Bus, Dust and Ruins

Trujillo, Peru

I think the desert would have been just as bland if we weren’t in our 34th hour of traveling. We’re in the colonial contradiction of a town of Trujillo, named after Francisco Pizarro’s hometown of the similarly barren Extremadura of Spain, after having left the Galápagos yesterday. Here’s our flight plan:

11/5 – 07:00 Taxi to the bus station

07:30 Bus to the northern port of Santa Cruz

08:40 Ferry to Baltra Island

08:50 Bus to the airport

10:45 Plane to Guayaquil

19:50 Bus to Piura, Perú

11/6 – 09:30 Bus to Trujillo

16:20 Arrive in Trujillo.


We are good buddies and keep each others’ spirits up, so it’s not all that bad. The low point definitely was lying on the cement outside the Ecuadorian immigration office from 1am until the national registry  goes back on-line at 3am. We couldn’t just get back on the bus because we would’ve lost our spot in line. So we sat there for a few hours with our valuables.

Riding through Northern Perú we passed by scattered farming settlements and shantytowns, all gratified with political advertisements. An Ecuadorian at the immigration office admitted she was bias, but said Ecuador is much more beautiful than Perú. We agree so far. Of the three geographical regions (Coast, Mountains, Jungle), the desert coast really gets the short end of the stick.

We immediately got a taxi in Trujillo to take us to the hostal we’ve picked out of the Lonely Planet. He tells us that one is undesirable and drops us off a block away from the bus station for the same fare. It’s lovely the shower has warm water after the trek!

Trujillo was founded by the Spanish one their way to conquer the Incas, but happens to be located by the Moche River, named after one of the many pre-Colombian tribes of the area. The Moche inhabited the valley from ~0 BCE to ~800 BCE and then nobody knows what happened to them. They left all their junk, however, so Shay and I got to see Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol – the ruins of their capital city. A short bus ride from the city, we arrive at the monuments, which look like lumps of sand flanking a dustbowl under a conical peak. Huaca del Sol has 11 levels of a pyramid-like shape, is the largest pre-Colombian structure in Perú, and was once the Moche’s administrative building. Huaca de la Luna was their great temple; it is a five-leveled, inverted pyramid where they would build on to the temple and fill in the level below, moving beyond their past. We, on the other hand, really enjoyed seeing it all!

As old as the temple (or at least they look like it), Peruvian hairless dogs roam about the sand before the monument. We climb to the fourth level, below the peak, which is one of the Moche’s sacred deities. The temple is made of mud bricks, and some of them still have imprints of the family crests of those who donated them to the cause. Archeologists have dug up the older levels and our guide tells us how the art style changed across the generations. They painted faces with jaguar teeth and arms that end with snakes, bordered with a pattern of manta rays, and the paint is still bright red and yellow. On the outside layers, each level has a pattern: soldiers marching victorious with prisoners, dancing noblemen, the “Spider Decapitator” deity, ocean sea-goddess, two-headed cat, condor guy, and the mountain deity. Standing on the top overlooking the dust bowl that once housed 200,000 Moche, I am annoyed by the American who won’t turn off his iPod. But also amazed at the permanence of the monument.

The tour brought us to a touristy restaurant, but always trying to stick to our budget we told the waiter it was too expensive for us and we walked up the street to a shop where I had to argue to get the price it said on the menu, pressure the materdeis for the correct change, and walk off the greasy noodles. But we saved 8 soles… so that’s about $2.23 savings!

After the Moche disappeared, the Chimú occupied the valley up until the Incas bullied them into joining up. They left behind Chan Chan, the largest clay city in the world, according to a T-shirt in the gift shop. Also dry and dusty, Chan Chan looks like the Minotaur’s Labrynth. We stopped by their temple, Huaca Arco Iris (Rainbow or Dragon Monument, named for the Dragon-like creatures making love under a rainbow that stamp the outside, symbolizing fertility), then walk about the worn walls. In this palace the main square is decorated with a pattern of otters. Chan Chan in total is still 14 square kilometers, and the palace we explore has hundreds of rooms. At the end are a mass grave and a sacred oasis that still draws migratory birds. And migratory tourists.

The only English-speakers in our group (other than the plugged-in Yankee), so we enjoyed our privacy to crack jokes and laugh and feel as though we had our private observations of the ancient people. We went to the beach nearby and watched both surfers and tourists ride in the traditional rafts. I’m glad we came here before Macchu Picchu and got a sandy warm-up, but it’s warm and the food is good, and we are still cherishing our time together, even if it’s been 24/7 for almost a month now. Right now we’re  on the last legs of the run:

11/7 – 22:00 Bus Trujillo to Lima (Leather seats!)

11/8 – 15:00 Bus to Cuzco (About 22hrs.)


After all the busses and their in-trip movies (South America is where all the bad movies go to die), a sandy, primitive spot on the beach sounds sublime anyway.