16 September 2012

Trujillo day two: mud pyramids, a mud city and boobies by the sea

This was another great day!

After breakfast, we moved our bags to the Colonial Hotel – cheaper and more cosy, then walked the 4½ blocks to the Cruz del Sur bus station to book the overnight Saturday bus back to Lima, and then had a brisk walk back to our original hotel ready to be picked up by our tour company. We were a bigger group of tourists this time but, HUGE luck, most of the other visitors were Spanish-speaking and had their own guide and we had the lovely Henry again, just for us – happy, knowledgeable, laughing Henry!

We headed out of town to Huaca de la Luna, another pyramid of the ancient Moche culture. We went first to the site museum where we had just 30 minutes to go round the exhibits, mostly ceramics here, rather than the gold and silver of other sites, but equally as rich in their decoration, their depiction of rituals, beliefs and everyday life. There were stunning anthropomorphic designs but also images of animals and people, and the museum contained some fascinating reconstructions and explanations of the deceased and their grave deposits, the local people and their professions.

The Huaca del Sol (not able to be visited) and Huaca de la Luna pyramids were centres of power for the local Moche people, El Sol a political and administrative centre and La Luna a centre for religious ceremonies. Between the two was a city, with wide avenues and narrow alleys, grand squares, houses and palaces. Our wander around Huaca de la Luna was fascinating. The various excavations have revealed layer upon layer of temples, a tomb containing over 40 sacrificed warriors, and a huge and remarkable wall of still colourful murals.

After a delicious lunch at the surprisingly good tourist restaurant El Sombrero, we headed off to more ruins, first to Huaca Arco Iris, a relatively small pyramid in amongst the city’s suburbs. There we met Tamay the potter, a charming old gentleman, a potter and painter, who creates replicas of the amazing finds from the various archaeological sites in and around Trujillo. His pots are made at his home but he has a little workshop/shop at Huaca Arco Iris, where he paints his pots and chats to the strangers he meets from all over the world. Of course, I bought one of his beautiful pots.

Next to Chan Chan, the largest pre-Hispanic city in South America and made entirely of mud bricks. It originally covered an area of more than 20 square kilometres and may have housed as many as one hundred thousand people. It was built by the Chimu people, the civilisation that followed the Moche, and archaeologists have discovered within its walls all the essentials for city life: workshops and warehouses, plazas and pyramid temples, hearths and homesteads.

Although centuries of wind and rain, and the devastating El niño, have seriously eroded the structures, you can still get a glimpse of the enormity of the metropolis. And, though most of decoration – sculptural reliefs of geometric figures, stylised zoomorphic creatures and mythological beasts – is recreated rather than original, it is still impressive and provides an excellent vision of just how magnificent this city must have been in its heyday. As a Classics major, I am very at home amongst ruins and, at Chan Chan, I could have wandered, content, for hours.

But on we went to our last stop of the day … and it did not disappoint. Coming from land-locked Cusco, another highlight of this grand day was our short visit to the sleepy Pacific resort of Huanchaco, just 20 minutes’ drive from Trujillo. The beach ran for miles and would be perfect for long strolls, but we contented ourselves with a short walk to the end of the very Western-looking pier, where roosting boobies posed obligingly for photos. It was also interesting to watch the clash of ancient and modern in the water, keen surfers sharing the waves with the local fishermen who still use traditional reed boats for fishing.

The water glistened as the sun began to set, setting the scene for more striking photographs, the ideal end to another superb day.

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