Situated in the heart of Peru's Andean highlands, 9 hours east of Lima, Ayacucho is a beautiful, not-too-touristed town with a colourful history. Ayacucho is the place to be on Semana Santa (Easter), as it's a very religious place (packed with over 30 churches — one on every corner), and as it's famous for its big Easter celebrations. It was also the home of Peru's Sindero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorists, before they were stamped out in the early 90s.
I made it to Ayacucho for the tail end of Semana Santa, and then stayed for a few days after. My main reason for coming here was to see my friend-of-a-friend, Abimael Riveros, who lives and works here.
The mountainous surroundings, the quaint town, and the friendly people, all combine to make this a beautiful place. Plus, it's in the heart of Quechua-speaking Peru, so it's also a great place to pick up a few words of South America's most widely spoken indigenous language.
I was standing at the bus station, waiting to get on my bus out of Ayacucho, when Maria Jesus started talking to me. She lives (mainly) in Ayacucho; but when I told her that I was Australiano, she suddenly became overjoyed. Turns out that almost all her children and grandchildren live in Oz (most in Melbourne), and she was eager to tell me all about them. Very sweet lady: I'm sure she gives her grandkids plenty of presents for Christmas.
With Cath and Gaz gone today, and with Abimael working, and with my bus out to Cusco not leaving until the evening, I had one day on my own to spend here in Ayacucho. I decided to spend the day visiting the village of Quinua — a tiny place about 45 minutes from Ayacucho, reachable by regular combis — where I unexpectedly found myself horseriding through a beautiful, jungle-enshrouded cataract.
One of the famous dishes of Peru is cuy — or guinea pig — which is traditionally boiled, and then baked or fried, and which is served complete with head, skin, and feet. For lunch today, Gaz was really keen to try some cuy. So myself, Cath, and Gaz were taken by Abimael for lunch to a restaurant, that is known for its delicious servings of cuy. Gaz and myself had half a fluffy feller each.
Ayacuchamay is a plaza and lookout area, on a hill that overlooks the whole town and the surrounding mountains. This morning, I met up with my mate Abimael, and the two of us — as well as Cath and Gaz — went up to the lookout. From the top of the hilltop tower, you get an excellent view of everything that is Ayacucho. Nice clear day too, so we could see the mountains, as they stretched on to the horizon.
When I was at the 2007 OSCMS Summit in San Francisco 2 weeks ago, my friend Ian Ward told me that I must visit Ayacucho — where he lived for 2 years, and where he met his wife — and that I must see his friend Abimael. Abimael is an English teacher and a post-grad student at the university here in Ayacucho, although he's never lived in an English-speaking country; in fact, he's never been outside Peru! In between these commitments, Abimael was nice enough to spend some time with me, and to show me around Ayacucho a bit.
Tonight, Gaz and myself popped in to one of Ayacucho's local pubs — arguably a cantina. We were just planning on having a few quiet pints; but we ended up sharing some beers, some strangled conversation, and some laughs with the locals there. The locals were very friendly, very welcoming, and absolutely goddamn #?!%-faced. Also, one of the locals was a German Shepherd named Sasha.
They were selling these at every street corner when I arrived in Ayacucho. Not being a Christian, I've actually never had a toffee apple before, although I know it's an Easter tradition in Australia as well. My verdict: very sweet, very hard on the outside, and very sticky; but real tasty, and quite fun to devour.
Cath, Gaz, and myself arrived in Ayacucho at 6:30am this morning. We stepped out of the bus station, and we found an entire city that had been partying all night long, and that was still going pretty strong. The streets were packed with people. There were temporary stalls set up everywhere for breakfast. There was a marching band, singing, and dancing in the central square. And there were priests standing outside every church, blessing the masses that thronged around them. Clearly, Semana Santa (Easter) in Ayacucho goes out with a bang!
Basic guest-house kind of place, in the historic centre of Ayacucho. Cath, Gaz, and myself rocked up here at 7am this morning, and we managed to get a room each (one for me, one for them). I think that this is about the closest Ayacucho has to proper youth hostels: it has shared bathrooms, but no dorms.
Also, from now on, I'm adding a new field to accommodation reviews: hot water. Up until now, this is something I've been able to take for granted, wherever I stay. But that's no longer the case. :P
This nice couple from Manchester — "Home of the Manchester City team, not Manchester United, I'll have ye know" (as Gaz says) — caught the bus with me from Lima to Ayacucho, and we hung out together in Ayacucho for a few days. Gaz is a mechanic for BMW, and Cath is a PE teacher. Like me, they're on a year-long round-the-world trip (except they're nearing the end of theirs); and, like me and every other gringo in Peru, they're on their way to Cusco to do the Machu Picchu hike.