Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chiclayo, Piloto del Norte

We are not always fond of our capital city, but it has some pretty cool aspects to it that we grow fonder and fonder of. Chiclayo is such a boom town that many buildings are only halfway finished; occupied, but with the roof sprouting reinforcement bar awaiting the day when there will be enough money to add the next floor on top. Many of the prettier nineteenth century buildings are in poor condition, displaying crumbling adobe where paint and plaster have worn away and never been reapplied. Even new paint gets covered quickly by the ever present dust. This is a desert city and there is no way to hide it. That said, the plaza de armas is pretty with its recent, but imposing and elegant cathedral and the partially burned out city hall.

The Municipality building. It used to have a clock tower until the building caught fire not long before we arrived. They say that they will restore it all one of these days....

This would go a long way to explain our strong patronage of the Hotel Royal, which sits right on the plaza and has great views of the plaza and is a pretty fine looking old structure itself. The Royal has definitely fallen from its greater days but it has a very romantic feel of dilapidated grandeur that makes up for the lack of TV in the rooms or the occasional shortage of hot water.

Evelio, one of the wonderfully kind and helpful staff of the Royal.

The most important member of the staff. Or is he the owner? We call him Bolivar.

Evaristo says that this used to be a restaurant. Would also make a cool ballroom.

If you are in a third floor room you will hear the vultures on the roof in the morning.

The plaza hosts a regular array of public spectacles that make just hanging out to see what is happening good entertainment. Sundays almost always begin with a flag raising and often at least a small military parade. This may be a Peruvian thing in general, but Chiclayanos really like these militaristic parades. Every Sunday you can count on hearing the band strike up the national anthem, and the anthems of the state of Lambayeque and the city of Chiclayo for a big flag raising ceremony. This usually requires a few long passionate patriotic speeches, and often a parade of a few regiments of various of the armed forces.

Preparing to raise the flag.

This band plays miltary marches and occasionally pop songs.

Some weekends will see regiments of civil servants, teachers or filing clerks all decked out in matching suits, doctors, nurses, and obstetricians in their best work uniforms. Sometime the student body of a few high schools and middle schools will celebrate their anniversary, or just their amazing patriotism by marching in the plaza, everyone carrying their banner, rigidly goose stepping with grave expressions. The first several times we saw the goose stepping were pretty weird, especially seeing the kids doing it. Kind of spookily like stepping into a World War II movie. Also, noting that this country has far too rich a history of military coups and caudillo governments, it made me think of Augusto Pinochet’s affection for the song Lilly Marlene. Happily of course, Pinochet is dead now, Chile is not mourning his passing, even George W. Bush could figure out that his victims deserve more sympathy than his supporters, and anyway, this is Peru, where no one likes Chile. Anyway, when look more closely at the whole spectacle it begins to look much more comic than scary. Check out a group of kids who have been practicing this marching for weeks, and they still don’t have it right! They bought or borrowed white gloves to wear just for the occasion but they don’t fit and are way too big and flop around on their hands. One of the bombasts revving up the crowd for the flag raising instructed everyone on the appropriate position for viewing said event “with hand over heart, and the military police will see to it that everyone complies”. It would be scary. But then you look at those poor schlubs in the military police, out of the barracks and in town just for the morning, half of them under nineteen, holding machine guns to be sure, but no one in the crowd takes them seriously. After that the guy up on the dais starts to look pretty silly.

I know that the guys in the middle are supposed to be in Rambo jungle cammo, but they look like haystacks to us.

This being Latin America, the only thing that can upstage the military is the Church. Mostly Chiclayanos don’t get too big and public in their faith. Saturday nights will often have some sort of Jesus rock on the cathedral steps. Occasionally you see a random bunch of school kids marching to save souls, and once or twice we have seen people parading an image of the virgin. But for Corpus Christi they definitely pulled out all the stops. For several blocks up South Balta, the main commercial street, schools and religious fraternities made huge paintings of flower scented sawdust. The fanciest were decorated with flower petals. The paintings led up to the steps of the Cathedral, and at mid morning the bishop led half the town in procession over these paintings to a big outdoor mass.


Blogger Alyssa said...

Doesn't the sign near the burnt out building say something like "Making up for lost time" or something? I mean, what? I've never been to I neither confirm nor deny that I too love that Royal cat and have several times tried to carry him into my room undetected.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

I have actually been to Chiclayo, although without re-reading a guidebook description of it, I can't remember exactly how long I was there or what I did. On that trip I was following the ruins, so city stuff wasn't my thing. When I visit I will stay in the hotel...

As I said, I followed the ruins down from Ecuador to Lima (from where I did indeed fly to Cuzco). It's amazing to see the progression from the most ancient in the north to the splendor that is Machu Pichu. Even more amazing that in ancient times the people had built reservoirs up in the mountains and canals and aqueducts down to the coast, so the area wasn't a desert then at all. Then the technology was all lost and forgotten...
Back surgery last week - it WILL last this time - so then I can visit this summer. I'm greatly looking forward to it! Also, ny great dream is to see the ruins at Cajamarca, which had just been discovered and were nearly impossible to get to (and unsafe for a woman traveling alone) the last time I was in the area.

6:35 PM  

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