The king of the Chimu had a few wives and many concubines and when we visited the ancient city of Chan Chan our petite guide Lucy, a descendant of the Chimu peoples with slightly Asian features, showed us the platform where he sat above the city’s large pool and water supply. The concubines would dance around the pool to music while the king feasted on fine foods provided to him by the taxes collected for the empire. It’s good to be king!
Chan Chan is a ruin quite different than those we’ve visited so far. It is made of adobe rather than stone and as you might guess much of the infrastructure has essentially melted away in the rain and weather. That being said the city state is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city on the planet. What does remain is remarkably well preserved and the detail of the friezes on the edifices is astounding. The walls around the citadel we visited were massive at 4 meters thick and once stood over 10 meters high. Chan Chan was home to the Chimu Empire whose population at its peak was estimated at 60,000 inhabitants. Built around AD 1300, it is relatively young compared to other ruins we’ve visited. It’s hard to believe that anything is left of this mud fortress after 700 years.
The first thing we noticed when driving to Chan Chan in Peru were the vast distances between stops. It is the third largest country in South America behind Brazil (larger than the lower 48 states in the U.S) and Argentina. Eight to ten hour driving days are not uncommon. We stopped in Huanchaco, a surf town near the ruin. The drive from Mancora to Huanchaco was long and tedious and crossed the Sechura desert, a flat dry dusty wasteland. Amelia started off clean and shiny but by the time we reached our destination both she and the bicycles were covered in a thick layer of polvo (dust).
The town of Huanchaco, a small coastal fishing village with a perfect set of waves caters to a large crowd of surfers who come here to enjoy the surf. The shores are lined with long homemade fishing boats made of reeds that come to a point at the bow. In the early morning you can see the fishermen paddling out through the surf as the surfers are riding back in. In the evening the surfers are still at it and once in a while you’ll see a crossover fisherman paddling his reed boat out through the surf and then turning around to catch a wave, stand up and ride his craft back in between the surfers. It’s quite a sight.