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Chan Cham Perou

Peru: off the beaten track –   The list of wonders of Peru includes more than Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and Lake Titicaca. Besides, we have already covered those absolute musts and well-visited sites in a previous Euphoria.

If you head up to the north of the country along the Pacific Coast, following the South American Andes, you will be rewarded with many more new, original and stunning discoveries.

The traces of Pre-Columbian civilizations that occupied this part of the country long before the Incas and the arrival of the Spanish are stunning!
The quality of the archeological sites we discover with wonderment are also stunning! After all, they claim to be the most important archeological findings of recent years.

Imagine archeologists carefully using brushes and paintbrushes and proudly showing you the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) that they are literally still unearthing under a giant mountain of sand. Then they point to another sand mountain, even larger, and tell you, “this is the Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun), we haven’t begun working on it yet!”

Allow me to guide you through this part of Peru, where tourists are still an attraction to the locals. This is good for us, since most of the time we will be the only ones on the magnificent sites and in museums that any museum director in North America and Europe would dream of.

The cradle of Liberty  

Let’s begin our trip in Trujillo, a city founded in 1534 by the Spanish who came from the Basque Country. It is dedicated to Francisco Pizarro in a region inhabited by two ancient Peruvian civilizations: the Moche and Chimú. Here, in contrast to other parts of Peru, the arrival of the Spanish is not synonymous with destruction. Forces in presence formed alliances. This explains in part why the region enjoys a privileged position as an archeological center with vestiges from both pre-Columbian civilizations.

Located on the banks of the Moche River on a coast dotted with oases, north of Lima, Trujillo combines many architectural styles such as Renaissance and Colonial, adopted after their independence, and a more republican neo-classical style, incorporating distinctive wrought iron work in buildings. Many remarkable examples of these architectural styles can be seen in the city historical centre.

Trujillo was in fact the first city to proclaim the independence of the country just before its official proclamation in July 1821, which explains why the region was honored with the title of the “Cradle of Liberty”.

The country’s third largest city is also known as the “Capital of Eternal Spring” since it enjoys a mild weather all year-round. As a matter of fact, during the 25 days we spent in Peru we only saw clouds and rain… at Machu Picchu!

It is also the capital of the famous Peruvian Paso horse, a small horse known for the gentleness of its movements. It is so graceful it provides an impression that it is dancing. You have to see it trying to outdo a Marinera (Peru’s national dance) dancer. Should we admit that we took the challenge to dance with them as well?

Following traces of the Chimú civilization

But what brings us here are mostly the archeological sites that show the remains of the Chimú culture, which arose in about AD 900 and lasted until 1470, when the Inca conquered the Chimor kingdom.

Let’s start with Chan Chan, 5 km from Trujillo. The Chimú kingdom capital covers almost 20 square kilometers. It was conquered by the Inca in 1460 and abandoned just before the arrival of the Spanish. The city is known to have served 100,000 inhabitants, which makes it is the largest adobe (a natural building material made from sand, clay, water and straw, shaped into bricks and dried in the sun) city of the ancient world. It is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Chan Chan is essentially an immense religious site with numerous ceremonial halls, mortuary rooms, temples and altars used for sacrifices as well huge reservoirs used to stock the offerings necessary for ceremonies, including burials.

Its walls are engraved with zoomorphic stylizations and mythological representations of fishes, pelicans and fishnets. It clearly shows that the Chimú had a preference for marine patterns, which can be explained by the proximity of the Pacific Ocean.

Here the moon worship, called Si, plays an important role. Contrary to the Inca, the Chimú considered the Moon a Goddess more powerful than the Sun, since it is visible during day and night.

Rainbow or dragon

A little further, we will stop at the site of the Huaca del dragon or Arco Iris, a more modest archeological site dedicated to fertility. Here as well are immense adobe walls covered with marine scenes, which contain ceremonial halls and stockrooms for offerings. The whole site is exceptionally well preserved.

Huacas del Sol y de la Luna

Let’s go back in time to discover the sumptuous vestiges of two temples: Las Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon), two spectacular monuments linked by an urban thread forming the capital of the Moche or Mochica state and covering more or less 250 acres at the foot of the Cerro Blanco (White Mountain), an imposing natural pyramid dominating the Moche river valley.

The Temple of the Moon displays impressive murals covered with superb paintings, where red and yellow dominate and where archeologists are still actively uncovering precious treasures.

The temple monumental ceremonial place faces a gigantic wall entirely painted with iconographic reliefs alternating with snakes, birds of prey, gods of the mountain, fishermen, spiders, warriors and prisoners, with multiple references to human sacrifices.

The Temple of the Sun, which, as per archeologists, served as a political and administrative center, is still left to our imagination. It mostly resembles a huge sand monticule. Archeologists covered it in sand to protect the site from looters until they have time to recover the treasures that it still hides.

According to estimates, 140 million adobe bricks were necessary to erect this truncated pyramid, which originally measured 30 meters high by 345 meters long and 160 meters wide. Can you imagine?

A lot of work and discovery is still on the horizon… However, it is worth noting that this whole major project would not have been possible without the complicity of… local beer. Yes, the local Pilsen Trujillo Brewery is the main sponsor of this vast historical enterprise. We have to take our hats off to them… Bravo!

Close by, the Moche Huaca de la Luna Museum holds many objects, sculptures, pottery and ceramics in tones of earth, yellow and red that were placed in tombs as offerings and recovered during the diggings.

The museum helps reconstruct the history of this civilization that lived between AD100 and 700 and whose economy was based on a smart combination of the natural resources of the region.

The sea, always!

Keeping on with the theme of the sea, let’s head to Huanchaco, a small seaside town, 15 km from Trujillo, in the middle of a coastal desert, where we will be able to admire the well-named Caballitos de Totora (small straw horses). These are fragile boats made out of straw by local fishermen. You should see them challenging the waves with such frail, tiny boats! Quite an art form! Ability-wise, they are a real challenge for surfers who like to meet in Huanchaco, in the waves, as well as on the beach or in the bars that are open to the sea.

Here, we will taste Ceviche (fish and seafood marinated in lime juice), Cabrito (zool) and the famous specialty of the region: the dulce de leche cake King Kong. Quite decadent!

Long before the Inca…

We are now at 330 kilometers northeast of Lima and we can almost hear the sound of the waves breaking on the sandy beaches of the Pacific.

We are still going back centuries when we arrive in Sechin, an ideal site for archeologists to uncover treasures dating back 5,500 years, long before the Moche, the Chimú and the Inca.

Archeologists believe that Sechin was a political and religious center whose apogee was around 2,000 and 1,000 years B.C., which would make it one of the most ancient cultural sites known to date on the Pacific coast.

Buried under the sand, what could easily be taken for immense dunes, temples, palaces and cities were excavated little by little. Separated by two kilometers from each other, three sites containing monumental constructions are today free of their sand cover: Sechin Alto, Cerro Sechin and Sechin Bajo.

Between dunes and valleys

All the way along the coast, the landscape doesn’t stop changing, alternating between gigantic sand dunes – real ones this time – and lush valleys covered with rice fields, asparagus and banana plantations, sugar cane fields, olive and palm trees.

The main cities are linked by a string of small towns and villages with houses painted in blue, coral or yellow or left in the natural earth tone of their adobe walls. We can’t help noticing a strange situation in all those villages: all shop or house fronts are impeccably clean. But, garbage seems to be stored at the entrance and at the exit of the village. Quite sad…!

In the Talara zone, we can see traces of a timid petrol production with a few oil wells in operation here and there.

In the middle of all that, we will even meet a few vicuña – the national animal of Peru – harems (a male usually lives with a few females and their cubs) daring to cross the road. They come as a beautiful surprise since this camelid is still the object of exceptional conservation measures to protect it from intensive poaching for its extremely fine and much sought-after wool, which is even finer than that of the alpaca and llama.

Chiclayo: amulets and friendship

We reach Chiclayo, 700 km north of Lima, a commercial city on the Pacific coast known for the warmth of its inhabitants. The city has been in fact a very dynamic exchange center since the second half of the 16th century, and its huge and busy market is a testament to this activity.

A large section of the market is occupied by what is called “the witch market” with medicinal plants, herbs, amulets and Shamanic consultations.

Sipan: what a treasure! 

After a few hours spent at the market, tasting fruits that we saw for the first time, we set off in search of new treasures in Sipan, a Moche or Mochica archeological centre, 35 km from Chiclayo. The site is composed of truncated colossal pyramid-like temples, Huacas, containing 14 tombs, with the highest one reaching 35 km.

The Mochicas reached a high degree of knowledge in metal and ceramic work. Their artistic pottery, sculptures or hand-decorated vases, gold, copper and silver ornaments set with lapis lazuli, amethyst and turquoise, priceless gifts they offered to their deaths, constitute a truly remarkable heritage.

We cannot help but be amazed by the expressiveness and perfection found in the real portraits of clay molded by the Mochicas. Vases and sculptures that combine humans, animals, gods and plants radiating life and movement through complex scenes of ceremonies and hunting can be seen in the astounding Museum of Tumbas Reales, where the many artifacts found on the Sipan site are regrouped. The museum allows us to discover the history of the royal tombs.

It is without doubt one of the most interesting and beautiful archeological museums we have seen in our life!

It was only in 1987 when a group of Peruvian archeologists began the salvation of the Mochica Sancturay of Sipan. Since then, they recovered the “Lord of Sipan’s Tomb" – the first intact funeral context of an ancient Peruvian leader to be revealed to the world. They later discovered the tombs of the “Priest” and of the “Old Lord of Sipan”. These findings allowed a dozen funeral contexts from different periods and hierarchies to be documented, showing their splendor. Absolutely fascinating!

Tucume: a summit 

Our last archeological visit will be in Tucume, the Valley of the Pyramids, with the most imposing pyramid in South America: 280 m wide, 700 m long and 30 m high.

The last capital of the Lambayeque culture – or Sicán – flourished on the northern coast of Peru between AD 700 and 1300, between the end of the Mochican culture and the Chimú one. The Sican prospered as a community of seamen and trades people who maintained commercial exchanges with neighboring countries.

Tucume is a vast archeological complex with 26 Pre-Hispanic pyramidal structures, built near the cities of Mochumi and Lambayeque. Built at the foot of a mountain, remains of houses, pyramids, temples as well as terraces were used for cultures and patios.

In the Lambayeque culture, pyramids played a special role: they served the lord by borrowing powers from the gods of the mountain.

Recent discoveries indicate that each site was abandoned following a huge natural disaster. As a matter of fact, the meteorological phenomena caused by El Niño are particularly violent in this part of the world. These phenomena were interpreted through a religious perspective and viewed as an expression of the wrath of the gods. If the powers of the pyramids failed to protect the population, they were considered to be cursed and were burned down during a purification ritual.

The beach, at last!

After such a rich immersion in the history of Peru, and after following the sea for so many days, a stop seems to be in order on the beaches of the Pacific before saying goodbye.

It is in Mancora, a small seaside station, where the sun shines year-long and with an average temperature of 26° that we will set foot for a few days.

The tourist infrastructure is minimal, with small hotels, houses and apartments for rent on a beautiful beach swept by the vigorous rolling waves of the Pacific, with water comfortable enough for swimming.

Small fishing boats and hordes of sterns competing for fish are the only entertainment we will have on this long and almost deserted beach, with the exception of a few local vendors nicely offering - without much persistence - hammocks, pearls and hats.

The village can be reached after an hour and a half walk on the beach – beware of the sun – or via Tuk Tuk for a few Nuevo soles. Small souvenir boutiques, cafés and restaurants offer local products: fish and seafood, fish soup and ceviche. Nothing remarkable or exceptional here!

Beautiful!

Yes, Peru is a beautiful country. But until you have seen the Northern part of the country, you haven’t taken full measure of what this word contains. Its varied and dazzling landscapes, a history that is so rich and fabulous, a population that is so warm-hearted, all of this leaves us dumbstruck. We want more!

Christiane Théberge

I traveled to Peru with Voyages Traditour and would like to thank them for this extraordinary experience.

 


Trujillo Main Square

Peruvian Paso

Chan Chan

Chan Chan - engraved wall

Arco Iris

The Cerro Blanco

Temple of the Moon

Temple of the Moon - gigantic mural

Temple of the Sun with urban thread

Moche pottery

Caballitos de Totora, Huanchaco

Dunes and valleys

Vicuñas

Herbs, the witch market, Cyclayo

Around Sipan

Tucume

Lambayeke pottery

Mancora Beach

Desert and permanent snow


  

 

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