After the lush green valleys around Vilcabamba, Northern Peru was a barren wasteland. We stayed in the border town of Malcata, where we booked a four a.m. bus to Piura, Peru. This gave us about 5 hours of sleep, and when we walked to the designated area at 3:30, nobody was around. We stood on the street with all our bags for half an hour, hoping we were in the right spot. There was no one to ask. The bus did eventually come, though, and crossing the border was hassle free, at that hour. We arrived at Piura, which was just a short stopover. We bought tickets for Trujillo, which was another eight or ten hours on the bus. The entire journey was through flat, sandy desert. It was very hot too.
When we arrived in Trujillo, we were lucky to be directed to a good hotel, with a very nice proprietress, who loved our girls. With their blond hair, the girls are popular all around South America, and we often have people ask us for pictures with them.
The main square was only a few blocks away, so we we walked there for dinner. In what was to become an incredibly difficult trend, we walked for some ways looking for something suitable. We had no trouble finding places with menus dominated by sanduches y jugos, (sandwiches and juice), but we were well sick of bread and cheese, and we wanted vegetables. The girls were whining lots just from the walk, but when we kept rejecting potential restaurants because of lack of options, they really got cranky. Many people we have met here in South America have remarked that they see very few travelers with children. We do not find this at all surprising. It is very hard.
Trujillo is a large town, and we stayed fairly close to the historic center. The city itself was not so appealing to us, being urban and not very nicely developed. The attractions that I was interested in were the ancient sites, ruins of the Moche and the Chimor people, both pre-Incan civilizations. The first day we went to Huaco del Sol y la Luna, the capital of the Moche people.
The Moche civilization existed from about 100 to 800 AD, and the capital was dominated by the Temples of the Sun and Moon. The remains of these temples are impressive, though only the Temple of the Sun is open to tourists. In between the two temples was the city where all the craftspeople, workers, and farmers lived. Excavations are still underway to uncover more artifacts.
Sometime around 600 AD, a major El Niño event caused first major flooding, then major droughts. The priesthood of the time attempted to explain this as disfavor of the gods, which the proclaimed could be assuaged by sacrifice. So the warriors were put into non-lethal combat tournaments, the losers of which were taken to the temple and sacrificed. Needless to say, this did nothing to change the weather conditions, and after decades of both starvation and human sacrifice, confidence in the validity of the priesthood collapsed, along with the Moche civilization.
There are parallels here to any civilization, which I need not go into at length.
The Chimor people built a series of palaces and temples known today as Chan Chan. We visited this site next, and we were thankful for a guided tour in English. At Sol y la Luna we had a guided tour in Spanish, but this failed to engage the girls completely, and they were complaining throughout the tour. Chan Chan is, overall, a more impressive site. A massive complex, surrounded by a high wall, is fairly well preserved, along with partial restoration. The Chimor people were rivals to the Moche, though their time began right around the time that the Moche were collapsing, around 700 AD, and lasted until around 1400 AD, when they were assimilated into the Inca civilization. The Chimor capital was much closer to the ocean, depending largely on fishing. The ruins of the palace contain many interesting designs and patterns, many of which relate to the ocean and to the sea lions, which they used as guides to find the schools of fish.
I very much enjoyed touring these ancient complexes, though it was less interesting for the girls, who whined daily that they wanted to watch movies. They were pleased, at least, that we went to the beach one night, not far from Chan Chan, in a city called Huanchaco, just outside of Trujillo. The beach was nice and the temperature of the water was perfect. We were in the desert and the daytime was always really hot. There were decent waves and quite a few surfers, and I enjoyed swimming way out, though the water never got very deep.
We enjoyed a nice meal at a touristy restaurant, the first easy meal we’d had since arriving in Trujillo. Earlier that day we had quite an ordeal trying to find a restaurant that we looked up online, only to find that they’d moved. We walked for many blocks looking for it, only to learn that they weren’t open yet when we did find it. Fortunately a nice lady walked us all the way to another restaurant that had vegetarian organic food, a rare treat in a city like Trujillo.
Our next stop was Lima, but it was a long journey, and we booked our first overnight bus to make it easier. Or so we thought. It turns out that the overnight buses, which have bigger seats that recline quite a bit further, are still not all that comfortable. The foot rests only come up partway and don’t allow the feet to stretch all the way out, and for the first few hours of the trip, these horribly violent Spanish soap opera movies were playing. They were Christian films, but in order to show how much people need Christ, they first show them dropping to the depths of sin, and we were powerless to avert our children’s eyes as this sanguine saga of domestic abuse was played out, at really loud volume and with lots of yelling. At one point there was a brutal fight between the husband and wife that lasted some five minutes with screaming and scratching and hitting and kicking down stairs… it was appalling. Then, right when we’re all trying to fall asleep, someone in the bust started smoking. The windows don’t open, and it smelled awful.
When we finally arrived in Lima, we were glad to get off the bus, but our troubles were far from over. More on that in the next installment…