Rushing through the fascinating cultures of NORTHERN PERU

Peru

With just over a month left on our South American adventure and still lots of ground to cover and places to see, we knew we would have to do some speedy traveling to catch our flight in Bogota on time and still get to see all the wonders that Northern Peru, Ecuador and Colombia had to offer. This meant we’d have to keep moving no matter what and after a couple days spent relaxing and recharging in Lima we were ready! So we left the big city life behind, caught an overnight bus to Trujillo up the coast and arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning…

As we walked through the main Plaza Mayor, the roads were blocked off and there was a massive parade which we later found out to be the weekly Sunday morning parade with the mayor and military generals celebrating the liberation of Trujillo and a tribute to the city. We just had enough time to check into a hostel before heading off on a tour around the nearby archaeological sites. First stop was the museum and ruins tours of the Huaca de la Luna (Moon Temple) and Huaca del Sol (Sun Temple). These were both built by the Moche culture who lived and flourished in the region between 100AD and 800AD, long before the first Incas appeared. They were famed for their outstanding pottery skills which were intricately painted to tell stories and represent the everyday life of the Moche. Fortunately many of these jars, vases and pots have survived and can be seen in a new museum that has been built near the temples.

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Excavating the layers of Huaca de la Luna

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Ceremonial representations on the temple walls

Next stop on the tour was the Chimu culture’s capital city of Chan Chan. The sheer size and scale of the archeological sight is astounding. Considered the largest Pre-Columbian city in South America, it covers 20km and was built primarily out of adobe mud and sand. The Chimu culture emerged from sudden decline of the Moche culture and began construction of the city around 900AD where they ruled the region right up until they were conquered by the Incas in 1470.

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Ongoing excavations at Chan Chan

The last stop on the tour was the little beach town of Huanchaco where the locals still make the same long reed boats to go fishing that were used for countless years before them. Some say it was on one of the smaller reed boats that someone stood up while riding a wave back to the shore and subsequently invented surfing…

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Could these really have been the first “surfboards”…?

Exhausted, we slept well that night and the following day caught a bus up the coast to Chiclayo. We spent the evening relaxing and the next day woke early to go on another museum/ruins tour.

End of Days 1 & 2 – 3 towns, 2 long bus rides, 1 all day tour, 3 attractions (cumulative total)

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Brüning Museum

The Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan was built to house the findings of what has been described as the most valuable archaeological discovery of all time in terms of the quality and quantity of artifacts discovered in the tomb of El Seňor de la Sipán. The Lord of Sipán is believed to have been a hugely important warrior priest of the Moche culture and his tomb was only discovered 1987 in the Huaca Rajada Temple. Parts of the temple have not yet been excavated so who knows what else will be found there…

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Later we visited the Brüning Museum which houses over 1500 artifacts from the various cultures that existed in the region over the past 2000 years. The German engineer Hans Heinrich Brüning originally came to Peru for work but later developed an strong interest in photographing and collecting ancient ceramics and archaeological pieces. In his old age he returned his collection to the Peruvian government who in turn created the museum in his honour.

Representation of a Moche Warrior Priest

The rest of the day was spent at the archeological sight of the Huaca Rajada where the Lord of Sipán was discovered. Another museum has been built there to show the artefacts and jewelry that was discovered in other tombs within the same temple where the Lord of Sipán was buried.

A Reconstruction of the Tomb of the Lord of Sipan

The tour ended around sunset which just left us enough time get back to the hostel, grab our bags and make our way to the bus terminal to catch another 11 hour overnight bus inland to Chachapoyas. Are you sensing a trend here…?

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Finishing day three with a tranquil sunset

End of Day 3 – 3 towns, 2 long bus rides, 2 all day tours, 6 attractions

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Back in the Highlands of Northern Peru

Arrived in the town of Chachapoyas and had to take it easy again as we had gone from the coast back up to 2,235 m.a.s.l. We arrived early enough to find a hostel and book ourselves in for a tour that day to see the cliffside Karajia Sarcophagi of the Chachapoyan people and the Pueblo de los Muertos or the City of the Dead. In the morning we made our way. to reach the City of the Dead it’s a 2 hour dive out of town and a 30 minute hike down a mountain side which is easy. Coming up was a different story with the altitude and 11 overnight bus the night before.  Next was the Karajia Sarcophagi and what is so incredible about their burial methods is that once the sarcophagus is completed, they Chachapoyans used to destroy the path leading along the mountain side so that no-one could ever access them. Therefore their enemies could never destroy them neither could grave robbers and looters ever touch them.

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Karajia

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Whole families are buried in these 12ft sarcophagi in the Pueblo de los Muertos

We later made our back to town after dark, grabbed a quick bite to eat then crashed for some much needed rest.

End of Day 4 – 4 towns, 3 long bus rides, 3 all day tours, 8 attractions

Got up early the following day and into a minivan to drive the 3.5 hours to the Chachapoyan Fortress of Kuelap, the main attraction in region. The size and grandeur is matched only by the really special places such as Machu Picchu and Chan Chan. It is the largest stone structure in the Americas, about 600 m in length, 110 m in width with 3 levels of walls, some of which are up to 20 m high. It’s a massive complex situated on a mountain ridge 3000 m.a.s.l  higher than Machu Picchu and much older than the Incan empire.

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The Incas did eventually conquer the Chachapoyans but only by diverting whole rivers and cutting off their water supply over a period of several years. Surprisingly it’s not yet considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also difficult to reach along some poor roads which is sadly due to the Peruvian government’s preference to only allocate funding to archaeological sites in and around Cusco and the Sacred Valley and not in the north.

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Peru

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We took our time wandering around the ruins and ended up leaving way later than scheduled. So once again we got back into town after dark and made our way back to the hostel to shower, pack and get ready for a 2 day trip north into Ecuador the following morning. But that’s a whole other story…

End of Day 5 – 4 towns, 3 long bus rides, 4 all day tours and 9 attractions = 2 very tired travelers

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Tired but happy travellers

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