Covered in sequins and sashes, Miss Brazil’s pearly whites gleam in the mid-afternoon sunshine bathing the Pacific coastal Peruvian city of Trujillo.
One of a dozen lucky lasses chosen as a queen in this year’s Primevera (Spring) procession through the city centre, she waves and smiles at the thousands of high-spirited revellers cheering from the sidelines.
My mind flashes back to Rio de Janeiro.
This is Trujillo’s micro answer to the crazy, colourful, two-week dance-a-drink-athon that is ‘Carnaval’.
While nowhere near the scale of the Brazilian bonanza, Peru’s version is celebrated just as passionately.
Youngsters scream with delight when clowns lob sweets and pens into the crowd.
Others barge each other as they battle to grab one of of a handful of bright blue balloons on offer.
Two ‘air blasters’ fire tiny bits of foil into the sky, creating a multi-coloured paper storm above the brightly decorated floats.
A karate squad, comprised of children no older than ten, high kick their way along the street – stopping only to chop a bit of wood in half. Ouch.
Other kids play trumpets, drums and trombones as part of smartly dressed brass bands that march past.
Among the more bizarre floats is one promoting a brand of sanitary towels using folk dressed up as puppies, dogs and an elephant.
I’m struggling to work out the link.
A giant, inflatable version of the local beer, named after the city, is also wheeled past, accompanied by people dressed in a sort of smurf-come-alien costume.
I think they are supposed to be water droplets, but I can’t be sure.
The crowd erupts when a woman in her 70s, wearing a starched white dress, defies her age to glide along the street performing the traditional and beautiful marinera dance.
Sophie and I had got a taste for hip-shaking salsa-ing the previous night when we had descended on the brilliantly named “Solid Gold” club in the city centre.
A sprawling three-floor affair, it features a casino, a karaoke room and a bar with a dance floor – solid gold indeed.
Jugs of sangria were on special offer and a few glasses led naturally to ‘the floor’ where we tried to match the locals in the jiving stakes. Fortunately I was too drunk to fully appreciate my uselessness.
We nursed our tender heads all the way to the pre-Inca ruins of Chan Chan, about a 30-minute bus ride from Trujillo.
Dating back to 850 AD, Chan Chan is an impressively preserved city built at the heart of the post-Moche, Chimú civilisation.
Tall adobe walls have stood the test of time and weather. On first glance the sandy scene reminds me of a desolate lunar desert.
Birds with plumed tails are carved into the walls alongside fish and intricate repetitive swirls and geometric patterns.
Strange-looking, black furless dogs lounge in the afternoon sun, as they would have done more than 1,000 years ago when this site was a bustling conurbation inhabited by some 30,000 people.
The city fell in 1470 when the Incas routed the settlement, but the victorious combatants remained here for less than a century before the ruthless Spanish conquistadors seized the place.
Chan Chan is one of a number of Inca and pre-Inca sites in the area currently being excavated.
The Peruvian Government, in conjunction with private businesses, has finally raised enough capital to commission archaeological digs at the site that previously remained hidden for centuries.
A few kilometres away at Huaca de la Luna (temple/shrine of the moon), scores of archaeologists are painstakingly chiseling away at a dusty floor to slowly reveal a huge structure decorated with black, red, blue, white, and yellow painted murals.
It is believed that after using the temple for a number of years, the Moche people would build a bigger, more grandiose shell around it.
At least four further temples are situated within.
Several hours north of Trujillo, at yet another ancient archaeological site, our jaws drop when we see the hundreds of pieces of gold treasure that have been found in the burial spot of the Lord of Sipán, one of a few tombs not to be raided by looters.
When he died, his wives, son, dog and bodyguard were all sacrificed with him so he didn’t have to be alone in his hole. How thoughtful.
Señor Sipán was obviously adored by the masses, just like the carnival queens that drift past on floats today. Although I suspect his teeth didn’t sparkle quite as much as Miss Brazil’s.