mini buses, for those of you who haven’t read my past Peru posts.) First up was the Ventanillas de Otuzco. In spite of its name, the site is not actually a bunch of “windows”, although that is more or less what it looks like. It is a large rocky part of a hill where full of Inca graves, long ago sealed up. Getting there is only about 20-30 minutes, but one does have to walk a wee bit and frankly to ask around to find the right trail to get up–it is a more visited site of Cajamarca, but comparatively to the rest of Peru I’d say it rarely sees too many visitors and thus is not overly well-marked. One gets lovely views of the pastures and hills outside of Cajamarca from there, however.
After our visit and photo shoot (which included attempting to get up to the Ventanillas from the entirely wrong direction, putting us in the middle of someone else’s fields…oops. Off-roading?) we wanted to visit Cajamarca’s (literally) hottest selling point- the Baños de los Inca, aka Inca Baths, aka…hot hot HOT springs! We chose to walk from the Ventanillas-once you find the road, which admittedly took us a while, its completely easy to follow-and it took about two hours. These hot springs are a pretty popular destination (and you can actually see one bath that Inca kings themselves used), and so one has many options when going there of spa treatments, just a dip in the outdoor pools, private baths, etc. We opted to get massages because they were just SO dang cheap (my first ever!) and private hot baths. I, however, had a very unfortunate experience, where I only saw one of the knobs to turn on water, which was a connection to the direct supremely scalding water, so that when it filled the pool and I touched it I almost cried because I felt like my finger was going to burn off. (There are, however, other ways to turn on cooler water, so you are SUPPOSED to mix the two to your tastes.) Unsure of what to do, pathetic little me eventually put normal clothes back on and waited for my friend, who came out a nice happy pink from the heat of her relaxing, steamy bath.
Alas. Some of us just aren’t thinkers, guys. And thus ended the first two days of my time in Cajamarca!
Stay tuned for more updates about my first few days in the classroom in France this weekend. 🙂