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Moche Culture along the Northern Coast

This past weekend I visited the cities of Chiclayo and Truijillo and their surrounding areas along the north Peruvian coast. Though these are two of the largest cities in Perú and have some of the most stunning and fascinating archeological sites I have seen during my time here, they are often skipped over by foreign tourists who spend their time visiting the southern half of the country.

I began my trip to Chiclayo by getting to the bus station only to be told that the bus was leaving at a different time and from a different station than was printed on my ticket. I guess that’s what happens when you book through on outside agency instead of with the bus company. Peru is quite easy to travel through by bus, the only problem is that the only companies that really maintain reliable websites to book through are Oltursa and Cruz del Sur, which are at the more expensive end of the spectrum and also are less punctual than some of the more budget-oriented lines in my opinion, although they are most likely the safest and most secure option.

Anyhow, a couple taxi rides and a sandwich later I was on the bus and promptly fell fast asleep until we arrived in Chiclayo. I really don’t know why the bus took so long, because we were supposed to arrive around midnight but didn’t get there until 8 in the morning, but I took this as a blessing because it meant that I didn’t have to pay for a hotel that night.

I took a short taxi ride from the bus station to the Parque Principal in the center of town and got a hotel recommendation from the driver, the Hotel Plazza was about a block from the square and I got a room with my own bathroom and hot water for 60 soles. The owners of the hotel were very helpful, and helped me get a tour for that morning, with an hour to kill I grabbed some coffee and breakfast before hopping on the van with a group of Peruvian tourists. Something that is interesting about the coffee served in a lot of Perú but especially the north is that when you order coffee you are presented with a cup of hot water and a decanter of concentrated coffee that you pour yourself into your mug. Interesting, but still good coffee.

First we visited Huaca Rajada, which is the burial site of the famous El Señor de Sipán. From there we headed to the town of Lambayeque, which although fairly small houses two of the most famous museums in Perú: El Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipán and El Museo Arqueologico Bruning. We only visited El Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipán, which houses the majority of the funerary artifacts found at Huaca Rajada, but I had the opportunity to visit El Museo Arqueologico Bruning the next day (This museum is often skipped by foreign tourists due to the fact that it transferred many of the highlights of its collection, such as the artifacts of El Señor de Sipán to El Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipán upon the newer museums opening, but I still found it to be fascinating and informative, with a wide variety of arqueological finds from the region displayed).

From there we stopped for lunch at a traditional restaurant where we sampled some of the famous cuisine of Chiclayo. I had arroz con pato (rice with duck), one of the most famous dishes of the region, as well as an algarrobina cocktail, which is kind of a pisco egg nog made with syrup from the algarrobina tree, which is prevalent in the desert north due to its long reaching roots and was used/still is used to construct many of the structures in the region.

After lunch we visited Túcume, known as the Peruvian Valley of the Pyramids. Having visited the Valley of the Pyramids in Egypt, I can personally attest that this site is no less fantastic, the pyramids are so large they almost could pass as mountains, and the majority of them are solid throughout, as they were used as platforms more so than buildings.

After returning to Chiclayo I stopped by the market before grabbing a bite to eat, I was especially interested to see the section of the market known as El Mercado de Brujos, where one can buy a variety of herbs, charms, amulets, and other esoteric products.

The next day I wanted to see Batán Grande, another archeological complex where the remains of El Señor de Sicán where found. I found a tour that was supposed to take me there, but after we visited El Museo Nacional Sicán everyone else in the group decided they’d rather go straight to Túcume than visit Batán Grande. Although a little disappointed in this change of plans, I took advantage of the opportunity to explore Túcume on my own, as I had already toured the site and museum the day before.

From there the tour went back to El Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipán, so I left the group there and visited the previously mentioned Museo Arqueologico Bruning before making my way back to town on my own.

That night I caught a bus from Chiclayo to Trujillo, where I met up with the Erasmus Student exchange group, with whom I would travel for the rest of my trip. I ended up beating them to our hostel in Huanchaco, a beachside fishing village right outside of Trujillo known for its distinctive reed fishing boats (Caballitos de Totora)  that have been in use since the time of the Moche culture that is actually a little closer to the famed arqueological site of Chan Chan than the center of Trujillo.

The group was going to visit the colonial center of Trujillo, but a tour guide friend in Chiclayo had told me that I definitely needed to visit El Brujo arqueological complex about 45 minutes outside of the city and see the the Huacas there as well as the famed Señora de Cao. So I of course arranged a tour and headed to Cao.

This was definitely one of the coolest archeological sites I have ever visited, the site was only recently excavated, even though it has continued to be revered and used by local shamans and curanderos for some time, and contains excellently preserved bas-relief murals, many with the original paint still intact. The museum on the site was also fantastic and very well organised.

Upon returning to Trujillo, I grabbed a bite to eat and visited some of Trujillo’s famed colonial houses before heading back to the hostel for dinner.

The next day was something I’d been looking forward to for some time: a tour of Huaca del Sol, Huaca de la Luna, and Chan Chan. We began the day by visiting Huaca del Sol y Huaca de la Luna, which contained even more stunning bas-relief murals with original paint. With every change in power a new level was constructed, thus one can see how the style of art and arquitecture developed as time progressed. These were also some of the most fascinating arquelogical sites I have ever visited as for me it is much easier to picture the way the structure was utilised and how life was back then if details such as original pigment remain intact.

After a quick lunch, we headed to Chan Chan, a sprawling adobe city and UNESCO World Heritage Site that was the capital of the Chimú culture. It was truly incredible to walk around the ancient patios and plazas and imagine all of the things that must have happened there during its time as the center of Chimú civilisation.

The next morning we had a surf lesson, and though I had tried surfing before and practically given up on it I surprised myself by getting up on the board and catching some waves; it was really a great time and I definitely want to try it again in the future.

We had the rest of the day to do whatever we wanted before our bus at 8, so I headed back to Chan Chan to have a look at the museum, which we had skipped the day before. I feel like even if you have a great guide it always is good to go to the museum and get some more context as well as see some artifacts, interpretations, and representations that help to explain what real was going on in a place at different times. Sadly, the Museo del Sitio Chan Chan was quite disappointing in comparison to the splendour of the adjacent site, but luckily with museum admission I could visit some of the other arqueological sites related to Chan Chan (visitors typically visit the grand Tschudi Palace complex, but the adobe city extends for kilometres into the city of Trujillo). From the museum I took a taxi to the Huaca Arco Iris, where I somehow managed to join a tour that took me back to the Tsuchudi Palace for another guided tour, and then took me back to Huanchaco, all for free (I still have no idea how I managed to do that).

Once in Huanchaco I sat down for some ceviche and música criolla (coastal Peruvian folk music) before heading to the beach to watch the gorgeous sunset. I then walked to the end of Huanchaco (the town literally just stops and there is nothing but desert and water ahead of you) before paying a quick visit to the Catedral de Huanchaco and returning to the hostel for the bus ride back to Lima.

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