You know you're in need of a rest day when ...
1) you've crossed the border from Ecuador into Peru in one very long, very hot bus trip,
2) you've spent another hotter, longer and dustier day on a bus traveling southward through the largest desert in Peru which, by the way, would make a road trip through Saskatchewan (my flat-as-a-pancake home province in Canada) seem REALLY REALLY interesting,
3) you've needed a couple of hours each night to shake the fine brown dust off your travel clothes, body and backpack,
4) you've got drool marks on your shoulders from your bus neighbors who've used you as their pillow on these journeys, and
5) you're ready to kickbox the crap out of the poor-reception bus television if you have to watch just one more Steven Segal or Van Damme action/martial art movie which, for some unimaginable reason, are hugely popular in South America.
Yep, a rest day was in order and Trujillo in northern Peru would be the place.
The desert coast of northern Peru is dotted with monumental adobe temples and ruins from several pre-Inca civilizations, and within easy reach of Trujillo are numerous archeological sites of the Moche and Chimú cultures. In many ways these sites are more impressive and ancient than the ruins around Cusco, yet they're often completely overlooked by the tourist market.
A person would really need a number of days to properly visit all the ruins around Trujillo, but I didn't have that much time as I was meeting a friend in Lima in a few days. So instead I took a whirlwind one-day tour that included:
(1) Huaca El Brujo: "Temple of the Wizard", currently under excavation and only accessible by private tour. Heavy canvas drop cloths were lifted for us to get a quick look at the temple walls, murals and images presently being uncovered. It was also pretty cool to be snooping around this site at the same time that National Geographic was filming and photographing.
(2) La Huaca Arco Iris: "The Rainbow Temple", one of the best-preserved temples near Trujillo because it was buried until 1963. It has rainbow and monkey motifs covering its walls, and a strange combination of live owls and Peruvian hairless dogs hanging around the place.
(3) Chan Chan: The most spectacular of temple ruins near Trujillo with fantastic geometric designs and animal images. Built around 1300AD, it was the capital of the Chimú culture, the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, and the largest mud-brick city in the world (over 10,000 structures covering 28 sq km), originally housing around 60,000 people.
We also stopped for a quick lunch in Huanchaco, a little fishing village cum beach resort north of Trujillo, where we sampled "cerviche", a very popular typical Peruvian dish of mixed seafood marinated in lemon, chili and onions - yummy. And we were also supposed to visit "Huaca del Sol" and "Huaca de la Luna", spectacular Moche temples that predate Chan Chan by around 700 years, but we had an incredibly spinny tour guide, both to our amusement and irritation, and her sidetracks and backtracks unfortunately meant that we ran out of time for these sites.
Some (although few) sections of these ruins are still in original form, while others have been painstakingly restored. You can only imagine how spectacular these large and ornate temples would've been in their time, and how they were constructed with such amazing design and precision.
Unfortunately, because of their mud-brick construction and proximity to the Pacific Ocean, a small piece of these great cultures is erased every time El Niño hits. I was, therefore, very happy to see at least some evidence of their existence before they disappear forever ... and even happier that I got my much needed rest break!