Posted by: Jessie Kwak | October 8, 2009

Chan Chan

The majority of the Peruvian coast near Trujillo is a desert but for what irrigation can eke out of the soil. Nothing grows on its own, not sagebrush, not cactus. Nothing. Piles of powdery tan earth are the only thing to be seen until the mountains, which rise stark and lifeless. The ocean stretches out from the desert, just as barren to the naked eye.

The bus dropped us off at the road that cuts through the Chan Chan complex, and we were told that the shuttle that normally ran there was off to lunch. We walked thirty minutes through acres of windswept plain, where ruined walls spoke of an ancient culture long since gone.

Restoring the perimiter wall at Chan Chan

Restoring the perimiter wall at Chan Chan

The remaining walls mound up like tiny copies of the buttes of the southwest of the United States, sand piled for centuries against their bases, a few meters of naked mud brick rising above, gouged by rain and melting from the top down. From time to time a shock of green appears—a tree, a bush, or in one of the deeper depressions where sweet water can seep through the soil, reeds.

The sun beat down mercilessly, and once we walked a few steps away from the highway, nothing could be heard but the wind. Clouds moved quickly by, sweeping mottled patterns across the ground.

When we made it to the complex, we were greeted by half a dozen bored guides. Entry was S/.11 each, and for an additional S/.25 we could hire a guide. We bought a S/.1 pamphlet instead, and then proceeded to individually refuse the guiding services of every other human in the visitor center. The only other couple of visitors there right then did so, as well. Poor guides. I hope they get paid hourly.

They’ve done a lot of restoration and preservation work on the palace we visited, Nik An. You can tell that some walls have been replastered, and it’s a bit difficult to know whether the relief carvings have been restored or if they were just pristinely preserved by drifts of sand. The edges of the carvings are just so unbelievable sharp for adobe carved centuries ago.

Canadian Gray Squirrels (the guide book said they were armadillos...)

Canadian Gray Squirrels (the guide book said they were armadillos...)

The corridors of the palace were wide and empty, its plazas sun-beaten and harsh. From time to time there were little recreations to give us an idea of how things would have looked when it was occupied, but it is so hard to imagine what the palace and the surrounding 20 square kilometers must have been like. It would have been simply astounding to come to this place from your little village, to see the towering walls—ten to twelve meters high—and the vast waterworks. To see the entire desert transformed into a vibrant green oasis of fertile farmland.

Desert as far as the eye can see.

Desert as far as the eye can see.


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