We were quite unlucky with the weather between Riobamba and Cuenca in the south of Ecuador. (Even though we had a very nice Couchsurfing host in Riobamba and Cuenca is a very beautiful and pleasant city to visit). We finally decided to change the country! (Decision a little forced since we were reaching the end of our 3 months of visa in Ecuador).
In other words, we decided to go to the north of Peru to the small town of Chiclayo (still 600,000 inhabitants and 4th largest city in Peru)… At 10 pm, we were at the bus station in Cuenca!
Border crossing from Ecuador to Peru: Cuenca to Chiclayo
So I can promise you that we had read crazy stories about the border crossing between Ecuador and Peru. As a result, we were a little apprehensive, especially since we were supposed to cross it around 3 am.
So, as we explained in our last post about Ecuador, things have changed and the crossing is now very easy and safe at Huasquilas. To tell you, it is by far the most modern and best-organized border we have ever crossed on the whole trip… 🙂
South America may have a bad reputation, but things are changing!
The Sechura Desert
After having spent a rather pleasant night in wide and comfortable seats (that too is different from Asia 😉 ), I wake up slowly in the daylight. I take a look outside and to my amazement, I realize that there is nothing! It’s the desert as far as the eye can see! A stark contrast to Ecuador…
And it seems that the entire Peruvian coast until Chile is so arid. It must not be easy living here. We pass through several small and very poor villages in northern Peru. What do they live on? It must be hard to grow something on this land. And yet, as you will see, there are still people who have managed to live on the Peruvian coast.
Chiclayo and the tomb of the Lord of Sipan
Thus, we arrive in Chiclayo, the 4th largest city in Peru. Why did we stop in Chiclayo anyway? The city itself has absolutely nothing incredible to offer. Although the Plaza de Armas and the few alleys in the centre are pleasant, most of the city is just a dusty concrete pile.
Fact Minute: The place of arms (Plaza de Armas): this is the name often given to the main square of a city that was under Spanish domination during the time of the conquistadors
As in several cities in South America that we have visited so far, most of the buildings are not finished and the facades are not painted. (It seems that they always keep the possibility of building one more floor) ;-).
In fact, if we stopped in Chiclayo, there is a reason! It is here that one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last 50 years has been made: the tomb of the Lord of Sipan. But to better understand who this famous lord of Sipan was, let me tell you a little bit about the Moches (which is pronounced Motché). It is a pre-Incas civilization that dominated the entire northern coast of Peru between 100 and 800 AD.
The civilization of Moche
As you can imagine, in order to survive in a desert, the Moche had to have certain well-developed techniques. They were indeed masters in the construction of pipelines to irrigate their plantations and thus optimize the little water at their disposal.
But in addition to knowing how to divert rivers, they also excelled in the art of pottery and metals. If you visit the Museum of the Lord of Sipan, you will undoubtedly be impressed by the precision and details that you can admire on the different pieces. No wonder the Incas assimilated their know-how during their expansion. (The Incas were much more gifted for war than for art 😉 ).
The Moche were not organized around a single king. There were indeed several “lords” (such as the one in Sipan) spread out on the north coast, who lived independently but shared the same customs and traditions. There are several other similar tombs that have been discovered in Peru. Although unfortunately most of them have been emptied by tomb robbers. This is what makes the tomb of the “Lord of Sipan” so unique. It was inviolate and full of treasures, each more precious than the next.
The Las Tumas reales museum in Sipan
The local authorities have understood the values of what they had discovered there, they had an excellent idea to build what is probably the most modern and best-designed museum in Peru. : “Las tumbas Reales de Sipan”.
A negative point though: it is forbidden to take pictures inside the museum. So we don’t have much to show you. But we were lucky because we arrived at the museum on the anniversary of the discovery of the Lord of Sipan. As a result, we got half price for the entrance and we could enjoy a great show of traditional Peruvian dances in front of the museum.
Trujillo: Chan Chan the capital of the Chimu civilization
After discovering a little more about the Moche civilization, we then went a little further south in what is currently the 2nd largest city in Peru, I named Trujillo!
So we still liked Trujillo better than Chiclayo. The city centre is larger, better preserved and it is much more pleasant to walk in the middle of colonial buildings, a heritage of the Spanish conquistadors.
But let’s save the stories of conquistadors for another time because Trujillo was already one of the high places of the Moche culture and then the capital of the Chimu civilization (Chan Chan), worthy heirs of the Moche.
Temples of the moon and sun
We first reconnected with our friends the Moche by visiting the temples of the sun and the moon (Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol) which are with the tomb of the Lord of Sipan, the greatest remains of this civilization.
Unlike other archaeological remains, the Moche monuments are not in very good condition because they were all built of adobe bricks (a kind of mixture of sand, clay, and water). As a result, as you can imagine, the time has had its effect and erosion is significant (although grave robbers are also responsible for a lot of damage).
We also learned a little more about their main god Ai-apaec who is represented in different forms in the moon temple (which is the temple in better condition). We see him depicted as a spider, a crab but also with different moods… But I finally found this god quite scary! Moreover, the Moche people often made human sacrifices to calm Ai-apaec and obtain better harvests and a milder climate.
The city of Chan Chan
After a good meal, we went to the city of Chan Chan, the former capital of the Chimu civilization (which succeeded the Moche in history 1000-1470). Chan Chan is built completely out of adobe bricks (you can imagine the state of the city). So for the record, the Moche would have been surprised by a bad weather period that would have pushed them to retreat a little higher into the mountains.
Their descendants would then have returned to the coast and thus perpetrated the Moche traditions through the Chimu civilization. To be honest, I found that there were many similarities between the two civilizations, as much in terms of their pottery, their work on metals or even in agriculture. On the other hand, the size of the city of Chan Chan is quite impressive! There were really several tens of thousands of people living in the city. Moreover, Chan Chan was clearly the capital of an empire that extended along the entire Peruvian coast, even further south than the current capital Lima.
On the other hand, although excellent in many fields, Chimus fell on a bone in the 1470s: the Incas’ desire to expand from Cusco. After a long campaign and several battles, the Chimus were annexed to the Incas empire which was then at its height… But not for long because 50 years later, the Spanish conquistadors appeared and took care of the Incas 😉 (but we will talk about the Incas and the conquistadors another time ;-)).
Review of our first steps in Peru
We found it interesting to arrive in Peru from the north to learn a little more about these civilizations. They are often in the shadow of the Incas and their famous Machu Pichu (the superstar of Peru).
Now, we look forward to seeing you soon in the Cordillera Blanca where we literlly fell in love with all these breathtaking mountains!
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