The Hassan's

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Safely out of Lima once again we headed north on the Pan American Highway for Trujillo in northern Peru. Tremendous contrast to the trip to the south as the highway totally bordered the Pacific Coast and reminded one greatly of the Pacific Coast Highway of California. There are tremendous beaches, small coastal islands and sheer rocky cliffs for about two hundred miles north of Lima. The contrast is that to the east of the highway lies an absolutely barren desert with massive dunes. It was here that we saw something we have never encountered anywhere else. "Flowing" down the sides of the dunes are streams of moving sand that cascade into small "waterfalls" of the extremely fine sand. It must be terribly wicked outside whenever the winds take to triggering sandstorms. At great intervals there were men with shovels and brooms who swept the roadway.

It was in this region that existed two of the great pre-Incan civilizations. The Moche, who flourished in the river oasis valleys between 100 and 700 AD, they were displaced by the Chimu who ruled a thousand miles of coastline between 1100 AD and their annexation by the Inca in 1471. The river valleys still shelter the only people you will see between Lima and Trujillo. The farming and fishing are the only two industries that flourish in the area.

Trujillo remains a very Spanish city. It is Peru's second city with a population over a million  but it is not at all like Lima. The center of Trujillo is still dominated by a vast number of 17th and 18th century homes of the nobility. Some have been converted into hotels, such as the one we stayed in and others have been preserved by the banks who occupy part of the building and open the other part for visitors. Eighteen major churches are inside the old city walls and they are quite impressive. Each of them once had a convent attached but only two of them still function as such, the others have been converted to schools. Each afternoon between 1 and 4 the streets become empty as the traditional rest is observed. Our hotel occupied a very enviable and unique position. The master plan is to convert one of the major streets to a walking street but at the moment only one block has made the transition and that was the block on which our hotel was located. This made for a very peaceful location. The only thing our hotel lacked was a Dog - forgot to mention the wonderful sheep dog at the hotel in Nazca. Misnomered "Cujo" he was a favorite of all the staff and guests and when we left he rode with us in the van to the bus station. Every hotel should have a dog.

We had a guide in Trujillo named Pedro, a sixty six year old ex-librarian, who was a great source of information. Little is actually known of the Moche and Chimu culture as they left no written records and for the most part were forgotten by the time the Spanish established control in the area. Thus much is left to conjecture and Pedro had been working on his own theories for a long time. Will be interested in comparing some of his ideas with the more academic work when we get back.

The Pyramid of the Sun, a Moche rectangular structure, is ten miles outside Trujillo. This was the largest man-made structure of the Western Hemisphere. It was composed of 150 million adobe bricks which was the only material available and used in this area for building the homes, palaces and monuments. The Pyramid survived from 200-300AD fairly intact until the Spanish in the 17th century diverted the river and nearly washed it away entirely. This was undertaken in their vain search for gold in the Pyramid.

A mile across the valley sits the Temple of the Moon which was the Moche spiritual site. A three tiered building it was smaller than the Pyramid of the Sun but survived much more intact. The Spanish couldn't get the river up the hill we guess. Great clay friezes of animals and geometric representations retain the bright colors used to decorate them nearly 1500 years ago. Much work is being done on this site, while the Sun Pyramid has been abandoned to the elements.

Outside of Trujillo is Chan Chan. The Chimu capital was the greatest city of the Western Hemisphere and was estimated to have had a population of 300,000 when it fell to the Incans in 1471. The largest adobe city ever constructed it occupied an area of at least 15 square miles. It remains as it was though the ravages of time and the local populace have taken a great toll. El Niño is not a recent occurrence but one that has periodically struck the coast of Peru. When the torrential rains came it took a great toll on these basically mud buildings. Preservation has maintained one of nine palace compounds but most of the others lie in desolation and ruin. The local farmers and recent immigrants to the area continue to cart away the intact bricks to build simple shelters. The area is impressive not so much for what remains but for the sheer scale of what was once there. It is literally a testament of how an Empire can be reduced to dust by time and history. There appears to be no significant way of preserving Chan Chan and it is only a matter of time before all but a very small part is totally reclaimed by the elements. Truly giving proof to the concept of "see it before it is gone".

This afternoon we head back to Lima on the "super bus". Tomorrow is a holiday in Peru that celebrates the last battle for Independence from Spain. Unsure what we will find in Miraflores but Lois is hoping that at least some of the shops are still going to be open. One more trip to the Hard Rock Cafe, got to replace the pictures that were in the lost camera. All should go well and we'll be back in the USA on Saturday.

Take Care


© Copyright 1999 Lois and John Hassan

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