#potd – Huanchaco for sunsets, surf and pre-Inca cultures

#Huanchaco, a coastal town some 10km north-west of the large northern Peru city of #Trujillo, was unknown to us until we arrived there for a week, and a pretty decent place it turned out to be. In fact it was famous for several things – it’s sunsets and surf; the ancient fishing craft ‘caballitos de totora‘ on the beach; the second oldest catholic church in Peru built by the Spanish, as ever sitting on high ground and threatening the town & people below (nice views up there, didn’t go in of course); and its links to pre-Inca cultures in the region going back 2000+ years – Chan Chan the one time capital of the Chimu culture is located between Huanchaco and Trujillo.

We’d been a bit nervous coming up here to north Peru because of the devastating rains, flash floods & mudslides that had struck the region in mid-March. Across Peru over 200 died and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The centre of Trujillo was flooded at least six times, a working class district (or shanty town) El Porvenir was almost washed away, and bridges across rivers on roads heading south were destroyed leaving the north coast cut off from Lima and the south – which wasn’t sorted until late April. We certainly didn’t want to be disaster tourists and nor did we want to get in the way! However research indicated things had improved, but just in case we opted to stay initially outside Trujillo in Huanchaco. Which turned out to be fine, whilst in Trujillo the most obvious hangover from the floods in the central area was the dried mud/dust and some remaining sandbags.

So Huanchaco turned out to be a bit of a surfer’s centre. Fortunately it was low season and most surfers were locals. Apart from a bit of body-surfing in the placid Med, we are novice surfers, so it was fun to kick back on the beaches and watch some pretty good surfing going on. We soon learnt that Hunachaco had a great surf breaking mainly left to right (as viewed from the beach) sometimes for 100m or more, with waves upto 3m high. Some of the surfers started way out with impressive skill, even as darkness fell. This surf & the coastal envirnment/history is the reason Hunachaco has been named a World Surfing Reserve by the Save the Waves Coalition.

Moche Huaca de Luna outer wall

On the pre-Inca cultures front we checked out Trujillo’s Museo de Arqueologia y Antropologia. Free entry, and unsurprisingly all in spanish, this focused on the development of indigenous cultures in the northern coastal areas of what is now Peru, going back perhaps 5000 years, although evidence indicates the presence of human activity upto 15000 years ago. Most of the info available is based on archeological digs & finds, and the Peruvian state makes little investment in this, so its only in recent years that much has come to light. Plus given the fact there are no pre-Spanish written records, and the Spanish wiped out some 90% of the indigenous peoples pretty fast making oral history disappear, many of the ‘facts’ are a little sketchy and debateable. However significant finds have come to light providing good evidence of the cultures over the last 2000 years, and particularly the Moche, or Mochica (approx 300-950AD) and Chimu (approx 1050-1470AD).

wall of the massive Chan Chan city

So we took a tour with a decent english-speaking guide to the Huacas del Moche (the Huacas, or temples, of the sun & moon), located south of Trujillo near the river Moche; and also to the Chimu city of Chan Chan, located between Trujillo & Huanchaco. Despite the damage done by the Incas & Spanish & gravediggers/treasure hunters over the years, as well as the environmental damage of floods, earthquakes and a generally hot arid climate, both sites are pretty impressive. There is clear evidence of cultures that had continually developed, progressively urbanised themselves, socially organised, and planned for food production/storage and ways in which to utilise scarce water resources.

wall painting inside Huaca de Luna

Religious beliefs were clearly important too, based on a relationship with nature & the elements, with the importance & power of priests or shamens reflected in their senior hierarchical roles. Both the Moche & Chimu expanded north & south from around here to control much of the northern Peru coastal area down towards Lima. It was interesting to note that locals today place a much greater importance (and pride) on local cultures such as the Moche & Chimu that they do on the ‘foreign invaders’ the Inca. So Chan Chan is lauded as evidence that local peoples here were quite capable to creating urban centres holding upto 40-50000 people, before the Inca came along and showed them how to do it! When the Inca did defeat the Chimu they took away their leaders and skilled craftspeople, and many others, and the city became uninhabited by the time the next invaders arrived from Spain.

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