Trip Start Dec 03, 2005
Trip End Jul 19, 2007

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Thursday, June 29, 2006


Woo hoo!!! I finally arrived at the land of the Incas, llamas, spudógs and Paddington Bear. And my return ticket home :-( . Along with Patagonia, this was one of the highlights of my trip for not only did they have some of the most celestial mountains you could imagine, they also speak Spanish and the country is a treasure trove of archaeological sites and delights! And who said an Arts degree was useless??

The trip down here was a long one taking a whole two days in the end. Before even stepping foot onto the ranchero that would take me down to the border I already had a taste of what travelling in Peru would be like. Edinson came up, extended his hand and said "hola" after which the conversation continued until we parted company in San Ignacio. Turns out Edinson actually exports coffee on the international scale so I got to know quite a lot about the humble coffee bean as we passed by the coffee fields which had now replaced the mountains.

My intended destination was Chachapoyas, named after the culture that occupied the area (from 800 AD to around 1470 when the Incas came to rule the area). The road from San Ignacio went through valleys so narrow that at times they had to cut into the rock so the road wasn't actually in the river itself but the best part was definitely from Pedro Ruiz to Chachapoyas.

Next morning I heard the sound of brass instruments and drums being played in the square nearby and found out later that it was Tourist Week where people from all around the Amazonas region gather to parade their best dancers with the main events being at the weekend. Oh well, I would just have to stick around another few days, what a shame ;-) .

To fill in time I thought I would visit Kuelap, the Machu Picchu of the north. Without resorting to using a coin, I opted for a tour rather than going under my own steam, I fancied a bit of pampering after such a long journey from Ecuador! The site is still being excavated and it was exciting to see things as they were being uncovered. I always thought the southern hemisphere did things in reverse but was a tad surprised when I saw one of the workers on the site sporting a hard hat, machete and no shoes! Visiting anything from Chachapoyas takes a long time and this was no exception. It was three hours there and another three back and Anthony had to suffer my company all the way, poor chap! There must have been some divine intervention for as we got talking it turned out he was hoping to head for Cajamarca next aswell.

In my travels down from the border I had discovered another Peruvian trait which was that you would never get the same answer from anyone. "Dos cuadras" (two blocks) I have now deciphered to meaning "near" as whenever I asked where the bus station was it seemed to be an eternal "dos cuadras". And now I was finding out that buses left for Cajamarca every day of the week, despite getting information from the tourist office that they only left on Tuesday and Friday. So bright and early on Sunday Anthony and I thought we would give it a go and see if there was a bus. It turns out there wasn't but in a village three hours away we were assured trucks left to head west in the afternoon. After lots of fun and frolics later, I was comfortably positioned on the top of the truck in the company of cattle, horses, battle chickens and the Cookie Monster who kept the supply of biscuits flowing! Along the way, we passed a bar/restaurant with a name that would make you wonder if the owner had rather alternative ideas as to the function of his establishment - it was called "Immaculate Conception"! In the end, it took us a long and cold 29 hours to get there but, hard to believe, it was one adventure that I really enjoyed.

Cajamarca is exactly what I imagined Cuenca (Ecuador) to be like with colonial buildings lining the streets. What Cuenca lacked, Cajamarca more than made up for. This is where Atahualpa was captured by Pizarro and it's most famous building is the room which Atahualpa offered to fill with gold and silver in exchange for his release although some say this is only where he was held captive and the ransom room is located elsewhere.

Unfortunately to make up some time, I only spent the day there with part of it asleep in the Inca Baths where Atahualpa himself spent some time. Although Chiclayo wasn't on my original plans, I had heard lots about Señor del Sipán, an archaeological complex with a richly decorated grave thought to be the ruler of the valley. I hadn't planned to get a guide so went to the museum, Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán, first to get all the information I could and, boy, was it full of info! You need about three hours minimum to absorb all they have on display.

Not to be outdone, Trujillo has three big sites to offer to the travelling archaeologist - Huaca de la Luna (and Huaca del Sol, although this is not open to the public), Huaca El Brujo and Chan Chan (the biggest pre-Colombian adobe city in the Americas).

While Trujillo itself is a nightmare of a city full of noise with cars and taxis beeping horns all day and night, the people are just fantastic! On one day, I met José who went out of his way to walk me into town, Polo who invited me to a game of...wait for it...bowls and then Enrique's father who suggested I have a chat with him to see what the story is on maybe getting work at Huaca de la Luna, the very place he was currently working. How amazing is that?

While I didn't get to talk to the director of the project for work, Enrique did take me to the part he was excavating which he reckoned was where the religious chiefs kept their vestments with remains of cloth being found to support his argument. I must have had archaeology written all over me for after walking 45 minutes from the nearest village to El Brujo, the director of the site invited me to view a part that wasn't yet open to the public! Sometimes it's worth going the extra mile, literally! And the third of them, Chan Chan, was definitely something worth seeing, it's incredible to think that something built of mud in the third century AD should still be standing!

Despite Polo's attempts to convince me to stay, I felt the call of the mountains again and it was time to leave the coast and head in and up to Huaráz, the base for mountaineering, rock/ice climbing and trekking excursions into the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash. Huaráz is nestled between the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra each named respectively for their eternal presence and lack of snow. The town was destroyed in 1970 when a massive earthquake hit the area. The earthquake also released alluvion (a dangerous combination of rock, mud and water) from the north peak of Huascarán which quickly buried the town of Yungay leaving very few survivors.

I had only planned to stay around five days but Huayhuash looked so tempting that I reckoned another few days here wouldn't go amiss. In Venezuela, I had found a trek that was clear to follow but you couldn't do without a guide. In Brazil I had found a trek that wasn't clear and so you needed the services of a guide. In Ecuador I had found a trek that was not clear and you definitely needed the services of a mountain guide for. Now, in Peru, I had finally found a trek that was easy to follow for which you didn't need the services of a guide so I decided to challenge myself to carrying everything myself, despite my own protestations from what I had learnt earlier on Roraima.

I'm either getting more daring or more stupid as my trip goes along (yes, I know which one you would all pick) and I had decided to do a four day trek in the Cordillera Blanca all by meself. No mules, no porters, no guides, no fellow travellers. Just me. It was a well trodden path so there were plenty of others around so no risk of getting lost along the way. I had started around the same time as Florencio (an arriero / donkey driver) who was very obliging to answer any questions as to how long to the next camp etc etc etc. He also offered to carry my gear for me, for a small price of course. I was this close (picture index finger and thumb a millimetre apart) to accepting his offer but reminded myself that I had set myself a challenge. So I politely declined and lugged the 15kg up to Punta Union at 4700m (15420ft) all by myself. As a result, I am now at least one foot shorter!! And just as I got to the top it started to snizzle, my first encounter with rain of the frozen kind in yonks!

Fortunately the nights weren't too cold (the lowest was 4C/39F) as there was cloud. Unfortunately, this fortune during the night turned out to be a misfortune during the day as the views of Alpamayo and Huascarán weren't that great. Nevertheless, I trudged along with the end in sight only to find I had taken the wrong path (did I just say you couldn't get lost??) and ended up doing an extra two hours walk. As I got to a road just below the main road to Yungay I saw the bus zip by, missing it by just seconds! How gutting! But then again, I did get to meet Guillaume and Emilie and have now found some fellow enthusiasts for climbing Mont Blanc when I get back home.

Next on the list was the Washwash (Emilie seemed to like washing, while all I could think was Whywash!), the mountain range where Joe Simpson of Touching the Void fame almost met his maker. This time I was hoping to go with a group though. Huayhuash isn't as well visited as Blanca which can be good as there are less people on the route but in this case I couldn't find enough people to form a group to make the trip viable so I would have to leave this for another time, maybe on my way back!

So, guttingly, I left Huaráz and headed down to Lima to meet up with Monica whom I had met in Chachapoyas. For all the bad things that I have heard about Lima it actually seemed quite pleasant to me although it was smack bang in the middle of the "garúa" season when a coastal fog blankets the city. Lima may appear grey and dull from above but the people certainly make it colourful enough. I had arrived just in time to see the Festival de San Pedro when people come out and parade in different costumes of all colours. Not only that but the people themselves, like all other parts of Peru that I have been to so far, were just fantastic. It reminded me of when I was in Vancouver (Canada) when I would just stop to check the map that I was heading in the right direction and someone would come up to me within seconds asking if I needed help or to point me in the right direction. Funnily enough, like in Vancouver, I had to get my camera repaired. It was full of six months worth of sand. I found myself a specialist who said it would take two days. I pleaded my case saying that I was catching a bus that night and he agreed to do it in two hours instead, staying open an extra half hour just so I could collect it! How fantastic was that??? And not only that again, but the people in the tourist office nominated me "tourist of the month" after spending an hour chatting to them about rugby (the man's game) vs football (the ladies game) and others such like.

I could be forgiven for mistaking the country to be one of festivals, festivals and more festivals as each place I have arrived in seemed to have something to celebrate. Semana Turística in Chachapoyas, Corpus Christi in Trujillo and San Pedro in Lima. Of course, there are always parades against the TLC (Tratado de Libre de Comercio, free trade agreement with the US), some say it's because the US wants to have control over the coca growing regions in South America others say it's because the government hasn't explained it to the people but either way, there appear to be many who are against it. This agreement extends to Ecuador also and they have an equal number of protests, sometimes going so far as to block the roads to prevent any transport. Fingers crossed this hasn't affected me yet.

So, after a few days in Lima it was time to think about what to do with my flight home so I asked myself four questions and rated them on a scale of one to four:

1: Definitely
2: Yes
3: No
4: Definitely not


1: Was I enjoying myself?
2: Did I want to keep travelling?
3: Had I seen everything I wanted to see?
4: Was it time to head home?

And the result of this was.....


Things I miss

Real milk
Real tea with real milk
Dumplings and stew (ok so I haven't had dumplings for years, but I was talking about them with someone the other day and I suddenly got the urge to have some!)
Little Robin Redbreast
The smell of clean clothes
A good fry, either homemade or in The Gorge.

Things I learned


The fort at Kuélap was constructed by the Chachapoya culture (approx 800-1450AD) around 800AD. It is located on the top of a massif at 2900m (9514ft) encompassing up to six hectares. It contains three walls for defense with the first being 20m (65ft) high. Inside, 505 different buildings have been identified, some decorated with rhomboid and zigzag design, housing an estimated 3500 people. Some have suggested there is a water supply located within the fortress however this has not yet been found with the suggestion that it may sank or be hidden due to seismic activity. Human burials and offerings have been found inside the walls which had a maximum height of 11.5 metres.

The fort was covered by forest for 300 years and the only people that knew of it's existence were those that lived close by. The walls are not constructed in a straight line as they follow the natural curves of the underlying rock. Both the walls and circular buildings were constructed to be anti-seismic. The wall was built with uniform blocks of limestone placed on a solid lime and clay floor. There are three access points, each forming something similar to an alleyway. They are wide at the entrance but become narrower to the point where only one person can pass at a time. This is for defense purposes whereby the enemy can be easily disarmed.

In each house it is estimated there were at least three deaths. In order to get food and water, the Chachapoyans had to leave the safety of the fort at which point they were captured by the Spanish and sexually abused. They also caught diseases when in the presence of the Spanish.

At the northern end is the highest point of the fortress, the Tower. This served as an observation and defense point. Several axes and well arranged heaps of stone missiles for use with slings were found here.

The Inkwell is one of the most interesting buildings. It is in the form of an inverted cone and it is thought to have been used for sacrifices with a puma living below. The Chachapoyans had three main gods - the puma which was the god of land, the condor which was the god of the sky and the snake which was the god of water.

Señor del Sipán

At Sipán there were thirteen tombs of different epochs and hierarchies found. These changed all that was previously known about the Moche culture. Excavations were started in 1987 but a lot had already been lost to "huaqueros" (looters or grave robbers). Much of what had been sold on the black market has since been recovered though. It is the richest grave in the western hemisphere.

The Señor del Sipán belonged to the Moche (also known as Mochica) culture whose origins lie in the first communities of primitive fishermen who occupied the coast 6000 years ago. Around 1200AD the Cupisnique culture was born which developed agriculture, religion and realistic art after which came The society was hierarchical where people belonged to defined social groups with specific functions and roles, for example, chiefs, soldiers, prisoners etc.

Pañamarca was the principal Moche ceremonial and administrative centre in the southern territory. Pampagrande was their most extensive administration and urban centre. The Huacas del Sol and la Luna in the Moche Valley were the cultural centres and are the most impressive. They consist of pyramids made of adobe which proved to be flexible in terms of temperature and seismic movements.

Even after death the people continued with the same obligations and privileges that they had in life and the tombs that have been found so far reflect this, showing the social position and activity of the person buried.

Of these, the most noteworthy was found sealed and intact with food offerings, 1137 vases, a male skeleton, seashells and copper ornaments. The male skeleton was a guard for the tomb below and had had his feet removed to ensure eternal vigilance.

The Señor himself was covered with oxidised copper goods, some gold ornaments and disintegrated textiles. Sea snails and shells were found to his side. Three pairs of earrings found alongside his head are considered to be a masterwork of the Old Americas. They are small, laminated gold with turquoise incrustations. The earrings were in the process of disintegration with oxidisation and corrosion of the copper making them extremely fragile. Various spondylus shells pectoral necklaces were found with the original design representing mythical animals. Under the pectoral necklace was a copper emblem covered in gold representing a human silhouette. He was buried with a military chief, three women, standard-bearer, guardian, child, animals and offerings (food etc).

His fruit collar of gold and silver peanuts represent the concept of Moche duality. Gold is associated with the sun, day and male while silver is associated with the moon, night and female. The two in equilibrium guarantee a living universe. The peanuts are attributed to dead people and represent the permanent recycling of life.

Gold funerary ornaments covered the Señor's face with designs of divinities on his eyes, nose and mouth while at the rear of his head was a small plate. Solid masses of gold and silver was found in his mouth.

Only after his crown was discovered did they realise his position in society as, before, this type of ornament was only found on heads of semi divine beings. The silver sandals show his semi divine status while the copper snake heads on his belt identify him with the divinity of serpents. All the characteristics of his funerary room, the emblems associated with him, decorated ornaments and symbols of power reveal that he was probably the governor of the Lambayeque Valley between the second and third century AD. He had a triple authority covering religious, military and civil affairs. He represented the divine power on earth and as such was served, venerated and obeyed by his people.

South of this platform they found a priest which is the second highest position in society. This funerary chamber was also found with a young guard who had had his feet removed. An indication of his important religious function was a cup found in his right hand that was traditionally used for sacrafices. He was around 40 years old. Four others were buried with him as well as animals and vases filled with food.

Below the Señor at the lowest level of the building was an old man buried with four others and a dog. He was a military chief and dignatory. His funerary attire consisted of a mask, a gold collar of spiders, vases filled with food offerings at his sides. The spider collar was made of six laminated pieces of metal joined by one hundred solder points. The feline deity with a human body was one of the most important images of this culture and he was crowned with a two-headed celestial serpent which symbolized the sea. His grave was as rich and complete as the Señor's and lots of the symbols found were similar which lead people to believe he was an ancestor to the Señor. Recent DNA tests have shown that he belonged to the same royal line. His main function was political and religious which in later times separated to two different functions.

Other tombs of people of lower positions, although still belonging to the elite, were found below. They were placed in a small roofed funerary room at the north of the platform. In one of these tombs were two adolescents aged around 12 or 14. The male skeleton had no feet while the female skeleton had a crown which was similar to the principal woman in the Señor's chamber.

Huaca de la Luna

At it's height, the city of Moche covered over one hundred hectares and two monumental structures dominated it's edges: Huaca del Sol to the west and Huaca de la Luna at the foot of Cerro Blanco to the east. Huaca del Sol served as a political and administrative centre while Huaca de la Luna was the leading political and ceremonial centre for Moche society. Archaeological studies started in 1899 and scientific research resumed in 1991.

The city of Moche was located at the base of Cerro Blanco, six kilometers inland on the south side of the Moche Valley. This strategic location affords the city's inhabitants access to the valley's largest expanses of farmland. These farmlands, won from the desert and watered by a complex and extensive irrigation system developed by the Moche, allowed the residents to sustain an agricultural economy capable of generating surpluses.

This was constructed by the Moches around 100 - 800 AD. Between the Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol was an urban zone of which most remains covered. Huaca de la Luna had a wall erected to protect it from the winds that run through the valley. It was a religious and political centre while Huaca del Sol was administrative.

Within Huaca de la Luna was a place called "Plaza de los sacrificios" which was a room to prepare the prisoners for sacrifice. There were stones found that were used to cut the throat of the prisoner and drain their blood into a cup. Sacrifices were made for the event known today as El Niño.

Among the tombs found there is one known as the Tomb of the Officiant which corresponds to an officiant of the Moche religious cult, probably a mid level official in the complex priestly hierarchy. The priestly class enjoyed a wide ranging power in Moche society and as if to emphasise their privileged positions, they were usually buried in tombs placed near a monument's most sacred building.

Funerary rites included the preparation of the body which was placed along with accoutrements in a cane coffin. Funerary offerings included ceramic vessels and other objects placed inside and outside the coffin. The quality of grave goods helps to identify the role and social position of the deceased. The individual interred in this tomb for example was accompanied by emblematic objects, for example, a container for holding lime (mixed with coca leaves) which identified him as a protagonist in coca ceremonies which are known through representations in Moche art.

Mud was the raw material par excellence of Moche monumental architecture. Moche builders fashioned adobe bricks, the basic construction unit, from mud and also used mud as a mortar to bind bricks and applied it as a plaster to finish walls, floors and roofs. The adobe bricks found in Huaca de la Luna were typical of the Moche building tradition, moulded and with a rectangular shape. Some were made in cane moulds while the majority were manufactured in smooth wooden moulds. In this way, Moche builders could mass-produce their construction materials and standardize brick size. This may have allowed them to estimate the quantity of adobe bricks needed for large construction projects. There is evidence, especially in Huaca del Sol, for the tradition of impressing adobe bricks with distinctive marks, maybe to identify distinct groups' tribute or labour contribution in the contstruction of a monumental edifice.

Other materials were also used, with evidence of wooden posts, beams and lintels. Of these, algarrobo (Carob Tree) features prominently aswell as bamboo. Roofs were found to be covered with woven mats made from reeds with vegetable fibres securing them to the roof.

This is located in the Southeast corner of the Huaca de la Luna platform and features walls decorated with polychrome reliefs. Framed in rhombi, the disembodied heads of the Moche god, Ai Apaec, dominate the sculptured reliefs. The Southeast corner of the Ceremonial Patio also contains a corner enclosure with a roofed structure decorated with complex sculptured reliefs which emphasises this structure's key role in the ceremonial events that took place in the Patio.

Archaeological excavations in the Ceremonial Patio have allowed researchers to document a marvellous occurrence - the Moche periodically reconfigured their ceremonial architecture, burying earlier constructions under layers of adobe bricks lined in columns and superimposing new structures over them. The new structures echoed the architecture of the previous phase while the new reliefs also repeated earlier themes.

The Corner Enclosure, located towards the Southeast of the patio served a special purpose within the Ceremonial Patio. This structure, once covered with a gabled roof, had finely finished exterior walls decorated with polychrome reliefs depicting complex maritime scenes. This reveals the highly ceremonial nature of the activities that took place in this setting.

The painted reliefs on the Corner Enclosure of Building B/C represent a complex scene rendered in modular composition. The quadrangular panels are decorated with alternating depictions of the heads of stylised fish or serpents and birds of prey shown in profile. These textile like designs show both bilateral and juxtaposed symmetry and are organised in horizontal and diagonal bands painted in shades of white, red, yellow and black inorganic pigments.

The discovery of the Corner Enclosure located in the Southeast corner of the Ceremonial Patio of Building D indicates that the superimposed structures maintained their homogeneity in their design and layout. This enclosure contains niches, while the exterior walls are embellished with an extraordinary painted relief portraying complex designs. It is a clear forerunner of the reliefs seen in the Corner Enclosure of the superimposed patio B/C.

The reliefs of the Corner Enclosure of Building D also depict a complex design of modular composition. In this case, the panels are rectangular and the designs portray the heads of serpents or fish, birds of prey and ocean waves. The white, red and black dominate alternatively.

The remarkable discovery of painted reliefs on the eroded southern wall of Building B/C's ceremonial patio in 1991 triggered the initial impetus for research as well as ongoing conservation efforts.

To create the reliefs featuring the Moche god, Ai Apaec, Moche artists first sketched vertical lines 170cm apart on the walls. Next they drew diagonal lines forming rhombi in which they placed the disembodied face of the god. The faces are framed by bands of interlocking geometric forms resembling serpents. In triangles above and below the god's image, artists placed smaller versions of the god with appendages emerging below the face terminating in profile bird heads.

Astonishingly, the relief's ceremonial significance and sacrilized setting did not stop someone from scribbling graffiti over the reliefs. Nevertheless, whoever created the graffiti was familiar with Moche art as is evident when the extraordinary graffito portraying a fish and heron is compared with the designs found on Moche ceramics.

In spite of it's small size, this structure was exceptionally important and played a central role in the principal ceremonial activities presided over by Moche priests, including the ones represented in sacrificial scenes. These scenes indicate that the supreme Moche priests and other high ranking officials presided over ritual events.

Evidence for postholes unearthed by archaeologists reveal that this structure was once roofed, possibly in a manner similar to that portrayed in sculpted and painted Moche pottery vessels.

The extraordinary eveidence of the superimposed building phases allows us to distinguish the modifications made to this important ceremonial space and at the same time reveals the evolution of the motifs successfully portrayed in the murals.

In the first phase, which corresponds to Building C, the murals portrayed a deity viewed frontally. It held double-headed serpents in each hand and was flanked by "trophy heads". This image recalls the ancient Formative Period (1000BC) deity known as the Staff god. The treatment of the image, rendered in a series of stepped lines, recalls designs woven on textiles.

During a later remodelling of Building C, the Great Altar, a small stepped platform measuring 4 metres on each side, was built. At the same time, a doorway was opened to the side of the altar and the ancient mural depicting the deity of the double-headed serpents was covered by a new mural. The new mural displays checkerboard squares lined in alternating colours containing faces with appendages that end in bird heads. The step created by two floor levels of this enclosure was, in turn, decorated with quadrangular panels that contain images of the deity with appendages, similar to the motifs decorating the second floor levels and the step.

During Building B phase, the ceremonial enclosure was partially filled, eliminating the two floor levels and the step. All of the walls on the sides of the altar were repainted with new murals covering over the earlier ones. The new murals were composed of checkerboard panels lined in alternating colours. The panels contain images of the god, but in this case, he is viewed in profile with appendages emerging from his body that terminate in serpent heads.

A long and large ceremonial plaza extended to the north of Huaca de la Luna measuring 175 metres in length (North to South) and 30 metres in width. It is enclosed by thick adobe walls with a single entrance on the north side allowing controlled entry by means of a labyrinth-like corridor. The northern sector of the plaza is narrower because of enclosures anbd platforms built in the Northeast corner. These enclosures were approached by ramps by which people could reach the platforms on the east side and from there gain access to the great ramp which lead to the summit of Huaca de la Luna.

The Ceremonial Plaza constituted was one of the primary settings for the ceremonies that took place at Huaca de la Luna. Based on the surrounding walls and the single and controlled access, it can be surmised that access to this ritual space was restricted and limited to certain sectors of the population summoned to participate in ceremonial events presided over by the high priests and officiants poised on the summit of Huaca de la Luna.


In the space between the two Huacas there are a series of walls and other structures which once upon a time formed streets, plazas, houses and shops of the ancient capital of the Moche people. The quality of construction indicates the high status of it's occupants who resided there and also exercised their administrative, productive and religious functions.

The great care with which the Moche interred their dead shows their belief in life beyond death. In Huaca de la Luna, there are bodies of priests and dignatories, carefully wrapped in blankets and clothes placesd inside coffins accompanied by painted vessels, jewellery and food.

Chavín de Huantar
The word "Chavín" comes from the Quechua language meaning "centre of the centre". The town emerged around 3700BC at a time parallel to Egyptian cultures. This was the beginning of civilisation in the region around Peru and the Chavín culture developed agriculture (both plants and animals) extensively with the pumpkin being one of their first domesticated plants.

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