Land of the Mochicas

Trip Start Nov 10, 2007
Trip End Nov 15, 2009

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

The trip from Cajamarca to Chiclayo took about 7 hours and I was very surprised that the road from Cajamarca to the coast wasn't paved!  The rest of the trip was on the Pan American Highway and so was paved and in good shape.  I checked into Hotel Paraiso in the center of this bustling city.  It's much bigger than Cajamarca and without any of the charm of a colonial city.  But I'm here for one thing: El Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan. Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan.

In early 1987, an archaeologist noticed an unusual number of really stunning relics hitting the black market and thought maybe a new site had been discovered by robbers.  It may be hard to imagine an ancient pyramid going unnoticed until that time but the environment of northern coastal Peru is dry, dusty and windy.  And the eroded adobe pyramids looked like little more than small hills in this vast desert.  Unfortunately, some locals were put out by the fact that archaeologists wanted to preserve this history and things got violent at times.  Although many items had already been plundered, there were many left to be discovered and are now displayed in this beautiful museum in Lambayeque.

My only complaint about the museum is that they don't allow photos and don't sell postcards.  I would've bought a bunch, too, because really the items in this museum are beyond belief!  Even the building is a work of art!  You have to put this on your must-do list if you're in northern Peru and it's worth going out of your way - really!

The culture that built these pyramid burial tombs was the Mochicas who built them around 300 A.D.  Each pyramid had multiple layers and multiple tombs.  The dead were buried not only with riches of gold ornaments and weapons, but also with women (their wives?) and guardian soldiers whose feet were chopped off to prevent escape in the hereafter.  The quality and workmanship of the gold and bead jewelry is beyond compare with anything I have see until now!  It was almost overwhelming to absorb all the beauty from those tombs!  At the end there was a room with robotically animated figures decked out in the gold and fabric we'd seen in the tombs..  Music made by ancient instruments was piped in and the gold glittered in the well placed lighting.  It sounds hokey, but it really did give an incredibly good image and feeling for the pageantry of this culture.  According to Lonely Planet, National Geographic covered this story in their October 1988 and June 1990 issues. 

The next stop was the Bruning Museum which houses archaeological finds from several cultures including the Mochico.  I was allowed to photograph here so you can get an idea of what some of these items looked like.  But none of these was as impressive as what was at the first museum...if you can imagine that!
The most unusual item to me was the nose rings.  These varied from small and simple to very large and ornamented.  It is thought that the nobility were seen as part animal and that these guards covered their very human looking teeth which would show they were just like everyone else.

One last stop in Chiclayo was the beach at Pimental.  As hot as it was in Chiclayo, here it was just a bit too cool and windy for swimming.  And the water was bien frio as well but it was nice to be at the ocean and eat ceviche and watch the fishermen bring in their catches in their very unusual caballitos.

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