14 September 2012

Trujillo day one: colour, cake and the Lady of Cao

What a fab day this was! We had to get up early for the 6.30am bus from Chiclayo to Trujillo, a 3-hour journey through rather boring landscape of sandy desert, piled with rubbish heaps much of the way, bordered on the landward side by rugged brown, mostly vegetation-less hills, and all covered by low, grey, smothering cloud, creating an atmosphere of overall gloom. I snoozed!

But everything changed when we arrived in central Trujillo. What a picturesque city it is … or, at least, the inner city, with its heritage of stunning Spanish colonial buildings. They are painted in the most striking colours: sunflower yellows, lipstick pinks, cornflower blues, barn reds and mint greens, with the elaborate door frames, ornate wrought-iron window screens and other sculptural features all picked out in a crisp clean contrasting white that makes them pop!

We were collected from the bus, had half an hour at our hotel for an uplifting cup of tea, then were met, with a huge smile and infectious laugh, by the charming Henry, our tour guide for the day. He led us off up the street for a wonderful 3-hour walking tour around the inner city. How entertaining it was, with Henry recounting story after story about the history of each place we visited.

Our first stop was the Plaza de Armas, an enormous square with a grand three-tiered sculpture at its centre. The Freedom Monument pays tribute to the heroes of Peru’s wars of independence, with sculptured figures representing trade and health, the arts and sciences, the journey from oppression to freedom, and a naked youth at the top representing liberation and the future. With a mischievous glint in his eye, Henry told us that the youth used to be quite well endowed, but his appendage offended the local nuns, who successfully campaigned to have it cut off!

Trujillo’s wedding cake of a cathedral was next. It has been much damaged and subsequently much rebuilt since its inauguration in the mid-seventeenth century, but is beautifully decorated with many fine old artworks. From there, we walked around the plaza to Urquiaga House, a colonial mansion that now houses the offices of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru, but has been charmingly restored and is lovingly maintained. I found the brightly painted walls dazzling and took so many photos. More superb examples of colonial architecture followed, as we continued our tour by walking along the pedestrian-only Avenida Jir¤în Pizarro. We explored a community arts centre, and also poked our noses in the local rich men’s club – being women, only our noses were allowed!

When Henry departed to join his wife and young son for lunch, Sarah and I found a delightful restaurant on this avenue and enjoyed a delicious 3-course lunch for a relatively trivial sum. And this was the beginning of our gastronomic exploration of the cakes of northern Peru. For more on that and some drool-inducing photos, see my earlier blog.

We met up with Henry again at 2 o’clock for the fast car trip out of Trujillo to El Brujo, the temple and museum of the Lady of Cao. Because of the splendour of her grave goods and the inclusion of massive weapons in her tomb, found inside yet another crumbling pyramid, archaeologists have surmised that the Lady was a ruler of the Moche civilisation some 1500 years ago, the first known female ruler in all of ancient Peru. Walking around the pyramid, we saw original and reconstructed painted sculptural reliefs and graves, but the highlight of our visit lay within the nearby museum – the mummy of the Lady herself, and the splendid items that accompanied her to the afterlife.

Amazingly, the Lady’s arms, legs and feet were tattooed, with presumably sacred creatures – spiders and mythical beasts – plus various geometric designs. And, as well as the war clubs and spear throwers, her grave goods included exquisite gold earrings, nose ornaments and necklaces. No photos were allowed within the museum but I took a photo of a magazine article about the Lady, so I could show you what she looks like.

From the top of her pyramid tomb, we could see and hear the Pacific Ocean, just a hop, skip and a jump away. It was the first time I had seen the sea, except through the windows of a plane, in months and, for me, it just topped off a wholly perfect day.

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