Reed boats and adobe ruins

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, December 29, 2005

We stumbled over the northern border of deepest, darkest Peru in the early hours of Tuesday morning 27 December. Yup, the place seemed dark indeed as we sleepily queued up outside an Immigration office which, judging by the narrow bed and medicine cabinets lining the walls, doubled up as a doctorŽs surgery by day. Soon we were back on the bus again and fast asleep... the revelries of the last two nights in Vilcabamba certainly ensured that we slept like babies throughout the journey!

We reached Piura, an anonymous city in northern Peru, at about 7am. Shortly after, we were on a bus to Chiclayo, where we had to change for a bus to Trujillo. In all, the journey was about 7 hours. After green, mountainous Ecuador, so gentle on the eye, the scenery was quite a shock - bone-dry desert landscapes with filthy, dusty, wind-blown little villages. And way more litter than weŽd seen in Ecuador. Mmmmm... I wasnŽt too sure I liked this place.

Having arrived in Trujillo, we headed straight for Huanchaco, a seaside fishing village about 10km out of town. Arrived there at about 4pm and, having checked into a basic but clean place, headed down to the beach. Ahhh, soothing, except that the lovely sand beaches were covered in litter. Nevertheless, we paddled in the refreshing waters of the Pacific, watched the surfers (Huanchaco has some great waves and is a well-known Peruvian surf-spot) and strolled along the pier. From here, we spotted local fishermen ride the waves in their Žcaballitos de totaraŽ - small, flat traditional reed boats that resemble paddle skis. The same design was used by the fishermen of the pre-Columbian Chimu empire, which had its capital at nearby Chan Chan. Beyond the pier, we walked past hundreds of these little boats standing upright on the beach - a very picturesque sight!

The next morning, after a good sleep-in and lovely breakfast on the prominade, we headed into Trujillo to organise onward bus tickets to Lima. Huanchaco was only ever intended as a stop-over to break the long journey south, however, weŽd heard that the ruins of the Chimu capital at Chan Chan are worth seeing. So the idea was to visit the site in the afternoon and then take the night bus to Lima. Unfortunately, we managed to waste an hour or more of valuble site-seeing time, by hopping onto the wrong local bus out of Huanchaco and getting horribly lost in Trujillo (a miserable town).

By the time weŽd made it to Chan Chan and seen the museum, there was only really time for a visit to the Tshudi Palace. This large, walled complex is one of nine citadels that comprise the capital of the Chimu civilisation, which was at its height from the 9th to the 15th centuries, when it was conquered by the Inca. Chan Chan is the largest adobe (mud-brick) city in the world, covering nine square miles. It was also the largest city in South America before the Conquistadores arrived.

Tshudi Palace has been restored and is the only part of the vast city that is open to visitors. We bought an English guidebook at the Museum and, for about two hours, wandered through its labyrinthine network of ceremonial plazas, corridors, store rooms and living quarters. What makes these ruins so striking is that the adobe building material blends in with the surrounding desert so perfectly that the ruins seem to grow naturally out of their surroundings. However, the complex and beautiful relief designs that adorn many of the walls tell of a very sophisticated and advanced people.

The secret of how such a large city could have developed in the arid coastal desert was revealed when we came upon a large pool in the centre of the citadel. There is abundant underground water in the area and hundreds, or even thousands, of wells would have provided water for domestic purposes, irrigating crops and even cultivating the totara reeds from which fishing boats were made. The proximity of the site to the sea, and the Chimu peopleŽs reliance on the sea for extra food, are reflected in the beautiful stylised designs of fish, fishing nets and pelicans on many of the walls.

We walked back to the main road from Tshudi, about 1.5km through unrestored sactions of the city. This gave us a pretty good idea of what Tshudi would have looked like before restoration... in short, like nothing but eroded, crumbling mud walls! Who knows what wonderful secrets are waiting to be discovered there...

After a sunset stroll back on the beach at Huanchaco, and another yummy BBQ meal (how sad, we returned to the same restaurant weŽd been to the previous evening!) we boarded the night bus to Lima for another longhaul overland journey.
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