If you have never been to Peru, you are in for a brilliant adventure. Just like the US, Peru has many regions, each trumpeting their own unique bent on food, clothing, and language. The national drink there is Pisco, which is mixed in a variety of creative ways, and which you will find everywhere, from fancy brass-and-glass hotel bars to the thatched-roof makeshift liquor-spilling beachfront drinkeries. If wine is your thing, they have a pretty good selection of excellent Chilean wines available in most fine restaurants and markets.
Our first layover stop was Lima, the charming historically rich capital of Peru. Resting comfortably on the flat coastal plain, Lima offers a diverse amount of exclusive Spanish-influenced sites and experiences. Her tropical breezes are reminiscent of our own Southern California balminess due to its similar proximity to the Pacific Ocean and distance from the Equator. Having been there before, I was able to quickly hone in on the familiar wafts of fresh pastries flowing steadily from the alleyways, momentarily overtaking my other senses. We felt quite safe walking around the town during the day. People smiled and said ‘Hello’ everywhere we went which removed any bit of shyness we carried with us.
After visiting what seems like a million museums in my travels, I was elated when I was taken to the Larco Museum in Lima. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that they have found and are preserving THOUSANDS of pieces of ancient pottery.
The ancient Moche people had a style of “Fine Line” drawing that was commonly used to decorate pottery. The museum displays a couple of particular pieces of pottery and has translated them onto a flat surface. Fascinating! I left there feeling that this may just be my favorite museum in the world.
Anxious to leave the city and venture out to distant the nether lands where we would encounter a new adventure almost hourly, we were ushered into the vehicle that would herald us to our first peek into the ancient world of the Moche. We made a few stops and were wowed at the amount of archaeological dig sites that are strewn all over the land. If you have any ‘Indiana Jones’ in you, Peru is the place where you want to spend a good amount of time.
We stopped at a pair of ruins called “Huaca de la Luna” and “Huaca del Sol.” Or “Shrine of the Moon and Sun” respectively. The size of this place rendered us dumbstruck.
After we had gathered up our lower jaws, we went inside to again be fascinated with the colors and detail that decorates these temples.
Further up the coast, we visited a site called “El Brujo” with its ‘Huaca Cao’ Temple, located a little north of Trujillo. People often say ‘… if these walls could talk…’ well, these walls, lavishly decorated and colored, told some serious and dramatic stories, such as how the Moche people sacrificed slaves to the gods. The ease at which the graphics can still be seen is quite impressive. The tedious work of the archaeologists when they excavated these ruins is impressive, as the original polychrome artwork remains intact in many areas. The walls of El Brujo shown here clearly tell the story of how they marched the slaves up the ramp to their sacrificial deaths on top of the Temple.
Approximately 85 miles north of Trujillo is a town of San Jose del Moro. Like the other places all along the way, San Jose del Moro is known for its impressive ruin. Something that we all enjoyed was the little local pottery store. Apparently, the locals are trained to imitate the ‘Fine Line’ art style of the ancient Moche. They can then work in this store decorating the fresh-fired pottery that is also produced by the locals. The carefully cloned pottery is an outstanding representation of how the local people cherish their cultural heritage and wish not to lose it. And the pride…!
In the city of Trujillo, we took a break and went to the beach. There, men were lined up along the beach looking for tourists that they could lure into their reed boats. A few members of our group were happy to take a fun ride into the breakers in an ‘ancient’ reed boat.
are hard to find. Usually, the lodgings are smaller and simpler. Accommodations in Lambayeque are pretty sparse in general, and if you have trouble finding appropriate lodging in Lambayeque, going back to Chiclayo should solve that problem. If large comfy hotels with all of the trappings are what you seek, you may want to map out the larger cities to find them. Our accommodations at the Hotel Libertador in Trujillo, was beyond comfortable, as it had a great restaurant, and it was centrally located at the edge of the plaza in the middle of town.
Trujillo has its share of ancient archaeological sites. But we stumbled upon an engaging contemporary site that gave me pause. The University of Trujillo is surrounded on all four sides by a wall. One complete side of the wall, approximately one-half mile long, and ten feet tall is covered completely by a mural made up entirely of tiny (approx 1″ x 1″) ceramic tiles. The wall is sectioned off in what looked like fifteen foot segments, and each segment was a story of a distinct event in their Peruvian history. In other words, the entire wall tells their story throughout all time. It starts with the primordial ooze at the left end, and progresses through time to the other end with a decorous depiction of a ‘modern’ Trujillo. This must be the BIGGEST mosaic mural in the world, with literally millions of tiles. It is not the work of amateur art students; it was created by art professors from the University itself.
From Trujillo, we traveled northward approximately 130 miles. There lies the township of Chiclayo, and just north of Chiclayo is the hamlet of Lambayeque. This area has proven itself to be a gem of Northern Peru and arguably, of South America. This is where an archeologist, Professor Walter Alva, spent the bulk of his lifetime excavating a monumental site called “The Royal Tombs of Sipan.” It was here that the ancient wielder of power, “The Lord of Sipan” exercised his might and magic. The tombs revealed an immensely complex and wealthy society that ruled the heavens and the earth – until it didn’t. (See “Peru: The Lost Moche Civilization -part 1“.)
This excavation yielded so much treasure that it ranks as the most prolific archaeological site behind King Tut’s tomb in Egypt. It had all of the elements that we second millennia people of their future live for. Gold, ritual sacrifice, sarcophagus, mummies, unspeakable wealth, technology, and all of the complexities of life to go along for the ride.
Distinction and Pride
The town of Lambayeque erected a beautiful structure to house the immense amount of artifacts. Called the “Tumbas Reales de Sipan,” or the museum of “The Tombs of Royal Sipan, it has raised the local township to a position of importance in the northern region.
Worth Seeing and Knowing
As you go through this elegant little gem of a museum, I would like you to take these thoughts with you. It may give you an interesting perspective of how to ‘see’ this culture.
This museum is surprising in its thoroughness of depicting the ancient Moche culture. Why haven’t we known about these folks before? The sheer amount of gold, jewelry, weaponry, body armor and ritual costumes speak of a people who had extremely sophisticated technology in order to produce these pieces. It had to have taken a multitude of generations for them to acquire and perfect the skills and talents required in order to achieve such finery. Which means that the overall society had to be wealthy enough to support this level of art and technology.
Here, I will attempt to shrink down a semester of anthropology into 2 paragraphs. I am hoping this will give you a smidgen of insight and perspective into what you will see when you enter this one-of-a-kind display of historical, cultural artifacts.
When a society is in its young building stages, EVERYONE must contribute to the base structure of the community. If they weren’t the ones out hunting, fishing, and gathering, they had to be the ones to create structures that became increasingly more stable to protect the citizens from the weather, the wild, and from intruders. If they weren’t a builder, then they had to cook for and tend to all of those other folks just mentioned, and they also had to create clothing and tend to the young. At this formative stage, everyone MUST contribute in one way or another in order to maintain survival, then growth. If they did not, they were considered to be an unnecessary burden and either cast out or sacrificed to the fish. This has held true for every society during their building stages, including your own, throughout the history of mankind,
At some point, assuming they had found a modicum of success in the development of their newfound society, people could begin to relax a little knowing they were safe from immediate threats. Relaxing meant they had a bit of extra time on their hands. This is where ‘specialization’ comes in. Think about what it would take to create tools, then refine the skills required to use those tools. This alone would take many generations to perfect. Add to it the knowledge of smelting metals, like gold and copper to create more cool tools, gold jewelry, and art, etc. They had to spin threads to make garments, play in the mud to perfect pottery which then expands into statuary that represented their belief system. The skills and time required to do all of these things are immeasurable by anyone’s standards. There has been no fast-track to successful society-building.
Back inside the Museum…
The local people behind the creation of the Moche Tumbus museum had accomplished near perfection when they built this sumptuous yet dignified structure to tell the complicated story of the Moche Culture. When you see the finery with which they created the displays and exhibits of the artifacts, you will quickly understand how far along the Moche had come as a society. Impressive.
The Royal Surprise
Since it is not possible for you to visit the actual archaeological excavation sites of the Moche due to their closure, the architects of the museum decided to bring the dig site to you. For right in the middle of the gallery, you can look down into a gaping pit that is a beautiful reconstruction of the actual archaeological dig site during Professor Alva’s excavations. Down in this hole, you will see the layers of dirt, the diggings, and most importantly, the finds. Many items of royal representation can be identified in the pit, in addition to the sarcophagi and mummies that were excavated ~ all ‘in situ’.
I had mentioned earlier that when I visited the Larco Museum in Lima, that it had become my favorite Museum in the world. But now the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan has taken the top spot. Imagine that!
Our flight back to Lima, then another back to the US proved to be a quiet and cerebral trip. We had a lot to ponder as we carried the beginning, the middle and the end of this superior culture in our heads during our long journey home.