When I last wrote, I was in a little beach town in the north of Peru called Huanchaco. I´m now in another little beach town, further north, called Mancora. Between the two, I was ¨ruined.¨ Let me explain.
Dotting the landscape throughout Peru, the remnants of ancient civilizations can be found, although now in ruins. For example, many years ago, around 200 B.C., a culture of people called the Moche began to dominate Peru´s north coast. They built massive mud brick pyramids and generated elaborate ceramics decorated with realistic scenes of everyday life–things like, you know, harvesting, royal processions, decapitations, etc. Since the Moche, like the many other similar ancient Peruvian civilizations, didn´t keep written records, these scenes were vital in understanding the culture.
One of the Moche temples, dubbed Huaca de la Luna, is situated near Trujillo. I paid it a visit while I was staying in Huanchaco. Even today the brightness of the colorful friezes that adorn the temple walls is astonishing. The Moche´s demise in the 9th century A.D. remains a mystery. Archeological excavations of Huaca de la Luna and neighboring Huaca del Sol continue.
Below: At the Huaca del Sol.
Two noteworthy civilizations followed on the heels of the Moche. One was the Chimu, who were around from the 9th to the 15th centuries A.D. They created a sprawling urban society–including Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world–that thrived until the Incas conquered it in 1471.
My guide at Chan Chan and another Chimu site called the Dragon Temple, both of which are in Trujillo, told me that hunchbacks and dwarves functioned as priests because their physical deformities were believed to signify divine endowment. These priests led the human sacrifice rituals of young victims–young victims who were physically flawless. Hmmm. Pure religiosity or quasi(moto)-jealousy?
Below: Inside Chan Chan.
Another civilization that followed the Moche was the Sican culture. Their gift was in metallurgy. Recent excavations of royal Sican tombs are housed in the fantastic Museo Tumbes Reales de Sican, considered by at least one source (namely, my museum guide) to be the eighth best museum in the world. The museum is located in Lambayeque, which is next to Chiclayo, and I traveled across the desert by bus and spent a night in Chiclayo for the sole purpose of visiting that museum.
Inside, one finds both the actual shiny burial relics uncovered as well as recreations of the tomb sites as they looked when first encountered by archaeologists. The Sican believed that when a king died, he needed provisions and a personal entourage–his wife, concubines, an adviser, a couple llamas, a dog–to accompany him into the next world. So, all of those other people and animals, who were not necessarily dead themselves at the time, were buried along with him. And so as to leave nothing to chance, a guard was posted on top of the tomb, his feet were cut off so he couldn´t run away, and he was also buried along with the others. Consquently, the tombs looked a lot like grisly crime scenes. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed of the interior, but the red exterior sure is pretty. Evidently, El Niño spelled the ruin of the Sican people in the 14th century.
Below: The Museo Tumbes Reales de Sican.
Then came the Incans. Their empire begin expanding in the early 1400s and only a mere century later was gone. The achievements of the Incans were built on those of the aforementioned earlier cultures. But they took stone work to a new level, as anyone who hikes the stone-paved Inca Trail to stone-made Machu Picchu can attest. The Incan empire grew from just another tribe in the Cuzco Valley to become the dominant force in the Andes, ultimately spreading from Bolivia in the south to Ecuador in the north. But in 1527, a smallpox epidemic wiped out half of the population (of 25 million). Then a civil war between the north and south ensued. These occurrences made the 1532 conquest of the Incans by the Spanish–lead by Francisco Pizarro–all the swifter. Three years later, Pizarro founded Lima as the new colony´s capital since Cuzco, the Incan capital, was too far inland to serve as a suitable communication center with Spain.
As for Peru´s modern history, in the early 19th century two revolutionaries who had won independence from Spain for other Latin American countries, Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar, met in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and afterwards Bolivar led efforts to liberate Peru. In 1826, Spain surrendered. Thereafter, Peru fought separate wars with Chili and later Ecuador over border issues. For much of the 20th century, dictatorships and coups ran Peru´s government. Its history in recent decades has been characterized by corruption scandals and human rights violations.
Below: Around Trujillo.
Anyway, from Huanchaco to my present location in Mancora, you could say I was ruined, seeing muchas ruinas. Remarkably, such amazing cultures, capable of ingenious architecture and brilliant craftsmanship, consistently drew the false conclusion that a causal connection existed between the weather and human sacrifice. It just shows that a culture, no matter how advanced otherwise, can have its blind spots (to put it euphemistically), sometimes with horrific consquences.
In Huanchaco last Sunday, I sat on the beach to take in a glorious sunset. Silhouettes of surfers played on the waves as the tide rolled in. The crowds who had earlier covered the sand had now cleared the beach. But their litter remained. Oodles and oodles of plastic bags and paper all over the shoreline. And as the tide rose, it swept the garbage, piece by piece, out to sea. Appalling! Inexcusable. How can people be so thoughtless? Another example of a blindspot.
Littering is not limited to the beach, mind you. I´ve seen piles of trash near every little town a bus has driven me past, with so many plastic bags caught in tree branches you´d think the bags grew on the trees. There was litter on the switchback trail in Cañon de Colca and litter even on the sacred Inca Trail. Peru is a beautiful country, the people are lovely and have reason to be proud of their land, but c´mon Peruvians! Don´t make me stand on my green soapbox here!
That Sunday at dusk, I was of a mind to start collecting all of the trash on the beach and imagined the local newspaper writing a story about my eco-consciousness, which in turn would inspire the townspeople to stop littering from then on. But I did no such thing. The task was too monumental, I rationalized. I put no feet to my indignation .
Below: Around Mancora.
I will say I haven´t seen that sort of littering in Mancora, but I haven´t been here over the weekend. On a lighter note, while here I´ve enjoyed my favorite meals in all of Peru: shrimp burritos, tacos con carne and sushi (not a one traditional Peruvian!). And this is my last stop in Peru. Tonight I board a ¨sleeper¨bus to Ecuador. So, after 25 days, to Peru I must say, “¡Adios!”
One final thing. My good buddy Bill requested in a comment to the blog that I post more pictures of myself. What a flattering request (and unexpected, coming from Bill), especially only days before Valentine´s Day! Surely, Bill´s sentiment represents the unspoken (yet painfully deep) desire of many, um, other women who follow this blog. Once technical difficulties are abated, I´ll be sure to abide this request, even if bashfully. So sorry you all couldn´t enjoy a big picture of me on Valentine´s Day itself. But then, of course, for all other men, every woman who would have beheld my countenance would have been forever ruined.
Tags: 1, Chiclayo, Huanchaco, Mancora, Peru, Piura, South America, Trujillo