Getting to Know Chimu: Archaeologists Are Having A Laugh!

Sunset in Huanchaco
Sunset in Huanchaco

A Tour of the Chan Chan Complex and Bonus Sites

Chan Chan is fairly quite high on the list of things to do in Peru. It’s a national treasure and the Peru tourist industry promote it only slightly less than Machu Picchu. To get to the Chan Chan complex, make your way to Trujillo.

Considering the northern city of Trujillo is the second most important in Peru after Lima, I was quite surprised how ugly it is; aged, crippled and predominantly concrete.

A string of taxi drivers wait to pounce on tourists getting off the bus at the terminal. Expect them to squeeze as much fare out of you as possible. I had already noticed people in the north of Peru, from Lima upwards, are more geared towards money-making than they are to genuinely helping tourists.

My taxi driver does pretty well out of me. Communicating in Spanglish he tells me about Huanchaco 20-minutes away. There is a beach and it sounds much easier on the eye than concrete central. Even for two nights the 50 soles (11GBP) taxi fare was worth it for a bit of scenery.

It is a good option. Huanchaco is an attractive, sleepy seaside resort, a little dated but exotic all the same. The palm-fringed beach is mostly untainted with restaurants and bars which are set back on the opposite side of the road; and most have balconies so make time to enjoy a fish supper as you watch the sunset on the Pacific horizon.

The following morning I was up and out early to get to Chan Chan. Local busses run to Trujillo regularly and pass Chan Chan on the way. It only costs 2 soles (45p), and you get dropped off right at the entrance where a tour guide and a taxi driver wait to offer you a deal.

“Three archaeological sites, two museums and a return to your hotel for 50 soles (11GBP),” the guide tells me. It’s a good deal considering the cost of my first ride.

“Okay,” I say, “Vamos!” Let’s go!

The taxi driver – sorry “chauffeur”- introduces himself as Americo. He is a jolly man, about 55 years-old with curly greying hair and a second layer of flesh growing into his neck. He opens the door to his clapped-out Chevrolet – built in about 1981 – and invites me to climb in. He closes the door after me which is just as well as the inside door handle is strapped on with electricians tape and will probably fall off if I touch it. Americo wears glasses, but still drives like a typical South American taxi driver. Erratically.

The mysterious “rainbow”

We weave through narrow back streets, dodging cars – and people – until we arrive at our first destination stop, the Rainbow Temple. I buy my ticket for the entire circuit here, 11 Soles (2.50GBP) for the lot. Bargain. Inside is a colossal structure made from clay with murals etched into the wall all the way around. I find the entrance round the back where more walls feature pictures of men with three lines coming from their roof of their heads. I wonder what that symbolises.

In the near right corner of the entrance is a ramp that leads on to the roof of the temple, so climb to find views of Trujillo concrete gridlines and the surrounding hills on the distance. From this height Trujillo looks even uglier than from ground level.

On the way out I ask a guide waiting by the front gate what the three streams in the murals mean. She doesn’t speak English well (which is why I didn´t have a guide in the first place), but know enough to tell me it is a rainbow – hence the name of the Temple.


Rainbow HeadSo the name of the temple has been given to the archaeologists that excavated it, because they believe three lines look like a rainbow – which they don’t – and why would the ancients draw rainbows coming out of the heads of Shaman? From my research this far, there has been no mention of rainbows having any importance to ancient civilisations. If the archaeologists are right – which I doubt – I am curious to know why!

You can see in the picture on your left, the drawing has three strands; rainbows have seven. I find it hard to believe the Chimu were drawing rainbows, but archaeologists count each line – of which there are seven. Fair enough, but I am still not buying this explanation! Does that even look like a rainbow to you!?

For starters, the Ancients only depict archetypes, food or animals that were important to their culture and central to life. Why would the Chimu dedicate a rainbow? Granted, as a natural phenomenon rainbows are beautiful to see, but they lend nothing to a person’s life.

There’s something fishy about what “experts” tell us

At our next stop, Huaca de Esmerelda I was offered the services of a guide who didn’t speak any English either, but thought I would give it a go. I´d understood enough in Caral and need to know something about Chimu culture. This is new territory. Rafael only wants 5 soles (1GBP) so thought I’d try my dodgy Spanglish out and see what I can yield. As it turns out quite a bit!

The Chimu relied heavily on the sea to feed them thus the many maritime symbols in their artwork and ceramics make complete sense. The pelican is particularly prominent and even features in the centre of the Chakana – the Southern Cross that is central to Andean culture and a symbol of the highest importance.

“The Pelican was worshipped because it caught fish for fishermen,” Raphael tells me.

The Emerald Temple is so called because the Chimu cultivated a lot of Emerald and made jewellery from them. Many artefacts containing the precious jewels were found at this site. We climb a ramp and walk along a narrow edge of the structure. There is about a 10-foot drop on the other side. Health and safety would be all over this in England!

“I helped to reconstruct the Emerald Temple,” Rafael tells me. “We mixed clay with stones and water from the sea just as the Chimu had done.” As he explains this, he shows me the original Chimu building work compared it to the reconstruction he had helped with. There is not much different, although the old works are slightly better. “We couldn’t do it so well,” he said. “The Chimu were master builders.”

Rafael then shows me a tree called, modera de algarrobo. The tree marks the grave where royalty were buried on the site indicating they had lived here, thus it too must have held great importance in ancient times. The Chimu are shaping up to be a very interesting culture – but at the time, I didn´t realise just quite how interesting!

You can read more about Andean Cultures and how the knowledge of the ancients has been suppressed by the establishment in my book, Journey’s To Ancient Worlds: What Modern Man Can Learn From Ancient Civilisations

Also available from the iBook Store for Apple users

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