We are loving Huanchaco. The sun is blazing in a bright blue sky, but a cool breeze comes off the ocean. A few diehard Peruano surfers are still in the water, sharing the waves with little fishing boats. Palm trees line the road.
Our hotel is beautiful, full of lush tropical plants. Our little room and patio overlooks both pool and ocean. We have the place to ourselves, along with a few friendly staff people and not one but two beautiful German Shepherd dogs. One is a frisky, mischeivous youngster who we´ve fallen in love with. Our host is a Belgian-Peruano who speaks many languages. He took it upon himself to make our hotel reservations for our next stop, Chiclayo, getting us a discount.
After yesterday´s post, it was more ceviche for lunch, and for dinner I had a big bowl of chufe, or chowder, full of all kinds of seafood plus potatoes, corn and peas. The food in Peru is not universally exciting or wonderful, but I could live on this northern coastal fare. Wandering around after dinner, we found a tiny bakery and bought two slices of torta piña, pineapple cake, which is sold everywhere, all rich and gooey on top, like a sponge cake with pineapple baked in.
This morning we caught the local bus right in front of our hotel, and took it to Chan Chan. Buses run constantly here on the coastal road between Huanchaco and Trujillo. Some are large buses, some are colectivo vans. Each has a driver plus a kid who hangs out of the bus, shouting the destination and trying to corral passengers. This guy also collects fares and jumps on and off to have the driver´s ticket punched at check stops. He and many passengers jump off and on when the bus slows but doesn´t stop, but the driver does stop for children, women and the few tourists who ride. Buses pass us constantly, giving the taxis some serious competition, and they´ll stop anywhere you ask them to.
When the bus kid pointed to us, we got off and walked down a long dirt road, the ruined adobe walls of Chan Chan on both sides. Chan Chan was a city of the Chimu people, a pre-Incan culture who lived roughly between 850 and 1350 AD. They were absorbed by the Incas, who left the Chimu wealth and structures intact (as the Incas did). Chan Chan survived the Incas, but not the Spanish.
Also, although it almost never rains in the Peruvian coastal desert (decades will pass without a drop of rain), there are sometimes tsunamis or other weather phenomenon like El Niño, and adobe cannot withstand that. So, between tidal waves and the Conquistadors, only broken walls remain of this once massive city.
Lonely Planet says Chan Chan was the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, but my own research says that was Teotihuacan, outside of what is now Mexico City. I don´t know which is correct, but Chan Chan was huge by ancient standards, home to as many as 60,000 people.
At the end of the long dirt road, we paid admission and entered a large ceremonial complex known as Tschudi (named for an archeologist), where many original carvings and reliefs have been preserved, along with some careful restoration. The carvings are repeated motifs of fish, pelicans and waves, along with a geometric design representing fishing nets. The Chimu, living on the coast, venerated the sea and worshipped the moon, in contrast to the Incas who venerated the Earth Mother and worshipped the sun.
As with most sites in this country, there is one fee for admission and another if you want to hire a guide, and very little printed information. This can be annoying when admission fees are high, but more importantly, it must be difficult for the guides, who work for tips. For Chan Chan, we decided to see the site ourselves, using our guide book, which seemed adequate.
There were dozens of rooms, all for ceremonial purposes such as festivals, assemblies, burials and other rituals. The most impressive thing about Chan Chan is its vast size, more so considering only a small portion of it remains.
Admission to Chan Chan also covers two other Chimu sites, and we rebuffed some annoying taxi drivers hawking their services to take us there. As a rule, we never engage with anyone who is pushy and insistent. I imagine there´s a big cultural misunderstanding going on, but Allan and I both can´t stand it.
We walked back down the dirt road to the main road - it´s completely flat here, so walking is very nice - and tried to find the next place, La Huaca Esmerelda (another archeologist, not a Chimu name). Picking our way down another dirt road, thinking we saw an adobe temple, we found instead a huge pile of sand on a construction site. It was pretty funny.
Back on the main road, we stopped for lunch at a local joint with a menu del dia, one lunch, no choices, 2 soles each. Again we encountered the cold shoulder from the server, but by the end of the meal, she had relaxed and we were rewarded with a smile. I wonder if there are negative expectations about foreigners and tourists (small wonder) and polite, appropriate behaviour dispels the stereotype. No way to know, really.
After lunch, we hop on another bus, but still can´t find this Esmerelda, overshooting it by quite a bit, then taking a taxi back in the direction we came. Transportation is so incredibly inexpensive and plentiful here, that this is negligible.
Esmerelda turns out to be one small temple, in the same ruined adobe style, in the middle of a town. (The town, Mensiche, is between Huanchaco and Trujillo.) It is less restored than Chan Chan, but has many beautiful detailed carvings intact, repeating geometric designs of fishes in nets, pelicans and ocean waves. It makes a good counterpoint to Chan Chan, because you can imagine more of what the whole complex looked like. Here, you walk on top of the four-metre-thick adobe walls and look down.
The sun is very strong and there´s no shade at these sites, so we fade early. It would be possible to do all the ancient sites in the Trujillo area in one day if you were riding on an air-conditioned tour bus directly from one site to the next. But on our own, it´s too much. We prefer to spend the afternoon relaxing, then see the rest of the sites tomorrow morning.
Some random Peru notes to follow.
Photos of Chan Chan and Huaca Esmerelda here.
Photos of Huanchaco, the view from our hotel room, and Nick and Rex, here.