Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Trujillo and Cajamarca

For Ricardo's last remaining days we took yet another long and windy bus ride back down to the coastal city of Trujillo, Peru's third largest. It has an attractive and well restored historic core in its own right, one again revolving around a Plaza de Armas, but this was not our primary motivation for visiting. We were in search of more ruins from different ancient civilizations we hadn't seen yet, namely the Chimu and Moche cultures.

Plaza de Armas, Trujillo

Trujillo cathedral

Trujillo's historic centre.

The Chimu were the newer of the two, building their capital city, Chan Chan, just a few km outside of Trujillo. The Chimu began around the year 900 and were conquered by the Incas just 50 years before the Spanish arrived. Not to be outdone by other ruins in Peru, Chan Chan can claim to have been the largest pre-Columbian city in South America and the largest adobe city in the world. It is in very rough shape now with most of the former city just mounds of mud brick rubble.
One of the unique features of Chan Chan was that each ruler built his own walled palace complex within the central core of the city. These walled off areas were mini cities in themselves complete with large courtyards, temples, water reservoirs, storage rooms, residences, etc. There are 9 of these complexes, but only 1 has been restored enough for tourists to visit. There is one main entrance through a very high and thick wall (11m and 5m respectively) and from there you follow a set but limited path. There isn't a whole lot to see and we moved through quickly. The Chimu seem to have loved sea-themed decor with fish, pelican and fishnet symbols predominating.

Wandering through Chan Chan

One of the courtyards

Fish and pelicans

After a quick lunch in town we went to visit the Huacas del Sol y Luna just outside of the city on the opposite side of Trujillo. The huacas are temples built by the Moche, a relatively small culture that lasted from about 100-700 AD along the northern coast of Peru. What it lacked in widespread influence it made up for in ambition, having built the largest single adobe structure in the pre-Colombian Americas in the Huaca del Sol. It was most likely administrative in nature and is significantly destroyed and currently off-limits to visitors as archaeologists continue to study the site. 500m away and on the other side of where faint traces show the Moche capital city to have been, is the Huaca de la Luna. This is what we visited and how it isn't a Unesco site as one of the most interesting ruins in Peru is beyond me. It is smaller but still massive and much better restored. This was the religious and ceremonial temple and where you learn that the Moche must've been a little nuts. Human sacrifice was a very important part of functions at the temple and the walls were decorated with murals of creepy-looking Gods, prisoners and symbols. It must have been quite terrifying back in the day. It was a really cool temple actually and although you have to enter with a guided tour, we quickly ditched and ran around on our own. It is interesting to note that while there aren't a lot of info signs at these ruins, since we left the Incan ruins and the southern Peruvian tourist circuit there have at least been some which only strengthens my belief that there is a tourist guide mafia or some kind of conspiracy going on in Cusco.

All that is left of the huge Huaca del Sol

Huaca de la Luna
Checking out the murals

Huge mural section on an external wall

Back in town that evening we had to say goodbye to Ricardo. He saved us the trouble of a teary farewell by giving us a panicked one instead. Somehow during the day he lost his ID and we were running around all over town trying to find it before he had to catch his overnight bus to Lima. We never found it but he managed to get home by getting special papers at the Brazil embassy in the morning before catching his flight in the afternoon. It's every traveler's nightmare and I hope to never go through that level of stress. I have serious doubts about the Canadian embassy being so helpful or efficient...
Back on our own for the first time in a month, the following morning Sasha and I were back on another bus winding our way up into the mountains again to the small colonial town of Cajamarca. I wish I could say I had a good experience in Cajamarca but I must've eaten something bad in Trujillo because I was feeling terrible and weak by the time we got there and went straight to bed. Due to limitations in onward transport we also ended up with only 24 hours in Cajamarca and had to leave the next evening on a night bus.
We did spend one quick afternoon in the colonial centre though and found it to be very clean, quiet and relaxing. Cajamarca is worth a visit but far enough off the main tourist trail that it is still hassle-free and we didn't see many non-Peruvian visitors. The Plaza de Armas has 2 pretty cathedrals with nice facades and there are nice views over the city and valley from a hilltop nearby. The most significant event to happen in Cajamarca was the defeat of the Incan empire. It was here that the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa, was captured, offered his huge ransom of gold and silver and later executed by the Spanish conquistadors. There is only one Incan structure remaining in town and that is the room claimed to be where Atahualpa was held for ransom. There are also a number of ruins and things to do (hot springs) in the valley around town but we had neither the time or energy to venture out that far.

Plaza de Armas, Cajamarca
The Incan "ransom room"

Finely carved facade of the Iglesia Belen. 

The beautiful core

View over Cajamarca from Santa Apolonia hill.



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