“Tsamina mina eh eh
Waka Waka eh eh
Tsamina mina zangalewa
This time for Africa,”
“Curse you, Shakira!” I bellowed in my mind, “I smite you, your catchy song and unhumanly elastic hips!”
Another day in Peru, another temple. Those who have been wowed by the insanely puzzle-like brickwork of any one of Peru’s ridiculously beautiful Incan structures know what the country has in store for lovers of ancient history. But many don’t know that a good handful of other cultures roamed before Machu Picchu was a single brick twinkling in a stonemason’s eye. Pre-Incan cultures left their mark through pottery, elaborate burial rituals and, importantly, mud-pyramid structures called huacas.
There is no real reason why one would readily associate Shakira with ancient Peruvian ruins. Except perhaps for the tenuous connection my brain made: that huaca is pronounced exactly as per the Colombian human rubber band’s 2010 World Cup anthem. And baby, I can tell you that her song may as well have been cemented into my grey matter, I sang it so much.
I visited several huacas – and hope that my renditions of Shakira’s offerings to latino pop culture only slightly diminished my being super cultured.
HUACA LAS VENTANAS and HUACA DEL ORO
The Huaca las Ventanas, or Window Temple, is in Lambayeque province’s Bosque de Pómac (Pómac Forest). Both structures were main centres of north Peru’s Sicán culture, and held the mausoleums of nobility including the Señor del Sicán, whose remains can now be visited in nearby Ferreñafe. As is historically typical given the gold-rush tendency of colonial times, the huacas were atrociously sacked upon rediscovery – although some gold was finally nabbed by Lima for its Museo del Oro de Perú. While the Huaca las Ventanas is currently in excavation, the nearby Huaca del Oro (Gold Temple) seems to still be waiting her turn.
Upon arrival in Pómac Forest, you’ll be given an introduction to the history of the area and walks available before setting off. We got splendidly lost – an odd and really quite impossible achievement given that it’s an almost straight 5km road to the Huacas – but made it in the end, lugging with us several kilograms of accumulated dust and sweat.
There, between the two Huacas, we arrived hungry and were pleased beyond belief to discover a woman providing lunch options for tourists and the taxi drivers for those not wishing to get impossibly lost on a straight road.
She offered us fried cachanga breads alongside ceviche, Peru’s signature raw seafood dish, which – as we were in such a spectacularly unlikely place to find it – we ate with a gusto usually seen amongst poorly-fed puppies. Except for one of us (for whom it was too spectacularly unlikely a place to find raw fish) who settled for the poppadum-like cachanga instead.
HUACA DE LA LUNA and HUACA DEL SOL
A short bus ride from downtown Trujillo lie the ruins of the sea-faring Mochica people. Separated by a large expanse of land (where the village would have lain), these second Shakira-singing causing huacas are multi-level pyramid structures built over time and time again in a manner believed to have marked the ends of important eras.
The Huaca del Sol (Sun Temple) was used for administrating all the logistics of being an ancient superpower, whereas the Huaca de la Luna (Moon Temple) was constructed to house colourful priestly activities including human sacrifice. Unlike a Mochica regular Joe who wasn’t allowed access unless he was called upon to play the major part in a ritual killing, the Huaca de la Luna has been open to the public for many years, and daily tours take place.
Sculptured, geometric reliefs carved all throughout the temple (particularly on the grand outer wall) represent the warriors and animal-gods of the age.
The Huaca del Sol (Sun Temple) is clearly visible from the Luna’s viewing decks, though has not yet been sufficiently excavated, as governmental money is scarce for such projects.
The Lima and Huari people made use of this site in what is now residential Miraflores. Located close to the sea in costal Lima, our last huaca is thought to have played a role in maintaining a good relationship with the ocean and in praying for food. As usual, the gods seem to have been particularly entertained and abnormally appeased by human sacrifice – as seen in the site’s remains of ritual burials, especially of young women.
Some of the activities of the ancient inhabitants of this site are evidenced by models, to simultaneously freaky, twee and realistic effect.
But Huaca Pucllana’s construction style is what I found most interesting. Stacks of adobe (mud) bricks were built upon as if books on a bookcase, a method which is as attractive as it is highly intelligent. The use of mud bricks in this way was developed to protect the structure from the effects of earthquakes: during tremors, the blocks would move slightly, absorbing shock and making it less likely that the building would collapse.
As an additional, sweet sort of touch, a visit to Huaca Pucllana includes a small stroll through a garden and mini-zoo on the site. Everything is edible: the animals and plants on show represent the major components of the diet of ancient Peruvians. But get ready to feel a pang at the heart strings; as alongside corn, potatoes and beans you’ll find I-just-want-to-squeeze-you cute llamas and guinea pigs.
So, while I was very pleased indeed that no one around me knew Shakira was on a continual loop in my brain, the ancient history nerd inside of me was even happier to get a better look at Peru’s cultural heritage. While these huacas do lack big cousin Machu Picchu’s romantic jungle location and general “I-cannot-believe-I’m-actually-here” vibrations, they gain points from being lesser known, and therefore slightly off the Cuzco beaten track. Add them to your Peruvian wanderings.
Oh, and do bring along Shakira if you’re so inclined.