Every night, the sea swallows the sun, which is why, our guide tells us, the indigenous people native to the Miraflores area, sea dwellers, revere the sea goddess more than the sun, she the color yellow, he personified as red, and from their union emerges tiburon, their shark son, another venerated deity.
It is my last day on this round-the-world journey, and I decide to finish just as I started, by playing tourist.
Up for the day is a visit to the Huaca Pucllana Ruins in the Miraflores district, a place I think I overshoot but don’t on foot, backtracking only to forward track again. A century ago, Miraflores is massive ranch land, development recent, and although the site is known by local folks, it is only in 1918 that they decide to stop using it as a motor-cross playground and excavate.
Astounding what they find, whole pyramids of bookshelved bricks, layers upon layers, each generation contributing height, architecture earthquake-friendly like in Machu Picchu, bricks stacked vertically with rattle room for vibrations to pass through. These people add crushed seashells to their bricks for strength, filling in subsequent layers of rooms with the deceased and with goods when time presents itself for the new level of flooring, pyramid growing high over the years.
For three centuries, this small site is occupied–its six acres tiny compared to the two-hundred acre digs elsewhere in Lima–and now, its caretakers mimic the garden growth of its original inhabitants, potatoes, choclo (corn), beans, tomatoes, sweet potato, yuca, gooseberries, citrus mingling with llama, alpaca, duck and guinea pig, an oasis of sustenance in this desertscape.
Despite all of this bounty, the local population back then tops out at 5 feet, fossilized footprint of a working man significantly smaller than my own.
It is because they eat only ceviche, says our guide, and although I find his logic flawed, I stay silent.
Climbing the pyramid, we encounter protruding tree posts, severed poles sticking from the pyramid like pillars. These, we learns, are the people’s ancestors, erected in their memories only to come to be them, too, poles more powerful than the sun and sea. Seeing these, I think of Orson Scott Card’s book about the trees growing from the pigs; eerie, especially since human sacrifices are plenty here, subsequent layers of rooms filled with mummified offerants, mostly girls, as it is common practice to sacrifice a high-class woman every time a new pyramid layer is built and a child every time an elder dies.
Wrapping up the tour, we learn of the enemy people, the Wari, who overtake the natives, and of the encroachment of a new religion, one where Pachamama and Pachapapa replace worship of the sea and sun and where frogs hold high regard for their ability to join land to water.
Fascinating, all of this, and I decide I must leave with a little piece of ancient and new Peru–kiwicha (amaranth) cookies, perfectly balanced between sweetness and crunchiness, and a pottery nativity set, because, me thinks, a new home merits a little baby Jesus and three wise men to come together on the best day ever, my birthday.