Saturday, June 12, 2010

Along the North Coast of Peru

So after 10 days in Iquitos, back in Lima, suffering from jungle withdrawal, getting blood transfusions from all the insect bites, ( I must have lost a quart) we thought what could possibly top that experience. Maybe we would see if Ceviche could. Peru is renowned for its ceviche! You can find it everywhere. The highly acidic small local limes  perfectly transform raw fish into a meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Our map showed the Andes continuing to run in a northwesterly direction through the center of Peru. Many small colonial towns, shamanic centers, mountain lakes and plenty of archaeological sites were highlighted The map also showed the North Coast road. That road pretty much sticks to the Pacific for 1200 kilometers until you arrive at the border with Ecuador. Ocean or mountains, two routes north. We chose the latter for one reason. The entire coastline is peppered with the ruins of civilizations dating back almost 5,000 years. That’s about the same time period that the Chinese, Mesopotamians and Egyptians were having their heyday.

So we barreled out of Lima adding more kilometers to our increasing total of 25,500 (17,000 miles). The road was beautiful, meandering to and from the coast.

Small villages lined the road. Some interesting, some not. Bigger cities sat predominately in areas where development had occurred. Agricultural centers, transportation hubs, and Peru’s largest fishing fleet were here. We also crossed Peru’s northern desert. Filled with huge sand dunes, constantly changing shape we had an eerie four hour section of road that contained scrub bushes, mirages and dust storms. At the end of the desert I was talking to myself, at least a little more than usual! Closer to the border the desert gives way to coastal mangroves and inland waterways. A change that will stay with us into Columbia.

We stopped at three archaeological sites as we headed north. Caral, Chan Chan, Huacas (Temple) de la Luna. We also visited the museum for the Sipan site.

The site at Caral arose fantastically 5000 years ago. One of the oldest cities in the world. The Caral civilization were the original developers of the knotted rope accounting system latter perfected by the Incas. Traces of cocaine have been found indicating that Caral was possibly a growing and distribution center. It was a gentle society with no signs of weapons or warfare. At the site were six stone pyramids in various stages of excavation. At one time Caral was composed of 18 city states covering three different valleys. The valley here was beautiful with several streams we had to ford. Watch out for the Peruvian hairless dogs. They have a higher body temperature than a normal dog and are used as  bed warmers for those cold winter nights. I would just hate to wake up next to one!

Chan Chan built by the Chimu people was a pre Columbian city. At one time it was the largest adobe city in the world. Inhabited between 850 AD and 1450 it had sixty thousand inhabitants with gold and silver everywhere. First the bricks were laid and then covered with a surface that many intricate designs could be carved into. Chan Chan is located very close to the Pacific hence the many carvings of sea life. Some real, some imaginary. A beautiful place comprising 14 different citadels, surrounded by 50 foot walls e to prevent the blowing sand from entering. First the Incas conquered Chan Chan and then we all know who came next. The Spanish, who left little or nothing.

Huacas de la Luna was a place that the Moche culture was famous for. Lots of polychrome friezes decorating the exterior of six flat topped pyramids. The friezes are in pretty good shape because the sands covered and protected them for hundreds of years. As I mentioned the site has six pyramids. What is interesting is that the pyramids are built on the top of each previous one. When a king would die, his tomb would be filled with all of those afterlife necessities. Gold, silver, ceramics, animals, and his entire family were sealed up in the pyramid.  Then a new king would begin construction of a pyramid completely covering the old one and redecorated with new friezes. At certain points you can view cross sections of each pyramid and see the different friezes. Huaca del Sol next door is a larger complex but not as developed. It was constructed of 150 million adobe bricks. That’s a hell of a lot of bricks. Who did the counting?

We didn’t actually visit the site at Sipan but instead went to the Museo Tombes Reales de Sipan. Just maybe the nicest museum we have seen on the trip. The pride of Peru it is housed in a modern multi level pyramid. Starting at the top you descend until you actually see an exact reproduction of the Lord of Sipans tomb. The museum is filled with all the items found at Sipan. It has the most amazing gold and silver jewelry and other body ornaments. Collars of gold inlayed with turquoise and earrings that would make your ear lobes touch your shoulders, Sipan had perfected the lost wax process of casting metals. Which means they could exactly duplicate each item and make multiples of the originals. So the collar I mentioned would have 12 separate spiders trapped in a cage with small gold balls. It looked really heavy. The ceramics depicted human like people, gods and animals in the same level of detail. Sipan’s site was only discovered when artifacts were seen for sale on the black market. An observant archaeologist knew that a new site was being robbed. Huaceros or looters fought not to give up the site. After several gunfights involving the Peruvian authorities the near intact tombs were secured and many untouched tombs were discovered.

The Lord of Sipan was quite a guy. Part of his daily attire was a gold nose/mouth shield to conceal that he indeed also was human. He wouldn’t walk anywhere and was always carried on a chair like apparatus. After seeing this I asked for the same courtesy for my short museum visit, but was refused!  Sorry I couldn’t take a single photo so I borrowed a few.

On we go! I hope you are not getting tired of reading our stories. If so come and join us for a while and experience it for yourself. Can’t join us? Please just send money!

Todd and Kristi