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Indiana Jones's uncool cousin, studying the adobe temples at Chan Chan

We were picked up at 9am by Jose who already had a Spanish family (Mum, Dad and a thirty-ish daughter) from Barcelona in the back of the van. A refreshing change from the gringo trail in the south - its just the five of us on the tour.

Our first stop is at the Huacas de Sol y de La Luna (Temples of the Sun and Moon). The main road to the temples is being worked on so we (but it seemed no one else!) went the old way. It was a rough dirt track that took us past the local Circus (which had seen better days from the state of the Big Top) and across the Rio Moche. There was no bridge, we drove through it, about twenty metres of pebble bottomed river bed. Its dry season so at only six inches deep it was an easy ride.

From the road, the temples just look like mounds of adobe bricks but they hold a hidden treasure. The site is still an active archeological dig, final year archeology students at Trujillo university provide the man power. The Temples are separated by a huge flat area which is where the city was. For now, work is focusing on the smaller Temple of the Moon and the city. It is sponsored by a local beer company - I bet the researchers welcome a cold one after a day in the dust and heat here!

The Temple of the Moon is fascinating. It is a Moche site, dated to between 200BC and 850AD. As the population of the city grew they rebuilt and enlarged their temple as well. On the site there are five different temples. The old ones were not destroyed, they were filled with bricks and the next one was built as a layer over the top. The archeologists now have a real dilemma. To excavate the oldest temples they will have to partially destroy the newer ones. Because successive temples were built over the older ones they have incredibly well preserved wall decorations and murals. You can also see the makers symbols in the adobe bricks in the walls. They think that when a new temple was built the different groups within the city each had to supply a quota of bricks, a sort of tax. The marks were how they kept track of who had supplied what quantity of bricks.

From the artifacts found in the temples they can tell that it was only used for ceremonial purposes and not for commerce or accommodation. Different plazas enabled the public to watch certain parts of the ritual ceremonies. Some parts were held in privacy. Human sacrifices were made. As part of these rituals they believe that two warriors fought each other, not to the death but until first blood was drawn. The "loser" was then sacrificed to the gods either by having his throat cut or by a bash on the back of the head.

The decorations on the outside of the temple pay homage to their gods. In its prime, this site must have been truly stunning to see and it makes me wonder how much more fantastic the larger Temple of the Sun must have been. Work continues at this site and I suspect it will do for many years as long as the funding continues. Jose our guide confirmed that each year new parts of the Temple are opened up for visitors to see.

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Totora reed canoes at Huanchaco

Most of the tourists here seem to be Spanish speaking. There are also about five groups of school children on a visit. They must only be about five or six years old and are very well behaved. At the little souvenir centre we saw another local oddity, a breed of Perúvian dog that has no hair (one had a bleached blond mohican). The Spanish family fulfilled their tourist obligations (or at least the female contingent did to much shoulder shrugging from Papa) and went shopping for ceramics, necklaces etc. We have still resisted the temptation, partly because of the challenge of getting them home in one piece and partly because we know we would simply stuff them in a cupboard when we get back.

From here we went to La Huaca Arco Iris (The Rainbow Temple). This is a Chimu site and is much much simpler. Most of the site was reconstructed in the 1960's but it still has original walls with decoration. It is a single temple in the shape of a truncated pyramid. Around the edges are huge storage bins into which were lowered offerings to the gods - food, clothing, ceramics, other textiles etc. Allegedly these bins were only open at the top but I was left with a feeling that they must have been emptied from time to time.

Our next stop was the small museum of Chan Chan. This had exhibits of pottery, textiles etc and had maps showing the overall size and layout of the Chan Chan site. Its main site is nine different temple palaces, each built by a successive king of Chan Chan. There was also a chronology of South American civilisations comparing them to civilisations in Europe and Asia. We do not really have a concept in Europe that anything happened in America pre Colombus but there is a huge wealth of history, tradition, religion and civilisation here that captures the interest.

Heading into the Chan Chan site you can only (safely) see one of the palaces, Tschudi (named after a Swiss), that has been partially excavated and opened to the public. This is a huge site which would have again been primarily used for religious purposes. The entrance opens into a main ceremonial plaza with a raised platform at one end where the king would have sat. They were revered as gods and after death they were mummified, in a seated position, and wheeled out for successive ceremonies  as they were deemed to still be alive in the afterlife. At each ceremony, young women were offered as sacrifices and three hundred female skeletons were found next to the burial chamber in this palace.

Behind the main plaza is a range of audience rooms. Here people brought their offerings which again were stored in big bins, similar to those at the Rainbow Temple but these were accessible at ground level. This was a complex are of interlocking rooms, highly decorated with symbolism for fishing nets and the moon. The wealth of these place must have been staggering.

Behind the audience rooms is a further, smaller plaza for more closed ceremonies. Beyond that is a huge well, more like an enormous pool. This too was ceremonial but is now home to reeds, water lilies and birds. Past this is a further smaller plaza with the mausoleum for the king. Around the main tomb are many more smaller ones with servants, sacrificial offerings and goods that the king (now a god) will need in the next life.

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Looking forward to the night bus

All of these sites are suffering from erosion from the elements. Made of adobe bricks they are simply worn away, with the effects of El Nino being particularly devastating. Attempts are being made to preserve the original features by shielding them with metal roofs and/or putting protective layers on the surfaces of walls. However, centuries of damage have taken their toll. From the road you would have no idea that these sites are here holding such a wealth of information. As at Nazca, the PanAm has ploughed through the edge of the Chan Chan site.

After Chan Chan we were taken to Huanchaco, a local seaside resort, for lunch. Stef tried the Ceviche - a Perúvian speciality of raw fish marinated in lemon juice. He went for a mixed plate which had scallops, crab, fish and unidentifiable shellfish (which to me looked decidedly dodgy). Here we also saw the reed boats that the locals use to go fishing. They are heavy to handle are are replaced about every three months as the reeds start to rot.

Back in town we were dropped off at the Plaza de Armas. We've got a few hours to kill until we leave tonight on the night bus to Mancora, a small fishing village on the north coast. We will be staying at the Mancora Beach resort for a few days R&R before heading up into Ecuador.

As expected, our previous bad experience with a night bus looks set to be repeated. Stef's knees were digging into the seat in front of him before the guy sat in it reclined his chair. It was stuffy and someone had taken their shoes off wafting a smelly sock odour throughout the bus. It was full so we couldn't even spread out! We both knew that a long eight and a half hours was ahead of us. Not helped when a Steven Seagal film was put on the TV - they seem to have a thing about him and violent films in buses in South America.