The Gringos Get a History Lesson...and a Sunburn

It’s the weekend here in Trujillo, but just because we didn’t have class at El Cultural today does not mean it wasn’t an eventful day. Today we set out on a field trip with our program director Sergio to see two pre-Inca archaeological sites in Trujillo located on the outskirts of the city: La Huaca del Sol y de la Luna (Temple of the Sun and the Moon), and Chan Chan.  

As we got off the bus at La Huaca del Sol y la Luna, we found ourselves treading on an unfamiliar terrain. Much of the rural areas of Perú we had seen so far had been amazing, like the green mountains and valleys of Cusco, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu. This time however, we were walking in a hot desert-like area, and the mountains surrounding us lacked the emerald green quality that we were familiar with.

After getting a little bit more acquainted with the history of this civilization - thanks to the galleries in the Museo Huacas de Moche - we began our tour of La Huaca de la Luna. This civilization was inhabited not by the Inca, but rather the Moche people. From the information during the tour, we learned that around 100 AD they constructed two temples or huacas facing each other, del Sol y de la Luna.

As we toured through the ruins of the ancient temple, we learned that the Moche people believed that the temple itself is born and dies, and when it dies it must be buried, and in its place a new huaca must be erected (or born). This process occurred five times between 100-650 AD at La Huaca de la Luna, producing five unique temples layered upon each other. The artwork on the walls of the huaca is truly amazing, especially the seven-layer façade on the northern side of the huaca depicting guerreros (warriors), priests, animal gods, and mythical creatures.

The Moche used La Huaca de la Luna as a religious temple where they would make offerings to the gods, which often were in the form of human sacrifices. These sacrifices were only for guerrero or warrior purposes until 550-650 AD where sacrifices were made to appease the gods, as there were terrible and relentless storms that plagued the area (most likely caused by the phenomenon of El Niño).

After taking in all the rich culture and history at La Huaca de la Luna, we made our way down the coast to the city of Chan Chan. We arrived at the city, located in desert terrain like La Huaca, and were greeted by its humongous walls that fortified the city. The city of Chan Chan was also another pre-Incan civilization: the Chimu people lived between the 9th and 15th century. As we toured around the city’s interior, we were shocked and surprised at every turn. The decorative designs along the walls and hallways were remarkable, and the archeologists did an excellent job preserving the artwork.

This city contained something rather unexpected; an oasis. At the far end of the city, we reached an area of green grass and other vegetation that according to our tour guide was once full of water. It was here that the Chimu people got their water and materials for baskets and rooftops, like the Inea plant. Chan Chan was strange to me, as it was a city surrounded by sand and dirt, but fertile within. For me, it was definitely one of the most unique archeological sites we had seen in Perú.

We finished our day with an excellent lunch by the beaches of Huanchaco followed by a bit of much needed down time on the beach. Those who were brave enough decided to go swimming in the cold Pacific waters, while others lounged, resting their tired legs from a long day of sightseeing. We relaxed and took in the summer sun, constantly reminding ourselves of the inevitable winter waiting in Iowa, and then returned back home to our families for the evening.

Looking at the well-preserved intricate wall designs, we could tell that the people possessed artistic qualities.
Luther students at Huanchaco Beach (Trujillo, Peru) - Photo: David Thompson