huanchaco, day three

After breakfast this morning, we caught a colectivo van into Trujillo, to buy our bus tickets for tomorrow´s trip to Chiclayo. This is not as easy as it might be, and proof of why using travel agents in the more heavily touristed cities is such a convenience.

There are seven or eight different bus companies, and each operates from a different station. The guidebook was a big help, but even still, it was a process. A passenger on the van gave us directions when we got out, then I asked a newsstand vendor, who told me "tres cuadros" (three blocks). We walked three blocks, asked at another newsstand, were told another 3 blocks, asked again... and in that manner, three blocks at a time, found our station. We purchased tickets (the ticket agent had to send a runner searching for change for a 10 soles bill!), but we also had to get the address of the bus´s departure, a different location than the bus station. Crazy.

Then a cab to the Plaza de Armas, for a bank and an errand. Trujillo is a huge, crowded city and we´re thrilled that we opted for Huanchaco. But Trujillo also seems nicer than most of the other cities we´ve seen, because it´s not heavily touristed. Tour groups don´t yet come to the north coast; there are only scattered independent travelers. On the main plaza, there are no restaurant hawkers, no incessant peddling and begging, no shlocky souvenir stands.

We stopped for a bite to eat at a little cafe. Here´s fast food, Peruano style. For chicken or turkey sandwichs, freshly roasted birds are being carved; for fruit juices, people are slicing pineapples and throwing them in blenders. (The popular juices in Peru are papaya, pineapple, orange, or combinations thereof.) I had another stuffed potato, this one filled with ground beef, scallions, hard boiled egg, black olives and raisins. Man, these are delicious.

We hopped a cab to the corner where vans leave for the Huaca del Sol y Huaca de la Luna, the nearby Moche sites. As soon as we got out of the cab, an elderly man says, "Huacas? Aqui," and pointed the way. There were vans everywhere, the guys who work them all yelling, very chaotic. We boarded a rattle-trap vehicle, and the kid was determined to fill every available space, whether or not it could actually fit a person.

Every time we think it can´t get any fuller, he stops for someone else. At one point, the van completely full, he stopped in front of a school and picked up 4 or 5 uniformed kids, some eating ice pops! Allan counted 19 people at one point, in a van meant to hold 9 or 10. Nine or ten small people, that is. Every trip is an adventure in bruised heads and knees. But it´s fun, and it´s cheap, and we see a lot on the way.

This van left the paved road and bumped through a tiny pueblo. It´s crazy that there´s no public transit, but at least these colectivos are cheap and they pick people up right in front of their houses or workplaces, stopping whenever anyone waves them down.

Finally we unfold ourselves at the so-called Huaca de la Luna, in the middle of the desert, at the foot of a mountain you can see from Huanchaco or Trujillo. This was a sacred site of the Moche people, an empire that controlled what is now almost the entire coast of Peru from about 250 BC to about 800 AD. They were conquered by the Chimu, but as the Chimu culture was much smaller and more localized, it´s not (yet) known why the Moche completely disappeared.

The name of the site is a misnomer. Huaca is a Quechua word, and the Moche didn´t speak Quechua. The Moche also didn´t worship the sun or the moon, but the Spanish thought all the "primitives" did. Hence, a nonsense name.

This was a great site. The Moche built one temple on top of another, every 100 years. With each successive level, they would cover the previous level with adobe bricks, and build upwards. Because of this, and because of desert conditions, there was very little erosion - everything is intact, seven levels deep. The only damage was done by 17th Century grave robbers. Three guesses where they came from.

The most amazing thing about the Huaca is that much of the original brightly coloured paint is still intact, because it was buried in adobe and sand for hundreds of years. In most remnants of the ancient world, the colours have long since faded and eroded, and you have to remember that ancient peoples didn´t live in a brown and gray world. Perhaps Pompeii is the one exception we´ve seen, before today. Here, there were dozens of murals in bright reds, blues and yellows. In many places, three or four levels are visible at once, so you can see how Moche art and representation changed over time, becoming more complex and fluid.

The Moche also made distinctive pottery, with an instantly recognizable round handle and spout. (If you like pottery, Google it, they´re fun.) Since pottery isn´t gold, the huaqueros (grave robbers) didn´t want it, and there are hundreds of original pieces around.

The site outside Trujillo was excavated only in 1991 and is still being uncovered. Everywhere you walk, there are men digging, sifting, brushing, watering. Only the "Luna" temple is open now, and from the top of that, you look down on a huge excavation site, where archeology students are working. Most are Peruano.

This is also the only site we´ve seen in Peru that has interpretative signage, and for which an educated, paid guide is included in your admission price. This is because the north coast sites receive funding from a private foundation, the Backus Fund. Backus is the foundation arm of Trujillo Pilsen, the major beer company of the north, whose ads cover every square inch of space, everywhere.

Because of the Backus Fund´s special patronage, the Moche Route - a circuit of archeological sites in the north - are all being restored and readied for visitors. If you had a special interest in Moche culture, you could easily make a good two-week vacation out of La Ruta Moche, and take in some nice beaches on the way.

None of these sites receive government funding. I asked our excellent guide whether, in her opinion, that was because the government couldn´t afford to help, or if they didn´t want to. She said the politics are very complicated, but she believes they just don´t want to. Why, she said, does Machu Picchu receive funding and not the north coast? (I have no answer to that.) She mentioned the upcoming election, but said she doubts either choice will change this situation. (We have a good joke about the election, because the leading candidate´s name is Alan Garcia [a former president of Peru] and his signage only says "Alan". Our Allan promised he would give lots of funds to the north coast.)

This site was fantastic - the intact murals, the bright colours, the descending levels of excavation, the ongoing work.

As I mentioned, the temples are in the middle of a desert. (The Moche were masters of irrigation and transformed desert to garden.) The wind was whipping wildly, punishing our eyes and faces with sand. By the time we left, we had sand in our ears and in our teeth, and my hair was a rat´s nest.

Another crazy colectivo ride back into Trujillo, then asking for directions every three blocks, until we found the meeting point for vans to Huanchaco. The sidewalks of late afternoon Trujillo were crowded with food vendors, selling dried corn and beans (for crunchy salty snacks), melons, papayas, sweet rolls, sugar cane and coconut juice, and tiny huevitos, little boiled eggs with brown speckled shells. We passed an international calling place, so I ducked in to wish my mother a happy Mother´s Day.

Yet another squozed van ride, but as soon as we hit Huanchaco, it is quiet, the surf is rolling in, and we can breathe more freely. Hot showers, and into town for the internet. The trip is winding down, but we still have an important thing to see, the day after tomorrow: the tombs of Sipan.

More information about the Huacas, the restoration process, and Moche culture, here.

Some of our photos of Huaca de la Luna here.


James Redekop said...

You should collect these postings and do up a book. Even a small pamphlet just for the weblog readers would be nice. :)

laura k said...

Thanks James, what a cool idea. I could do it through Cafe Press. After we get back, things will be a little crazy for a while, but when life settles down, that would be a fun project.

allan said...

you could add pictures from the trip, also.

and wrye has already supplied the title:

they've gone to peru

James Redekop said...

I'll do up a nice map of your travel path for the front, a la Lord of the Rings. :)

laura k said...

Very cool. My summer project.