Exploring the Ancient Past // Peru > click the photo below for full story <
Buried beneath the sand for millinea, the vast Huacas de la Luna y de la Sol, remained a hidden treasure until excavation began in 1990. An earlier generation of the Chimu- who built Chan Chan (discussed in our last post), a people called the Moche are attributed to this wonder. Meaning Temple of the Moon and of the Sun, this is a name assigned by modern archaeologists, as there is no written record.
Locals of Trujillo recall playing futbal on top of the mounds, knowing the huacas were old, but having no idea of the treasures and cultural heritage that lay inside. With our English-speaking guide RoseMary (mandatory and included in the cost of entry), we climbed the exterior of the structure and entered a stupendous scene that surpassed our best Indiana Jones fantasy! The magnificent exterior of the fifth and top shrine depicts colorful frescoes. Buried behind adobe bricks for nearly 2,000 years, it is astonishing to see the colors revealed in the light of day- white, yellow, orange, red, blue. In the center of the top layers the scars of the Spanish, who in the 17th century broke into the Temple and raided it of what was sure to be magnificent works in gold and silver. Colette particularly liked the ‘spiderman’ in the middle tier. The detail, the scale, the fact it has remained in tact- what a marvel!
This intricately carved relief is an asymmetrical depiction which had many recognizable figures such as fishermen, the famed Peruvian hairless dogs (which still guard the temples), octopus, the sun, foxes and a litany of other representations of sacred and daily life. The external structure is shaped like a giant pyramid, layers upon layers of hand made adobe bricks stacked into walls. Five shrines, one built approximately every hundred years, are stacked upon each other. The Moche honored their ancestors, covering their shrines to preserve it, and building anew in the same sacred space. The interior is an upside down pyramid with the first layer being the smallest interior space.
Warriors would battle as depicted in a row of the seven layered fresco of the top temple, the losers of which were given halucinagenic San Pedro cactus elixir by a priestess. Fearless and tripping, they were led to these rocks and sacrificed.
Ayapec– all seeing god-head, was the main diety, who has characteristics of both land and sea- the octopus arms which surrounded the powerful face with wolf teeth. The yellow figurines are stylized snakes with serpentine curves which mimic the life bringing flow of water in the rivers.
Here you can clearly see two seperate generations representations of the creator.
The Moche life was a communal system, where it is believed the people would pay ‘taxes’ by working within the society. Adobe brick marked with different ‘signatures’ would identify the maker; don’t you love the ancient happy face? Structures built at the base of mountains are religious sites, and across the desert valley where the city was, is the Shrine of the Sun, which was used for administrative and military purposes is not open to the public yet. In the distance glistens the green of the fertile river valley, to the left 5km away the abundant ocean.
There are archaeologists working at both temples every day, uncovering new treasures as they go. Our guide told us that *just* that morning, the body of a female was found at the southern end of the Temple of the Sun, in an unusual position (her arms and knees bent like a frog) leading them to think she was an important priestess. Between her elbow and knee was the corpse of a boy, perhaps 10 or so. I mean- WOW- a living discovery, unearthing the secrets of the past on the day we are there- how amazing!! When looking at the scale of these massive complexes, how much has been uncovered and explored in 30 years, the painstaking process to catalog and preserve the relics- we know there are numerous wonders still resting in the sand. The ancient world still has treasures to share!
As we departed the ruins, the sand grew increasingly soft. Adam put our trusty $3 Mexican shovel to use and quickly reversed us onto firmer ground.
Our Canon SLR camera was on the outs, firing an error code 30 leaving us with a small point and shot camera. With family coming to visit and both Machu Pichu and the Amazon on the itinerary- we knew we had to scrap our plans for heading into the Cordillera Blanca mountains and b-line it to Lima with hopes of getting it fixed. Please, oh camera gods, help us! Somewhere in the middle of the remote Peruvian coast was Burmejo, our camp for a night. A dozen or so chicken farms and dusty fishing outposts dot the desert-scape, which on the right swell works around a bay forming long left rides. No waves were present, so we enjoyed our last few solitary minutes before the long drive into bustling Lima. We would like to thanks our friends at GoWesty! for helping make this adventure possible. There is no way we would have made it this far without them. Having navigated Mexico City, Adam was prepared for the madness of Lima driving. The Pan-American Highway slowed to a crawl reminiscent of a Los Angeles afternoon, so we sat back and inched our way towards the bustling heart of Peru’s capital.
We found our way to the hostal, that has camping in the heart of posh Mira Flores neighborhood. Set up in the cement courtyard, it was not the most scenic campsite to date, but provided us with a great home base to get some chores done before heading deeper into the wilds. Mira Flores has a Santa Monica feel to it- the city on the bluffs with a wide promenade over the ocean. Taxi’s are in no shortage, so we left the navigation to the locals. Our first afternoon out we visited 6 camera repair shops, including the only 2 Canon certified centers in Peru for a qualified center with the new shutter we needed. Returning feeling defeated, we resigned to rent a camera for a month while we left the camera for repair at the center while they waited for the right part. Canon USA was NO help and really bummed us out with the lack of customer service we received- having only had this camera for 7 months, it was still under warranty but it was not honored since we were out of the country. We got a response to the desperate email Adam sent thru Canon Peru, which happened to be one of the locations we had already visited- and they suddenly had the part in stock. It would be fixed in 3 days but we had to pay 750 Soles for the repair of the cameras faulty part- but at least we would have the camera back in time for two of the most iconic locales on earth!
We spent another day on the hunt for various car parts Adam wanted to replace, clean or stock up on in case of emergency. Miguel, a Volkswagon fanatic and member of the Lima VW club, grew up between the US & Peru. He is a super genuine, kind guy who we enjoyed having a few beers with and picking his brain for places to find this or that- he took Adam out one day to hunt a few specialty pieces down. He works as a translator, so if you find yourself needing any such services, hit him up at Miguel_riquelme@yahoo.com .
A short block away was the delicious La Mora bakery & restaurant, which we ate at almost daily- indulging in a host of gluten & sugar filled delights. Although truly, nothing has met our craving for the best pizza ever, made by our dear friends Price & Salman at Pizzanista! At Kennedy Park, Colette mingled with the playground set, sharing turns on the swings and slides. As Adam carried her one evening, she pointed to a tree and said “ a kitty is in da tree,” we turned and found perched in a nook, an adorable mewing young kitten. Coco gently held the soft and squirmy pal with the biggest grin imaginable, her animal-lover heart filled.
In Lima we reconnected with Alicia, whom we had met in Pacasmayo. She’s a super cool girl & talented chef who has surfing in her blood- her uncle “Gordo” Barreda was one of the first shapers in Peru. In a book chronicling Peru’s surf culture (which we kicked ourselves that we didn’t bring our camera), pictures of her father, uncle and even grandmother grace the pages in their black-and-white splendor. She had us over for an authentic vegetarian Peruvian meal of locoro, a grounding pumpkin stew with choclo and peas served with quinoa- delish!
The swell was up along the whole Lima coast, but Adam was focused on upping the gas mileage, as our mpg had suddenly taken a dive. We had the engine steam cleaned, changed out the transmission fluid and afterwards he spent a whole day cleaning and reconnecting nearly every connection imaginable which has added 3 more miles per gallon- good work love!With the van reassembled, we set off and found this point just on the south side of Lima.Down the coast we moved to Punta Hermosa- there was some swell, but with only 3 days to make it to Cusco to meet family, we preferred to leave a little wiggle room. We have learned on the road that you just never know what road blocks, strikes, car issues or acts of God may slow your roll.
In the front seat we share many miles on the road. These moments, simple and true, fill our hearts with the *real* fuel for this journey.
South from Lima, the desert stretches onward broken by the tiny oasis of Huacachina. We climbed the dunes in time to catch the last rays of the setting sun glistening off the caramel sand. Wind whipped up from the valleys, carrying with it a wall of sand, whipping our faces and any exposed body part. We ran down the face of the dunes, leaping into the lavender air, landing in the slipping sands. We parched our desert thirst with our first (but certainly not our last) Pisco Sour, Peru’s national cocktail. Made with Pisco- a local grape brandy, lime juice, sugar and egg white it packs a frothy punch.
Another clear day starts as hikers set out in the early morning to beat the heat that is sure to set in.
From the desert start to rise the Andes, rivers filling the fertile valleys with the crucial water for the farms which feed Peru and the huge agricultural exports like grapes and artichokes.
Scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created between 400 and 600AD. The hundreds of animals, figures, simple lines and geometric patterns stretch more than 50 miles across the remote Nazca desert in southern Peru. Nobody knows for certain why these lines were made, but many believe they have religious significance or possibly create a giant astronomical calendar. Airplanes offer tours to appreciate the grand scale of it all, but we didn’t fly. We climbed this tower for the cheepie route of 3 Soles each, well worth the price of admission. Standing on the slightly swaying tower, viewing the enormity of the lines, we shook our heads in pleased wonder. The many more questions raised than answered & the tethering human connection felt- encountering these historical mysteries are so fascinating! A little further down the road was a hill top we climbed to get a new perspective across the desert. The solitary desert sky was filled with the sounds of airplanes flying low over the ancient land drawings.Emily peered right as we ascended into the thinner air, and excitedly shouted “look!!!” Guanacos are the largest wild mammal species in South America, and we spotted our first flock gathered upon the rocky altaplano frolicking with ears at attention.
At first we didn’t realize they were different, but we finally figured out these tiny little pals are vicuña, the smaller cousin of the guanaco. SO cute, eeh? Peru’s national animal was once endangered, but they are at healthier numbers now- aprox. 350,000 from just 6,000 in 1974. In the camel family and a relative of the llama, it is now believed to be the ancestor of domesticated alpacas. These wild animals are rounded up and shorn every 3 years for their super-fine, super-soft wool. Anything made from this wool is very expensive; in the time of the Inca it was illegal to wear vicuña wool unless you were royalty.
A stone round up caught our eye on the horizon. In the open lands, free of billboards and buildings, our eyes soften and conversation veers to focus on the small discoveries of the days drive. We camped under a bright canopy of twinkling stars and continued with the rising sun further towards our rendezvous destination.
At crossroads town Abancay, we stocked up on some groceries and kept on rolling.The road snaked as much as the river, and at one bend, a sign said “aguas calientes.” Not ones to pass up a water excursion, we wound our way down the stunning canyon to the base. A cool breeze floated down the canyon as we picnicked by the river and soon changed into our bathing attire. CocoMommyDaddy (Colette’s mono-word) joined the happy locals for a swim in the tepid pools, that had natural stone bottoms and bamboo overhanging. We debated to stay or to go and refreshed by the mineral properties of the natural pools, we voted to go.
Accidents happen and we have witnessed many more than we would prefer.
Hello Cusco! We arrived at the tourist hub of Peru having heard many mixed messages. Our eyes and hearts open, we descended to investigate for ourselves.
Immediately we learned the locals know how to work a tourist. It’s real easy, just carry around a baby lamb and your toddler will be all over it. No way to say no to that!
At the beautiful Plaza de Armas, the last and final Inca king Pachacutec graces the fountain. His reveal in 2011 caused some uproar, as it was not officially approved to be raised, it is seen as a return to Incan pride, balancing the heavy hand of the Spanish splendor all around the square.
Always making new amigos, Colette is happy to be a tourist attraction as long as there is some kid work, aka playing, to be done afterwards.
The stunning Cathedral of Santo Domingo houses the largest collection of paintings from the Cusco School. Noted for their use of red, yellow and earth colors as well as gold leif- a striking similarity to the palate of the Huaca de la Luna that clearly appealed to Inca sensibility. Many of the large works (like 30′ x 50′!) are being lovingly restored, as the 400+ year old paintings are sagging and paint crackling, showing their age. The paintings, crowded onto every available wall, stacked salon style up to the flying buttresses surrounded the interior, dimly lit and filled with parishioners.
Night set in Cusco, and we were won over. You can feel the magnetic energy of this place- in bustling squares and quiet alleys, from grand vistas and discovered corners. So named Cusco, meaning “bellybutton” in Kichwa because it was the center of the Incan Empire, the town was conquered by the Spanish in 1533 and became a sort of backwater until the re-discovery of Machu Pichu in 1911. Out on the streets on a brisk Sunday evening, we ate street food near one of the many plazas, joining locals in the relaxed atmosphere of fun & games.
Emily’s parents, Warren & Suzie, were coming to visit- and today was the day! Laura, Emily’s sister, was slated to arrive a few days later. A quiet cafe near the San Blas neighborhood had a blooming garden and great hot cocoa for our Coco.
Strolling the ancient cobbled streets, it is clear they were designed for llama traffic, not cars. More specifically, alpaca traffic- as we discovered this gorgeous girl and her alpaca out for a morning walk down from the hills toward the heart of the city. We ambled about, enjoying the crisp mountain air above the terra cotta roofs. Bulls and other charms adorned many roofs, representing wealth, happiness and fertility. Adobe is not only a thing of the past, but a green building material that has stood the test of time. Masons toil in the high altitude (11,500 feet!!) continuing in the ancient craft- mixing straw, water and earth to form the bricks to be baked by the sun.Next stop, the airport, where we will reunite with Oma Suzie, Granpere Warren & Auntie Laura! Machu Pichu, the Sacred Valley & the Amazon await! When we departed Los Angeles, Machu Pichu & the Amazon shined like stars among the points of interest on our long trail… and to see them with family makes the thought of them all that brighter!