Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Photographs of Peru Huacas and Ruins - Peru

Copy and paste the link for photographs of the ancient Pervian ruins. Best viewed as a slideshow to enjoy the captions. https://plus.google.com/photos/118181109521024542820/albums/5947003685599632465?authkey=CLXkr5m_3dSdfQ

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Museum of the Royal Tomb of Sipan. (Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan), Peru

The final stop on our pursuit of the ancient history of Peru is not ruins but a museum, the Royal Tombs of Sipan to be exact. Designed by architect Celso Prado, the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan was inaugurated in 2002 and is considered to be one of the most sophisticated in Latin America. The museum itself resembles a truncated pyramid made up of five prisms with replicas of the Royal emblems of the Lord of Sipan embedded along the roof line. The red and yellow colors which decorate the building are similar to the ochre colors the Mochicas used in their artwork. The purpose of the museum’s architectural design was to mirror the Mochica huacas (temples) and in addition to being a fully functional museum, it also serves as a mausoleum for the Lord of Sipan and his companions. It represents possibly one of the most important archaeological findings of recent times. The artifacts and mummies in the museum are from the wealthiest rulers of the Mochica culture including the Lord of Sipan, the old lord of Sipan and priests as well as many of their servants and guards. Everything in here came from the Huaca Rajada ruins, also known simply as Sipan, which consisted of two small adobe pyramids plus a low platform. The platform and one of the pyramids were built before 300 AD by the Moche; the second pyramid was built about 700 AD. The discovery of the site was a fluke really, a falling out among thieves and reads like something from Raiders of the Lost Ark. In early 1987, looters digging at the ruins found tombs with many objects made of gold. A fairly violent disagreement among the robbers prompted the find to be reported to the local police. After the police raided the site and arrested the looters, they recovered a number of items and the area was sealed for further excavation. Enter Indiana Jones in the guise of archaeologist Walter Alva who directed the dig with the help of the Peruvian government and given the enormity of the work, hundreds of willing hands. The reason the site is considered to be one of the most important archaeological finds in the last 30 years is mainly because many of the tombs including the main tomb of “the Lord of Sipan” were found intact and undisturbed by the thieves. The modern and majestic museum is a full dramatization of the life of the lord and his royal court. All the exhibits are original pieces and each has been carefully cleaned and restored to the minutest detail. The tomb of this demagogue, considered to be the most important governor of ancient Peru some 1700 years ago, is elaborately reconstructed. This “Lord of Sipan” was 5’4” tall and died of an undetermined illness at 35-45 years of age, which was considered to be within the average life expectancy of the Moche population. He was buried in a wooden coffin with full regalia, including pectoral shields made of shell, bone and stone, several blankets adorned with ornate, gilded, copper platelets, two necklaces of very fine metalwork, feather ornaments, headdresses and three sets of earrings inlaid with turquoise amongst other finery. Most of the ornaments and jewelry were made of gold, silver, copper and semi-precious stones. Also discovered were hundreds of small clay pots with individual faces, understood to be offerings made by the lord's subjects. Buried with him were six other people: three young women, possibly wives or concubines, dressed in ceremonial clothes, two males (probably warriors), and a child of about nine or ten years of age. The remains of a third male (also possibly a warrior) were found on the roof of the burial chamber sitting in a niche overlooking the chamber. These warriors had amputated feet, as if to prevent them from leaving the tomb. In 1988, a second tomb was found and excavated near that of the Lord of Sipán. Artifacts in this second tomb are believed to be related to religion: a cup or bowl for the sacrifices, a metal crown adorned with an owl with its wings extended, and other items associated with worship of the moon. Alva concluded that the individual buried in this tomb was probably a Moche priest. Carbon dating established that the mummy in this second tomb was a contemporary of the Lord of Sipan. The third tomb found at Huaca Rajada was slightly older than the first two, but ornaments and other items found in the tomb indicated that the person buried there was of the same high rank as the first Lord of Sipán mummy. DNA analysis of the remains in this third tomb established that the individual buried was related to the Lord of Sipán via the maternal line. As a result, the archeologists named this third mummy The Old Lord of Sipán. This third tomb also contained the remains of two other people: a young woman, a likely sacrifice to accompany him to the next life; and a man with amputated feet, possibly sacrificed to be the Old Lord's guardian in the afterlife. In all, fourteen tombs have been found at Sipán. The quality and quantity of the artifacts found is amazing and as we wander from the first and most recent level, down into the pyramid and to the tombs we find ourselves simply submerged in the story that is woven throughout. With soft Peruvian music which relies heavily on the pan flute and cymbals hauntingly played, it is easy to feel the centuries being stripped away and we feel we are living “history”. We whisper as though we are nervous at disturbing the dead who lay here, we are in awe of the treasures that have been discovered and we are humbled that a culture dating back over 1700 years achieved so much. The experience far surpasses any of our previous and enjoyable visits to museums dedicated to various ruins and leaves us with a surreal sense of reality when we exit the museum and emerge into the brilliant sunlight. We have spent a little more than three hours inside this wondrous tomb and it was worthy of every second. Winston, of course, feels distinctly left out and under the watchful eye of the numerous guards patrolling the complex; we let him run on the grass to let off some steam. It is time to head north to find a place for the night but we just can’t stop talking about this totally “cool” museum.

Friday, December 27, 2013

El Brujo Archaeological Complex. Peru

Leaving Huanchaco, our drive today is only 45 mile (70 km) up the coast to a group of ruins collectively called the El Brujo Archaeological Complex which consists of three temples – Huaca Prieta, Huaca El Brujo and Huaca Cao Viejo, with Huaca Cao Viejo being the best preserved. We arrived at the complex late; due to the fact we left Huanchaco late. So, bypassing Huaca Cao where the visitor’s center is now closed, we drove towards the beach and the other huacas, mainly looking for a level area to park overnight. After driving the entire complex, we settled on a spot right on the ocean, in the shadow of Huaca El Brujo. It was quiet for the night and thanks to the total lack of electricity and a clear night, the stars were amazing. The next morning, our first stop is at El Brujo. The guided dirt path takes us up a hill and since there were no signs, we allowed Winston to come along but on leash. At the top of the path, we can see where the archaeologists have cut into the temple to display the adobe brick work of the Moche. No other excavation work has been done at this site, so after taking a few photos, we head to Huaca Prieta. Before the Spanish, before the Inca, before the Chimu and even before the Moche, there was the Prieta Culture. The prehistoric settlement was occupied from between 3100 to 1800 BC. From what archaeologists have studied, there is quite a lot now known about the Prieta people. They are accredited to being the first of the Peruvian agriculturists and in addition to fishing were responsible for the early domesticated cultivation of chili peppers and maize. From soil analysis this culture probably lived in semi-subterranean houses made with stone and clay and covered with whale bones. Unfortunately, it is infinitely more interesting to read about than to see, as due to exposure to erosion, there is nothing remaining but a large mound of stones and ash with nothing left to be restored. The views from the top of the mound though of the surrounding area make the climb worthwhile. The last huaca Cao Viejo, like El Brujo is a temple from the Moche period who reigned up until the Chimu conquered them in the seventh century AD. Looking at the huacas it is hard to imagine a once grand city. It is a challenge that greets any visitor to an archaeological site, but at the El Brujo complex, it’s even more complicated. The Prieta and Moche built their pyramids with adobe bricks, and because of erosion, particularly during El Niño years, the buildings simply washed away. Today, they look more like half-washed-away sandcastles or dirt mounds rather than the towering palaces they once were. Although the ruins don’t look like much on the outside through careful excavation and ongoing preservation work, they have found some remarkable artifacts and uncovered some amazing friezes on many of the interior walls. Due to the objects found, these temples are believed to have been primarily ceremonial burial centers rather than populated towns. However, as the top layers of the pyramids washed down onto the lower levels, they sealed them in, protecting them from the elements. This proved irresistible to grave-robbers and the Spanish colonists who founded a settlement nearby with the main goal of extracting as much of the Moche gold as possible out of Huaca El Brujo and Huaca Cao Viejo. They left huge gashes in both buildings, but fortunately they also left a lot of undiscovered riches behind. The temple wall on Cao Viejo which rises up five stories above the main ceremonial plaza is where human sacrifices were performed in front of onlookers, gladiator style. 1700-year old murals, still plainly visible, are carved into the tiers in the form of a narrative. On one tier, warriors march in a row. On another, a Moche warrior is shown leading ten naked prisoners bound together by a rope around their neck. And yet another portrays the captured soldiers being led to where their blood would be offered to the gods. In addition to the images of sacrifice, other painted and carved murals have been uncovered including mythical creatures, sailing scenes and animals. The greatest discovery at the site, however, was made by an archaeological team in 2006. In a tomb high up the side of the pyramid, researchers investigating an elaborately-painted burial chamber found the mummified remains of a fourth-century Moche ruler. What surprised the researchers was that the remains belonged to a woman. 1500 years before South America had its first female president, the Dama de Cao (or Señora de Cao) ruled from this pyramid. Over the last few years, her story has spread far and wide: a replica of her mummy has toured the world, and National Geographic ran a widely-publicized documentary about her. Yet the Dama de Cao’s resting place is a small museum located at the base of the pyramid. This museum with many of the priceless artifacts found at the sites and the burial chamber where the mummy is displayed along with the numerous objects found with it, is well worth the time spent visiting here. The artifacts are displayed in a linear date manner, with the earliest objects from Prieta shown first and then the later ones, most in perfect condition and makes understanding the advancement of the cultures easy to follow. And the final room, the burial chamber of the Dama de Cao, is far from ghoulish even though her skeleton body is the first thing you see. Very thoughtful and well laid out; the museum definitely captures the imagination. As we leave the ruins, there is a nice breeze from the ocean, but the sun is strong and after walking Winston, we continue our drive. Our goal is to get to Chiclayo which is further up the coast. We have one more set of ruins to visit before finding a surf beach to hang out for a few days.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Huaca de la Luna y de la Sol, Peru

Our final visit to the ruins around Trujillo is to the temple Huaca de la Luna. There are actually two temples set perhaps a quarter mile (500 meters) apart with remnants of a village in between and the site is collectively called Huaca de la Sol y la Luna. But right now there is major excavations going on at Huaca de Sol and in the village so visiting is restricted to the Temple of the Moon. Herve, our now regular driver, picked us up at 10am and drove us first to the ticket booth where a new museum is now built and open to visitors. The museum holds all the artifacts that have been found in the area and because work is still ongoing it gets added to almost daily. As it is there are lots of ceremonial and everyday objects that has already been assembled and very well displayed and labeled. The quality and quantity of the artifacts is quite amazing. This area was where the Mochica culture lived and thrived between 100BC and 650AD, when they were conquered by the Chimu who later built Chan Chan and their own huacas. The Moche abundantly created pottery, textiles and metalwork and thanks to being covered by sand, most of the artifacts are intact and amazingly well preserved. We spent over an hour wandering around the museum, completely in awe of the intricate work that these ancient artisans had made. From there Herve drove us to the temple where we met our guide. Unfortunately, at this time all tours are guided and there were about a dozen people in our group. Although the actual tour is in Spanish, our guide spoke English and readily translated for us the parts we did not understand. The temple is in actuality a massive tomb erected over six centuries. Every 100 years (a generation) one layer was filled in and then another layer added on top, rather like an inverse pyramid whereby the smallest layer is on the bottom. As archaeologists and hundreds of workers peeled away the layers and brushed away the sand and debris, they have slowly uncovered elaborate friezes of stylized figures throughout all the levels with only very slight variations in the pattern and color. Each layer is also riddled with rooms and niches where the dead were buried with their worldly goods and it is from these graves that most of the artifacts in the museum were found. The Moche were also quite sacrificial and in addition to animals there is evidence of prisoners being killed and buried as well. Unfortunately as more is excavated, damage inflicted by later conquerors, the Chimu, the Inca and finally the Spanish is uncovered. Our guide pointed out a wall broken and crushed which they say was done by the Spanish Conquistadors and there are some obvious signs, at least to archaeologists, of mass looting. Like Chan Chan, just the sheer size of the huaca is worth the visit but because of the quality of the preserved site, the friezes are much easier to discern than those at Chan Chan and with the colors used, much more dramatic also. The time and money being spent on excavating this area if continued and if the quality of the preservation remains as high as we saw, this site could one day rival Machu Picchu in its architectural quality and value. As at Huaca Arco Iris, there are some souvenir stands which sell pottery made with the same method as the Moche and using molds found at the site. We bought a couple of pieces for ourselves and a piece for Herve, who has been so informative and kind to us over the last few days. We enjoyed this huaca very much and give it 2 thumbs up. Herve also liked his pottery that we got for him.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Trujillo Photographs, Peru

Copy and paste the link to view photographs. Best enjoyed as a slideshow to read the story in captions. https://plus.google.com/photos/118181109521024542820/albums/5945000354218445441

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Trujillo and the Plaza de Armas, Trujillo, Peru

It is Sunday so we take a break from visiting the ruins to go into Trujillo for church. Founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1534, Trujillo was named after his birthplace in Spain. Fed by the Moche River, the fertile fruit and vegetable valley surrounding the town made the city one of the richest of the early Spanish conquests. And that became the Spaniards downfall! The people who lived here did not have to worry about life’s essentials, they were rich. So with life’s basic needs taken care of, they thought and plotted and planned. Trujillo became known as the revolutionary center of Peru and in 1820 became the first Peruvian city to declare its independence from Spanish. The people who came and settled in Trujillo were the independents: writers and poets, including Peru’s most popular Cesar Vallejo; revolutionaries and rebels flourished and the Peoples Workers Party was formed. These original members were later massacred but that did not daunt the people and many others in search of something better, something different moved to the area. At the spacious Plaza de Armas, the polished gleam of the stones was glistening when we arrived early on Sunday morning. This is the main square where the proclamation of the independence of Trujillo took place on December 29, 1820 and today it still looks shiny and new. Trujillo is the personification of old colonial glamour. The flamboyantly, colorful and wrought iron adorned buildings are grandiosely showcased around the gorgeous main plaza. This colorful assembly of old colonial buildings is a feast for the eyes. The brilliant blue with white detail of the Casa de Urquiaga which now is the Central Reserve Bank, the elegant burnt orange mansion that is the Hotel Libertador and the mustard-yellow cathedral and basilica all engage the eye. Interspersed with these large buildings are smaller ones, in an array of colors, all vying for attention. And if that was not enough, in the center of the plaza is the impressive Freedom Statue. Made from granite, marble and copper in Germany by sculptor Edmund Moeller and installed in the plaza in 1929, it is quite amazing. Consisting of three statues on a base, a man bent and cowering, a man with his arms back and then one with his arm raised, making a fist which clearly represents oppression, the struggle for freedom and finally liberation, it is topped by a heralding angel, this statue can definitely be defined as “a work of art”. But it is 9am and every Sunday at this time is the Flag-Raising Ceremony. Three flags, Peru National Flag, the flag from the state of La Libertidad and the city’s flag are raised with much pomp and circumstance. Most of the crowd is Peruvian with only a smattering of tourists and, just like we have experienced elsewhere in South America, patriotism is strong. Everyone sings and knows the words to not only the national anthem but also the State’s anthem. Following the raising of the flags, there is a parade of first military, then police and finally local schools and colleges. The military band plays stirring marching music and the crowds clap and sing the obvious well known favorites. Just like in the States we hear many people complain about the government or services or politicians, but unlike the States, these people revere their military and police and place the honor of these service members in high esteem. It is then time for mass at the cathedral, formally known as the Catedral Basilica Menor of Santa Marta. First built in 1647, the cathedral was the first place in 1662 that the Catholic Church officially supported the Independence Movement. Destroyed by an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1781 with an architectural style that can only be described as romantic Baroque. Painted a pretty mustard-yellow, it has fleur-de-lis and religious embellishments in a rich cream color and with its smooth plaster finish and slightly rounded corners, it looks slightly Mediterranean. The Cathedral was made a National Historic Monument on August 2nd 1960. Not the largest cathedral we have been in, it is beautiful inside. The segmented ceiling is painted with religious scenes very reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel culminating in a glorious cupola over the altar. This main altar was carved by the Colombian sculptor Gustavo Ignacio Cortes and is free standing so we can walk around and view it from all sides. There is also an image of La Virgen de La Paz thought to have been brought by the first Spanish immigrants, which usually is in one of the side chapels but is brought to the left side of the altar for mass. Many people revere the Virgin and both before and after mass you can see people going up and kneeling in prayer in front of her, gently touching the folds of her dress or placing a flower beside her. I love churches! Mass was simple with only a priest, by himself, no help. One person who sang – beautifully I may add, and a large congregation. After mass although it is only 11am, we are hungry and our destination is Mar Picante, touted in Lonely Planet as the place to eat. They were right. The restaurant is off the tourist track, a short cab ride from the plaza and well worth the trip. Tom had excellent mixed seafood ceviche and I ordered the Cabrito Criolle (Goat with curry type spices over rice). Tom’s plate was laden with seafood, fish, crab, scallops, squid and more and my goat over rice – both dishes was outstanding. Goat, by the way, if it is cooked correctly which is slowly and preferably simmering in a sauce so it doesn’t dry out is delicious! It was then a cab ride home to a pouting Winston who was cheered up by a sampling of my goat that we bought for him and a long walk on the beach from Tom. We chalked today up as being another one of those special days when we participated in a country’s customs, acknowledge the individuality and embrace the patriotism of the country we are visiting. Peru!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chan Chan, Peru

After the two huacas, it was time to explore Chan Chan. Chan Chan, meaning Sun-Sun is a Pre-Colombian city constructed by the Chimor from the Chimu culture. The adobe city which is the largest of its kind in the world was built around AD 850 and was the center of the Chimu Empire until its conquest by the Inca Empire in AD 1470. It was the imperial capital for the Chimu where it is reckoned around 100,000 people lived. This site was discovered by conquistador Francisco Pizarro and was originally placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1986 because of the precarious state of conservation of the earthen architecture and its vulnerability to the extreme climatic events caused by El Niño phenomenon that affects the northern coast of Peru. Since then the Peruvian government has taken extensive measures to protect, improve and conserve the site. The triangular city surrounded by walls 60 feet high, has ten individually walled citadels or palaces, clearly delineated by high thick earthen walls which form the independent units. Within these units buildings including temples, residences and storehouses are arranged around open spaces including their own reservoirs, and funeral platforms. The wealthiest lived closest to the center while most of the population lived outside and may not have been able to enter the core of the city. The visitor’s entrance is at the Tschudi Complex also now called the “Palacio Nik-An which was one of the later built of the ten palaces. Entering into the massive Ceremonial Courtyard is like stepping back through time. The courtyard is adorned along its four walls with bas-relief imagery. This is our first and it turned out only glimpse that this is a tourist facility. There is a small throne set up with props and a man dressed as a Chinu warrior. For a fee, you can dress up, sit on the bench and with the warrior posing with you, take photos. Well, we are tourists so guess what, I did it. The warrior, who spoke great English, had lived in LA and actually was a licensed plumbing contractor! dressed me up with a breast plate, arm amulets and a couple of different crowns and posed with me while Tom took photos. Tom then stood with him, while I took one of the two of them. Definitely kitschy but what the heck. Leaving the courtyard, the numerous walls throughout the city which served to block wind and absorb sunlight create a labyrinth of passages and alleys. Walking through the adobe city is transcendence in time as the life and beliefs of the Chimu is displayed for all to see. Its great walls displaying the devotion to the ocean and mythological beliefs are prominent throughout. Unlike the Inca who worshipped the sun, the Chimu worshipped the moon. While the sun fuelled the harsh desert-like environment they worked so hard to cultivate and make fertile, the Chimu knew there was a relationship between the moon and the sea – the provider of life. For this reason there were offerings to the moon. Most often these were fruit, chicha, animals and birds but at times the Chimu also offered their children in hopes they would also become a god. This close relationship to the sea can be found through the graphic storytelling on its walls. The adobe bricks are covered with a smooth surface and then decorated with friezes with intricate designs. Depicted in bas-relief are shapes of waves and aquatic life with otters, whales, sea lions, pelicans, numerous fish and shellfish. The sea itself, called Ni, was the center of all life for the Chimu as they depended on it for food. In Chimu life the whale and the otter were both sacred animals and the sea lion also played a special role as they believed the animal would accompany the dead as they passed on to the afterlife. The 12,000 artists that decorated all of the walls lived in a group of structures that were smaller than the nobles but more complex than the huts commoners lived in. We saw their huge walk-in well which is now a small lake with quite a large duck contingent and the mausoleum where the king was buried along with his wives, concubines, servants and other worldly possessions. Yes, the king was dead but the others were alive when they followed him into the afterlife. Walking back to the main courtyard and entrance, we are both astounded at the sheer size of this citadel – the capital city of the Chimu Empire. When we stopped to consider that this is only one of ten palaces that were constructed, it just takes your breath away. It is huge. And decaying, unfortunately. Unlike the Inca, who came later and used stone for their citadels, these earlier cultures relied on adobe clay bricks. Throughout the site, huge canvas covers are erected in an attempt to protect the fragile adobe from further erosion. The extended vision for Chan Chan is that it maintains its status as a cultural symbol for Peru that links the past to the present. The continued conservation and development of the archaeological site will contribute to its value and to the strengthening of Peruvian cultural identity. If only they can figure out a way to stop the darned erosion.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Huaca Del Arco Iris (Huaca Del Dragon) and Huaca Esmeralda, Peru

Since we are staying in Huanchaco for a week or so, we have decided to take in the ruins around here and Trujillo, and there are a few. We do not want to drive the motorhome around so after talking with Edwin at the hostel, he suggested hiring a car and driver who will wait for us at each site. The main reason for this is that there are confirmed reports, and plenty of them, of tourists, especially those not in groups, getting mugged and robbed at these less visited archeological ruins. But hey, you only live once! Our first stop is the museum where we purchase our ticket which is good for four sites. The museum is small but gives a great overview of the Moche and Chimu cultures. The Moche evolved from 100 – 800 AD and the Chimu Empire reigned until it was conquered by the Inca in the late 1400’s. From there, Herve, our driver and now friend and confidant took us to Huaca Del Arco Iris. Huaca means temple so Huaca Del Arco Iris translates to the Temple of the Rainbow. Also known to the locals as Huaca Del Dragon, Huaca del Arco Iris dates from the 12 century and because it was buried in sand until its discovery in the 1960’s, it is one of the best preserved of the Chimu temples. The temple is guarded by both the police and the Dept. of Cultura and Herve takes us from the car to the compound and makes sure we are inside. Upon entering the huaca, a ramp leads to the first level. Figures carved on the walls take the form of a dragon (hence its name). Another ramp smaller than the first, leads to the second level. This level has pits which were possibly used to store food. The walls are slightly pyramidal and covered with repeated rainbow designs. One entire wall has been excavated to reveal stunning multiple carvings of rainbows, dragons, and what some archaeologists believe are male and female symbols of fertility. It is also thought that this may have been a fertility temple because in many ancient cultures, the rainbow represents rain considered to be the bringer of life. The detail and design of these drawings in the adobe mud is phenomenal and highly visible, although erosion through wind, sun and rain is an ongoing problem. There is a tiny souvenir store which makes pottery from molds that were actually found at the site. We bought a beautiful plate decorated in the Moche style. We also noticed that the guards would not let anyone out of the compound until either their taxi driver or in our case Herve came to get us. At no time did we see tourists allowed to walk out unescorted, further proof that they are taking these attacks seriously. The next stop is Huaca Esmeralda. Located in the Esmeralda suburb, the actual original name is not known and Esmeralda simply comes from the farm that occupied this area. In fact, it was the local landowner who actually discovered the site in 1923 when he accidently uncovered the ruins which were buried in sand. With little archaeological study done at this site, much of the information is simply estimated based on its proximity to Chan Chan. Occupying an area of approximately 2,600 square meters, the adobe temple is thought to have been constructed during the early development and building of Chan Chan. It is also thought that originally it could have been a separate palace for a great Chimú lord of the Mansiche area. The temple is made up of two platforms and like Chan Chan; its walls are adorned with sea life and geometric figures (diamonds) all in bas relief. There is a fairly steep ramp that connects the two levels. The first one located near the entrance, was built last and its decoration consists of fish caught in fishing nets. Behind it, the second platform and the oldest has similar decoration to Tschudi Palace in Chan Chan with designs fish, sea birds, waves and nets. Due to erosion from the elements, this temple is not in as good shape as Arco Iris nor is it as well preserved and it is a little more difficult to make out some of the patterns. However, both of these small temples was worth visiting as it really gives a sense of the vast scope of the Chimu culture and helps piece together the extent of the amazing citadel at Chan Chan and the massive Chimu Empire.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Huanchaco, Peru

Huanchaco’s most defining point is the boats that symbolize this area of Peru. Local fishermen and surfers still use the same narrow reed boats, called cabillotos de tortura (little horses from reed) that the Moche used 2,000 years ago. The fisherman straddle the canoe so their legs dangle over each side, just like sitting on a horse (hence the name) and paddle, kayak-style. These fishermen are the only remaining people on the coast who construct and use this type of boat which are long and narrow with a large curved bow rising out the water. The boats themselves only last a few months because they get water-logged, so I figure they get plenty of practice in making them. Walking along the gray sand beach we see rows of the totura reed boats lined up against the sea wall, drying in the sun. Huanchaco is also a great surf spot. Over the days as we walk Winston along the beach, by late afternoon there are many surfers in the water taking advantage of the breaks from the pier. From now through the summer months of November, December and January, we are told the waves just get better and better leading up to the championships. Huanchaco’s other claim to fame is that in 2010, the Long board World Championships are held here in January, attracting many of the world’s leading surfers. Winston loves the long walks and playing in the waves but is not sure about our hostel camping spot. As I mentioned in my last blog, Edwin has a couple of giant tortoises roaming his property. Winston has never seen a tortoise before and is very unsure of what to make of them. He barks, but they ignore him. He gets as close as he dares and barks. They hunker down and put their head inside their shell. Winston gets closer and closer and sniffs them. Out pops their head and they raise up on their legs. Winston freaks out and runs away, turns and barks and the whole scenario gets replayed! Very, very funny to watch. He is also more than a little nervous about the peacocks, which are quite large and are also not scared of him. He just can’t understand why these animals don’t run away so he can chase them. Even the cat stands it ground and hisses at him! Very perplexing to the Beagle brain. We have chatted with Edwin about the ruins that are around here and Trujillo and have come up with a plan for exploration. We also want to go into the city of Trujillo and explore a little but will probably wait until Sunday and go to mass at the cathedral at the same time. All in all, Huanchaco is an interesting beach town with plenty to keep us busy whilst we are here. And if we get bored, we can watch the resident animals harass Winston!

Friday, December 13, 2013

From Lima to Huanchaco via Tortugas, Peru

Yeah, Tom’s passport arrived a week earlier than expected so we are ready to move northwards. The northern coast of Peru is supposed to have some of the best surfing around and quite a few World Heritage pre-Inca ruins. On the way out of Lima we want to stop and have our deep cell battery checked and possibly replaced. This battery runs RV electrical and Tom has not been happy with the way it is charging for quite a while. Even with our Garmin, we managed to get lost and as a result when we get there, the place is closed for lunch. When the manager returned after lunch, they tested our battery and sure enough, we do need a new one. It is now 3 o’clock and we debate whether to return to the hostel for the night but decide to try and at least get to the northern limit of Lima. We got a little further than that but not much and our first night was spent at a 24 hour gas station parking lot. It was okay for the night but we were up early the next day and decided that we would stop for the day and night at the first nice looking beach we came to. The little beach town of Tortugas fit the bill nicely. This is a very quiet village, maybe gets busy in the summer judging by all the restaurants that line the beach but right now most are closed for the season and the few that were open, closed early. We had the beach to ourselves for most of the day and got some nice walks in with Winston who has shown that he hasn’t lost his love for the ocean. He ran in and out and frolicked like a puppy. Our second day out of Lima was the longest drive day in a while as we want to get to Huanchaca. The Pan Americana highway is winding with continuous climbs into the Cordillera Blanca (this portion of the Andes) and then steep drops back to sea level. It is also what we started to call “the bread basket of Peru”. We passed by fields upon fields of potatoes, rice, broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus. – and those are just the ones we recognized. There were acres of sugar cane, that we later learned is fed to dairy cattle to make the milk sweeter and flowers, daisies are in bloom and plenty of others were budding. Spring is approaching here and everything looks and smells wonderful. Until we get close to Chimbote and then things turn “fishy”. Chimbote is Peru’s largest fishing port and with fish processing plants both before and after town you can smell it long before coming to it. Unfortunately we could not find a place to buy fish as it seems that it is all commercial facilities. Leaving “fishy” Chimbote behind, we are back in agricultural country again with ever larger fields producing a myriad of crops. It is getting late and we really want to be settled by nightfall which comes around 6pm in these parts, so we bypass the pretty city of Trujillo for the final couple of mile to Huanchaco. We will be in Huanchaco a few days so we will come back and sightsee in Trujillo at some point. Our destination is the Huanchaco Gardens, owned by Edwin; this is another hostel with a garden area large enough for several motorhomes. When we pulled in we knew it was going to work great for our stay there. The parking area for RV’s is by a nice pool, although it is still a little too chilly to swim and some great grassy areas for Winston to roll around. We do have to keep Winston on his long tether though because Edwin has a pair of peacocks sauntering around and a pair of quite large tortoises which roam free. But, we have electricity, Wi-Fi and a private room in the hostel for hot showers. This will be a good base to explore Huanchaco, Trujillo and several Moche and Chimu ruins which are very close by. We are only a short walk from a beach which has great waves breaking and Tom considers that one of the days he may rent a wetsuit and go body-boarding. So much to do, in a short period of time, but what fun.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Restaurant Astrid y Gaston and Restaurant Central, Lima, Peru

During our time in Peru, the diversity of cuisine has been astounding and the quality of restaurants exceptional; not too leave out value which leaves most tourists feeling as though they could eat out here all the time and it wouldn’t break the bank. Lima boasts of two restaurants that are on the 50 best-restaurants-in-the-world list, both are listed as serving “Novoandina” cuisine and both are in the Miraflores neighborhood. Astrid y Gaston had been on the list for 10 years and is ranked 14th and this year Restaurant Central made it on in the 50th position. So, naturally our stopover in Lima demanded that we try both of them out. As soon as Tom had made his appointment with the consulate, we were calling for reservations and as we had been warned, they are difficult to get. Central was 8 days out on their reservations and Astrid y Gaston a whopping 15 days but since we are going to be here, it is ok and we cheerfully put our name on their lists. Anyone traveling to Lima, who still wants to go after reading this, should make reservations as soon as they have their travel dates. First up is Restaurant Central. We had made reservations for 8pm and arrived a little late due to the fact our cab driver got lost! The hostess however was very polite and understanding and we were quickly shown to our table on the second level. The place is very modern, classic in design, neutral colors and well decorated with an interesting touch; Tom loved it but I found it to be just a little sterile, too austere and felt it needed a little warmth. But that is the only complaint of the evening. The owner, Virgilio Martinez’s years in leading kitchens has led to Japanese, Vietnamese, French and Italian cuisine and methods permeating the menu. But the outcome is vividly Peruvian. For starters, we ordered the Lines of Scallops and Seared Foie Gras and for our entrees, Tom ordered Singha Sea Bass and for me the Suckling Goat. Going over the extensive wine list could have been time consuming if not for their excellent sommelier. Once he knew the price range we were comfortable with, he suggested a mid range wine that was very good. The waiter was attentive but unobtrusive. He knew we wanted to share the starters and served them accordingly. Our table was thoroughly cleaned between courses of dishes, cutlery and any errant crumb or speck of food. The wine was poured at a measured and suitable rate that our glasses were never empty but the bottle lasted throughout the entire meal. Unfortunately we were too full for dessert and settled simply for espressos. At the higher end pricewise by Peruvian standards at just a little over $200.00 but we were not complaining. This restaurant is fabulous and we loved it. We would definitely go there again and recommend it to others. Two thumbs up. Next was Astrid y Gaston and again our reservations were for 8pm. This time, our taxi driver did not get lost and we were on time. We are once again in the upstairs room but unlike Central, there is nothing austere about this one. All the walls are lined floor to ceiling with built in wine racks displaying wine from all parts of the world. They obviously must have a true cellar for keeping more vintage wine at the correct temperature but we saw many waiters come and go throughout the evening pulling out various bottles. The tables were far enough apart to be private and we both loved the décor. That unfortunately, was the high point of the evening. Gastón Acurio has a fine-dining empire that now stretches from Madrid to New York, but this Miraflores original remains his signature eatery, epitomizing not just his Peruvian- Mediterranean style but also his own character. Astrid, by the way is his wife. After being seated our waiter brought the menus over and went into a complete lengthy and poetic presentation of their "El Viaje" tasting menu. First, this menu is around 24, yes that is right, 24 different courses but first of all, we were not THAT hungry and second those tasting menus always have items on them that I either don’t care for or don’t like. After rejecting him on that menu, he left us to our own devices. No explanations, no discourse, nada. When he decided to come back, we had already made up our minds about what to order. For appetizers, we decided on the Cuy Pekines (Guinea Pig, Chinese style) and the Tres Ceviche and entrees were going to be Pez de Altura (a combination fish/shellfish dish) and for me their baby goats dish (cabrito lechal). I know, I know but done right, baby goat is really delicious. We were also left to our devices to muddle through the extensive wine list, no offer for sommelier help. Our waiter brought the bread, an amazing basket of assorted bread and accompanying spreads but the explanation of them was so rapid that we missed most of it and then before we could ask, he was gone, again. And then came the biggest “faux pas” for me, only to be repeated through each course. Our table was not cleaned! Yes, the dishes were removed but we were left our entire meal with crumbs from bread, a spot of spread that had gotten spilled on the table. Now, even in lesser restaurants, waiters come around with those knife thingies that sweep up crumbs and what have you off the table. It bugged me. I also had to remind our waiter more than once to refill our wine glasses. We did order desserts and coffee. And I will say, if you come here order the chocolate volcano dessert. Delectably, decadently delicious. It was also the most expensive meal to date – just under $300.00. The food was very good but not outstanding, the restaurant is lovely but the dining experience was neither. Each dish (including the bread) was expertly prepared and plated but I would not exactly call it a fine dining experience. I have rarely been to a more pretentious restaurant. Take the Peking guinea pig for example as described on the menu: “Tired of being rejected by the world, the guinea pig decided to disguise itself as a Peking duck, dressed with rocoto and purple corn crêpe. It got a standing ovation from everyone.” Well! And I have never had such incomplete and chaotic service in what is considered to be a top restaurant. 14th in the world! I still can’t get over the table not being cleaned. Would we recommend the place? Definitely no, but you would still go because it still is THE restaurant to visit when in Lima. Would we return to Astrid y Gaston? Definitely no and given their reservation list, I 'm sure they don't care one way or another! One other thing, there were no Peruvians in either restaurant, all tourists. So, Central – yes: Astrid y Gaston – no. Or skip both and while in Miraflores go to Las Brujas de Cachiche, upscale it is, touristy, it isn’t. It’s where the locals go for fine dining.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lima and the Plaza de Armas, Lima, Peru

It is Sunday and church day and since we are in Lima, this week we will go to mass at the cathedral in the historic center at where else but the Plaza de Armas, the main square in every city. The most prevalent opinion of anyone who has visited Lima is the ever presence of fog, a mist that is called “garua”. With the exception of the month of January, day after day the city is unrelentingly steeped in the melancholy mist which interestingly enough gives the city character and well, makes it interesting. Herman Melville (who wrote Moby Dick) visited Lima in the 1800’s and later wrote, perhaps, the most famous quote about the city. “It is the strangest, saddest city thou canst see. For Lima has taken the white veil; and there is a higher horror in this whiteness of her woe”. A little melodramatic but there is no doubt that Lima wears its garua like a mantle. Had the Spanish known this when they came to Lima, they may not have built the Capital of their Andean Empire here but, they arrived in January right in the middle of summer and the only month when Lima has bright blue, sunny skies! Our taxi driver becomes very friendly when he finds out we are from San Jose, California. His son lives and works in Palo Alto, which is just a few miles from us and we spend some time discussing California before he gives us a quick narration of Lima and the buildings as we pass them. Crossing the Rio Rimac, we are in central Lima with its narrow streets and ornate, baroque style colonial churches. The Plaza de Armas or Plaza Mayor as locals call it was established in the 16th century by Francisco Pizarro and it was the center for the Spanish empire in their conquest of South America. Unfortunately, due to earthquakes and the weather, not a single original building remains from those colonial times with the exception of the gorgeous brass fountain erected in 1650. There are however some rather grand buildings which were built at the turn of the century. The Palacio de Gobierno is a baroque style building constructed in 1937 and is now the residence of Peru’s president and next to the cathedral is the colonial style, Palacio Arzobispal, the Archbishops Palace which was built in 1924 and has several Moorish-style balconies. Though it still has a Baroque style façade, the cathedral is the plaza’s newest renovation. Completely restored in 1940, it is on the same plot that Pizarro designated for the first church back in 1535. Because it has been rebuilt many times from the early baroque through the neo-classical craze of the late 18th century, the interior of the church is fascinating in its various styles, many of which can be seen in the smaller chapels leading from the nave. There are more than a dozen altars in every architectural style imaginable and there is an ornate wood choir which is in a gorgeous rococo style. The designer in me went into overdrive as I walked around the whole mélange. It was amazing in its diversity. Mass, conducted by one of the monsignors was also very formal. At one point there was so much incense being wafted around, the altar began to look as if it too was shrouded in garua! After mass, we considered lunch, but Winston might need a walk, so a decision was made to go back, eat lunch at home and take Winston to the MIraflores dog park. Oh, and because of Tom’s passport we were in Lima a total of 18 days and had one day when the sun managed to peek through!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cerro Azul and Lima, Peru

The drive further north takes us through the town of Pisco which shares its name with pisco, the national alcoholic beverage of Peru. The grapes needed for the brandy are grown in this region and there are many bodegas set up for distilling with some having tasting rooms attached. We don’t stop because really unless it is mixed into a pisco sour, we don’t like it. Straight it has a harsh, fiery taste that is much stronger than brandy and burns your throat on the way down. Not particularly pleasant. So we forgo the bodegas and keep driving. We do however appreciate the scenery which is completely the opposite of earlier. Strong volcanic soil has replaced the desert sand and vines stretch for mile after mile. Soon those vines are replaced by miles upon miles of sugar cane fields and small stands at the side of the road advertise sugar cane juice. At other artisan stands, black African figurines are offered as souvenirs in lieu of the ubiquitous baby alpaca textiles that are so prevalent in Peru. This is the area of Chincha. A testament to the Afro-Peruvian culture and a reminder of the nation’s brutal slave history. The local wine shops that we pass in town are also a testament: this time to the local wine and pisco industry. We are now on the narrow strip of highway that separates the coast from the Andes and the small villages are coming and going as we get ever closer to the capital. But it is late, and we do not want to enter Lima in the dark and try to find the hostel, so we start to look for a beach to spend the night. Cerro Azul about 90 miles (145 kms) south of Lima was perfect for parking overnight. We found a nice stretch of level sand, next to a park and close to the water. Plenty of room for Winston to run and for us to wild camp for the night. Although the park stayed active until sunset, after dark the place was deserted and quiet and we got a great night’s sleep, listening to the sound of the waves. Next morning, we were on our final leg into Lima. Our destination is the Hitchhiker Hostel, located in a barrio of Lima called Miraflores. Armed with both GPS co-ordinates and the physical address, we are hopeful that we can navigate the streets easily. And we did. The hostel is ideal but small with room for only four RV’s and during our time there, it was full most of the time. When we arrived there was a vehicle from Switzerland and only an hour after us, a couple from Texas pulled in with their rig. With power, hot showers, water and internet, we are set. Tom immediately contacts the US Embassy, Citizen Services and gets an appointment for tomorrow to start his passport renewal process. We know there will be a minimum waiting period of about two weeks, so this will be our home. A walk through Miraflores to the ocean is beautiful. An extremely upscale barrio of Lima, we were only a few blocks from the ocean and its grassy, park-lined costanera is amazing. Even more amazing are the number of people who actually walk their dogs on leash. And yet more amazing, is the city ordinance requiring dog owners to “pick up” after their pet – yes, no having to avoid dog poop although of course there is always someone! And the most astonishing thing was …. an actual off-leash dog park! Winston thought he had died and gone to beagle heaven. Not only grass to roll in, not only parks to walk in but dogs to play and run with in a secure environment. Life was good in Beagle Land and we were pretty happy too. Yes, Miraflores will serve us well.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Paracas Natural Reserve and Isla Ballestas, Peru

The next morning heading back towards the dock where boats leave for the islands, both Tom and I are struck by how much development is happening here. Fabulous large lots facing the ocean, huge condo high-rises and new hotels are all under some stage of construction. When we asked around we are told it is mostly people from Lima purchasing beach homes, so someone is earning enough surplus cash, make that lots of someones! We have forsaken a travel agent and going in a group to winging it by ourselves. And once again, it was easy. Boats leave frequently for the 3 hour long trip to the islands and it is the same price for all, so why pay an agent a cover fee. There is the price of the boat tour itself, admission from the reserve and a small port fee – in total the equivalent of about $10.00 per person. The boat first stopped just off shore so we can see the drawing called El Candelabra on the hill overlooking the Bay of Paracas, which is similar to the lines at Nazca. This giant three armed geoglyph is etched into the mountain side. More than 150 meters (480 feet) in height and 50m (160 feet) wide, it is not really known who made the geoglyph or when or why! While some archeologists connect it in some way to the Nazca Lines, others think it served as some sort of navigation aid for sailors. My favorite theory is that it is a dedication by the Paracas culture to a local species of cactus that had hallucinogenic qualities. Cactus leaves and coca leaves. Hello early drugs! From the Candelabra, it was on to the Isla Ballestas. We had been warned that the ocean is very choppy and it is. The boat we were on was uncovered and I was glad we had brought our rain jackets as without them it would have been a wet in addition to a wild ride. The Paracas Peninsula isn't as barren as it looks. The meeting of the cold Humboldt Current, rich with plankton and nutrients swept up from the ocean floor, meets the warmer tropical currents off-coast and provides feeding grounds for wildlife and superb fishing. In addition, the coastal fog known as garúa, forms in winter when the Humboldt cools down the warmer air and adds a bit of moisture to it. The huge reserve is very popular for birders and marine lovers. Birders flock to the reserve to see condors, pelicans and Inca terns amongst an array of others and those interested in the marine life can possibly see whales, dolphins, sea lions, Humboldt penguins, leatherneck turtles, hammerhead sharks and more depending on the time of year. I can only say that this was not the right time of year. Although the islands can only be viewed from the water, as no boats can land, the boats do get very close to the island as they cruise through and around the natural arches and caves, which are swarmed with sea lions. . We also caught sight of several Humboldt penguins ambling around the rocks. And yes, we did see gazillion sea birds. The most common ones are the guanay cormorant, the Peruvian booby and the Peruvian pelican which can be seen by the thousands. In fact one of the biggest concerns is to wear a hat because getting hit on the head by bird guano (droppings) is highly likely. People who visit the Paracas National Reserve in Peru's southern coastal desert, often refer to the prolific wildlife and the great scenery as the "Galapagos of Peru." All Tom and I hope is that the “real” Galapagos is more enticing. Although we enjoyed the trip overall, as Tom put it “we saw a lot of birds and a bunch of rocks covered in bird … guano”. You are right, he did not use the word “guano” and it wasn’t “droppings” either! After disembarking, we made our way back through a plethora of gift shops; stopping to buy a couple of T-shirts and gifts for the kids and then it was back to a very exuberant hound, who received a long walk and a treat for being so patient. We wanted to stat for lunch at one of the many seafood restaurants along the promenade but we also want to be on the road. Our goal is to get to one of the beaches on the southern outskirts of Lima and then be in Lima tomorrow. Tom needs to get online and make an appointment with the US Embassy to get his new passport underway. So, after walking Winston, we grabbed some fruit and snacks for the drive and were on the road.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Nazca to Paracus via Huacachina and Ica, Peru

Just on the outskirts of the town of Nazca is a viewing platform to see some of the lines, so our plan is to stop and take a look. The platform is right on the Pan American highway and easy to spot because of all the tour buses! There was a small charge to go up to the top, so armed with cameras we went up. From the top we could see the hands and the tree quite visibly. The guide also pointed out the lizard, which unfortunately the highway cuts through it and obliterates most of the figure. Too bad they did not know about the existence of the lizard before planning the highway but that’s how it goes, I guess. It was still interesting but these “lines” have got to be viewed from the air. We are now in sand desert country. Viewing the landscape for miles in all directions and we could be in the middle of the Sahara. Sand dunes, hundreds of feet high are just inches from the road and there are road crews working diligently sweeping and shoveling sand from the road – okay. Tom and I agree these guys have a career lifetime job. It may be boring and repetitive but they will be gainfully employed for as long as they want. It is in this amazing desert that we enter the town of Huacachina. This desert oasis is the sand-boarding, dune buggy Mecca of Peru. Giant, wind sculpted sand dunes as far as the eye can see fill the horizon and yes, sand-boarding is the most popular activity. The idea is to climb to the top of the dune lugging a sand board (rather similar to a snow or body board) with you, this takes the average person about 30 minutes to scramble up the sand, then once at the top lie on the board and careen to the bottom, which takes about 2 minutes. Needless to say, neither Tom nor I tried it but we have heard it is tremendous fun, the downhill part not the climbing. We were tempted to try a little sand buggying but really want to be in Paracus by dark so we left the sand covered streets of Huacachina and continued driving. Just a little north of Huacachina is the fairly large town of Ica. This is known as the wine growing capital of Peru. Unfortunately we have been spoiled with Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile wines. Peruvian wine is slightly on the sweeter side and I really do not like sweet wine. So, while usually wine growing regions attract me, Ica did not although the green agriculture landscape made a welcome change from all the sand we had experienced. Also, Ica suffered extensive damage in 2007 from a massive earthquake that rocked the region and unfortunately Ica has not had much rebuilt since then. The main square is replanted but the cathedral though still standing is condemned and many other once beautiful colonial buildings stand empty and derelict. Maybe one day it will return to being a city to visit but right now it seems as though most tourists stay in Huacachina or keep moving. We are keeping moving. Our destination is El Chaco on the Paracus Peninsula and we had been told we could safely park at the yacht harbor. I think we either had the wrong co-ordinates or the yacht harbor has sold as we were told that parking is no longer allowed. However, we ran into another couple who were overlanding who said they stayed there so who knows. What we did find is a nice stretch of beach at the end of a long road south of town that was perfect. No-one bothered us, Winston could run and play to his hearts content and we watched an amazing sunset. A good end to a long drive day and an early night as tomorrow we want to visit the island reserve of Paracus.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Nazca Lines, Peru

Copy and paste the following for link to photographs of the Nazca Lines. View as a slidshow if you want to see the captions and story. Enjoy https://plus.google.com/photos/118181109521024542820/albums/5936509814071171601