January 12, 2015
Tourism doesn’t wear well on me. I mean that literally. In Sitka I am used to seeing people off of Holland America ships wearing day glow dots with the line’s logo and a big number, indicating the bus they assign you to. I am not normally a tour type of guy but when you’re in a place for only a few hours, there are places you want to see and transportation between them is not direct we decided to opt for a tour. I got a green day glow sticker with the number 10. By the time I got to our first stop it was falling off and the “Location Director” stuck it back on. At the next stop I lost it completely so I got a new one. At the next stop it fell off again. As I said, tourism does not wear well on me, it keeps falling off. It doesn’t stick.
Salaverry is the port for Trujillo, a fine colonial town founded by Pizarro. We didn’t go there. Instead we went to the Huaca Dragon (Dragon Temple), Chan Chan, and the Huanchaco beach to see the reed boats. All three sites relate to the Chimu Nation, a people who pre-dated the Inca and were conquered by them. Chan Chan was called, by a Peruvian friend, “The Poor Man’s Machu Picchu.” It is a ruin, the world’s largest adobe city, covering about 20 square kilometers. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site made from adobe bricks with different wall carvings, fish, nets, sea otters, seabirds and moons. It’s located near the beach. It had large cisterns holding water. According to one book the Inca defeated the Chimu by destroying aqueducts and then waiting. Just outside Chan Chan there is a Catholic Chapel built by the conquistadores as a way of claiming this pagan site that they didn’t quite understand as theirs.
Huaca Dragon is smaller but with more intricate carvings. It sits between the beach and mountains guarding the approach to Chan Chan. In this arid area the bricks at both sites have held up over hundreds of years, although each time it rains a bit of the ruin melts away. Some of the areas are protected by sheds and archeologists are trying to piece the sites together. The Chimu had no written language so archeologists are trying to figure the culture by interpreting pottery, ceramics and carvings. They believed the Chimu worshiped the moon, not, as the Inca did, the sun. The Chimo believed that there were three parallel worlds, the world where they lived, the underworld with the dead, and the sky with gods. Their Lords were, as best I can tell, the result of copulation between reptiles (snakes) and humans. The guide repeated this several times. The Dragon temple carvings were thought, by the Spanish, to be dragons but they may be representations of this act of procreation.
The reed boats are on a beach near Chin Chin. They’re almost like sea horses, bundles of reeds tightly tied together with a big prow that looks a little like a horse’s head. Fishermen ride them like horses. They paddle them out through the surf to set nets in the early morning and then ride them in almost like surfboards, with which they now compete for space on the beach. At noon they repeat the process to bring in their catch. The boats last about 3 months and then need to be replaced with fresh reeds. Some of the current boat builders cheat and put Styrofoam at the core of the vessel. The design of the boats (minus Styrofoam) dates back 2000 years to the Moche civilization that predated the Chimu. The boats were used by the Chimu and are still used by present day Peruvians.
The tour brochures call the ports “uninteresting.” I love them with bulk carriers on each side of us, one dealing with grain the other copper ore. The port of Salaverry is also full of fishing boats that work the rich waters of the Humboldt Current. The current brings cold water up from the Antarctic (it also brought trade goods up from Chile and southern Peru.) Because of this cold current the air and water temperatures drop dramatically between Manta, Ecuador and Salaverry, Peru. We are just a few degrees south of the equator and the water temperature is 19 degrees C, or only about 70 F. This cold water brings an abundance of sea life. From the ship we see whales, dolphins, sea birds and lots of fishing craft. Somewhere between Manta and Salaverry the Humboldt Current meets a warm equatorial current, the combined currents swing west somewhat south of the equator creating part of the South Pacific Conveyer. Our captain gave a brief talk about this at sea yesterday. It was this conveyer that Thor Heyerdahl rode in Kon-Tiki as he sailed from South America to Polynesia.
The drive to and from the “attractions” is as interesting as visiting the attractions themselves. There are a lot of shanty towns. Our guide tells us they are filled with mountain people, refugees who fled the Shining Path Maoist insurrection. The insurrection is over but the people remain. Along the roads we see tuk tuks, little motorized rickshaws. I did a double take, however, when we passed the “Estrella de David” (Star of David) gas station, all decked out in the blue and white of the Israeli Flag. I would love to know the story behind that. All Google told me was that it was a good place to get motorcycle parts.