From Chiclayo, I headed further down the coast to Trujillo, choosing to stay in the beach town of Huanchaco a little outside of the city. Huanchaco was a main port throughout the pre-Columbian and colonial eras, and is the birthplace of the ‘caballito de totora’, a reed fishing boat that some argue represents an early form of surfboard. During high season, the town is full of surfer dudes, and there were still some stragglers when I was there. One afternoon as I sat on the beach looking out into the ocean, I was approached by one of the surf school teachers:
“No gracias, prefiero la cultura!”
He asked me if I was German. Apparently, German girls always say no right away when he tries to approach them.
The culture that I preferred over doggy paddling in the cold water consisted of more adobe ruins. Several bus rides out of Trujillo, I found the remains of the Moche capital of Cerro Blanco. The walls of Huaca de la Luna, the ‘shrine of the moon’, are decorated with colourful murals of spiders and snakes, victors and losers, and various deities. One image is that of the hairless dog, a creature not unlike the thestral that draws the Hogwarts carriages in Harry Potter, still to be found lying around the ruins today. In fact there are five temples, one on top of the other, each bigger than the last. The Moche would reconstruct the pyramid every 100 years or so, in an almost exact replica of the previous version. This is why the walls of the older buildings, protected under the new constructions, have been so well preserved. The bricks themselves each bear markings that refer to the families who contributed to the construction of this important spiritual site.
Towards the end of the Moche era, the priests, who had ruled thanks to their apparent ability to commune with and appease the gods, lost their political power when an unusually strong and long-lasting El Niño effect showed them to be powerless. Control shifted from the religious centre of Huaca de la Luna to the administrative centre of Huaca del Sol, which was unfortunately largely destroyed and looted by the Spanish in the 1600s. Climate change, resulting in both a loss of faith and competition over scarce resources, eventually caused the demise of the Moche culture.
Out of the Moche rose the Chimú, whose capital Chan Chan lies between Huanchaco and Trujillo. There is a small museum by the road and then for the actual ruins you follow a dirt road out into the middle of the desert. As I entered the complex, a Chimú warrior attacked me:
“English? Follow the fishes!”
So follow the fishes I did. They led me through a labyrinth of long corridors that opened out onto big plazas. The walls of the city are covered in intricate carvings of warriors, birds, and, yes, fish. Built around 850 AD and lasting until conquest by the Incas in 1470, Chan Chan is the largest adobe city in the world.