Tomb Raider


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, December 02, 2003 was originally posted on December 08, 2003.

DAY 45: In 1987, when most people were discovering the idea of boiling rabbits in Fatal Attraction, a group of archaeologists discovered new ruins just 30 km southeast of Chiclayo, Peru.  This find contained the tombs of Sipan, an ancient city of the Moche civilization, a people who pre-date the more widely-known Incas.  The reason for their decreased popularity is due to the fact that they didn’t leave any written records — which is sad because we will never know if boiling rabbits ever appealed to them.

Moche (mo’-cheh) refers to an archaeological site, an ancient language, an art style, a people and a culture.  The Moche culture flourished on the dry deserts of the North Coast of Peru between 200 B.C. to 700 A.D. and the people of the city of Sipan lived under the rule of a warrior king who never wrote his name down and is therefore only now known simply as “Señor de Sipan.”  His pyramids and tomb were found in the summer of 1987 — something surprisingly never mentioned in VH1’s I Love the 80s — and the archaeological excavation still continues today.

I caught a minibus (a little bigger than a minivan) out of Chiclayo that took me to Sipan.  As we rode down a long stretch of the Peruvian greenscape, a street performer hopped on and played a traditional guitar and pan flute at the same time.  We stopped in little villages along the way to pick up those who needed a lift and in no time I was one of many people jammed into a small bus.

Sipan is not only an excavation site but a village with residents, so I still had to find the actual tombs.  I asked a woman next to me and she told me she’d tell me where to get off.

“[You are traveling alone?]” she asked.


“[You look too young to be traveling alone.  It’s dangerous.]”

“[I look 18, but I’m 29,]” I said.  It seems that not only are people confused as where I come from, but my age as well. 

“[Are you a student?]”

“[Yes, I study archaeology.]”  This was funny to me because — like many of you — my only qualifications as an archaeologist comes from watching the Indiana Jones movies.

I GOT OFF AT THE EXCAVATION SITE, clearly marked with a big sign about 1 km from the village of Sipan.  I thought I was the only one getting off, but a young woman got off the bus as well.

“[You work here?]” I asked.

“Si,” she said, and went off to work.

I wandered around the entrance gate for a guy to come.  I bought a ticket from Ricardo — whom I later found out was one of the working archaeologists of the site.  He pointed out where the excavation and museum was and left me to go on my way.

THE MOCHES, like the Egyptians, believed in the afterlife and made sure they had enough stuff with them in their tombs to party after death.  A lot of the food and drink were put in ceramic pots, placed in the corners of burial chambers.  There were six chambers excavated thus far, of different people of royalty.  They were all found in good condition, with some skeletons almost completely intact.  One looked like it died passed out drunk at a party.  That must have been one helluva night. 

I explored the tomb sites of the royalty and eventually found the tomb of Señor de Sipan himself.  He was buried with an entourage and I figured he was one popular guy, or just had a really good publicist.

In the museum were some artifacts recovered from the excavation, including gold necklaces that would put Mr. T to shame.  There were paintings of artists’ interpretations of the burials, plus a scale model on the floor reminiscent of the Map Room in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I was sort of confused with the pictures and the scale model because there wasn’t exactly a pyramid outside — just a big rocky mountain that looked nothing like a pyramid.

I sat in the shade and struck a conversation with the girl who worked there, who wasn’t doing much work at all. 

“[What town are you from?]” she asked me.

“Que?” (Peruvians speak really fast so I usually respond with “What?”)

“[In Peru…where are you from?]”

“[No, I’m from the United States.]”

“So you speak English?” she said in broken English.


Her name was Liliana and she worked as a freelance tour guide by day and went to English school at night.  She asked me if I saw the pyramids and pointed towards the big mountain.  Suddenly it made sense; the pyramids were covered in adobe.

“[There’s a trail?]” I asked.

“[Yes, want to go?]”


Instead of money, she asked that I merely translate what she said in Spanish so she could hear the English.  She led me along the unmarked trail up the pyramids, the tallest being 365 meters high.  At that height I could finally visualize the big picture of what I saw in the “Map Room.”

Liliana and I sat in the shade to escape from a very hot day.  She was waiting for a minibus to come in hopes of a prospective client — buses only came every hour or so.  In the meantime, I helped her with her English homework.  A big minibus came loaded with an entire school class from the city of Cajamarca, but they didn’t want to pay for a guide nor lacked the English skills to do a trade.

“[Do you want to come to my house for lunch?]” she asked, seeing that she had a whole hour before another bus came.


On our way to town, Liliana told me that Ricardo the archeologist was her boyfriend and I knew that I was going to her house for nothing else but lunch — which was fine because I was pretty hungry.

WE WALKED ON A LOG over a stream and walked the dirt road to the village of Sipan where she often stayed at her sister’s or brother’s house.  Sipan wasn’t so much developed at all — all the roads were dirt, electricity was scarce and there was only one phone in the entire town.  If anyone tried to call someone else in town, they’d get a busy signal.

What Sipan village lacked in technology it made up for in its abundance of fruit and friendly people.  Liliana knew everyone in town and introduced her new friend to all the passersby.  One guy let us pick a mango from his tree.

“ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE SIX SEVEN EIGHT NINE TEN,” a little boy said to me at the house on the other side of town.  It was Liliana’s ten-year-old nephew showing off the little English he knew to me.  He and his brother were home for lunch from school. 

The house was really big — you could fit about six Manhattan apartments inside — but had no lighting or plumbing.  I had to wash my hands with a bar of soap and fetched water from a basin.  Liliana’s sister only prepared one plate of food — her daily routine — which was shared with me.  I ate the chicken and rice and salad while asking the kids about school.

On the way back to the excavation site, we stopped by the house of Liliana’s brother, a purse maker and sugar cane farmer.  Some guys nearby were playing cards, and they offered me some of their fermented fruit drink thing, which was pretty good.

When we arrived back at the site, a bus to Chiclayo had arrived and rather than wait around, I bid my new friend goodbye and hopped aboard. 

THE MINIBUS WAS CRUISING DOWN the long stretch of road when suddenly I heard a loud thud followed by the gasps of women — the right side of the bus dropped from what I thought was a flat tire.  We had some pretty good speed and might have tipped over, so everyone had to lean on the left side of the bus like they did in the movie Speed.  The conductor tried to calm things down by repeating “tranquilo, tranquilo” until we came to a stop.

Everyone got off the minibus and discovered that we didn’t get a flat — the axle bent or the shocks blew and it was evident that repairs would take way longer than a ten-minute tire change.  This wasn’t good because the twenty of us were far away from anywhere and stranded under the hot afternoon sun.  We waited for a solution; occasionally another bus would come by, but it was always too full for all us — only three or four at a time could fit, and it usually went to women and small children first.  A third bus came and I tried to get on but there was no room — until I heard “Ey, chico.”  Someone had scootched over and made room for one more.  I packed in like an extra sardine.

The new bus didn’t necessarily go back to the terminal — just the town limits — so I got off there and tried to figure my way back to the region of the Lonely Planet map.  I only had my memory to remember familiar streets or buildings — which was sort of hard since most everything looked the same.  It took me half an hour to find my way and after everything that had happened I just wanted an ice cold Coke.

“FALSO,” the woman at a store said when I tried to pay for a drink.  It turns out they counterfeit coins in Peru too.  I gave her another coin which was real and she gave me the Coke — a warm one, but it had to do.  I walked down the street for about two blocks when the woman can running after me.  Apparently, when Cokes come in glass bottles, they aren’t “to go” because you have to give the bottle back. 

I looked confused enough and she smiled and walked me back to her store.  “[Sorry, I’ve only been in Peru for three days,]” I explained.  I asked her to explain the difference between a real and counterfeit coin and she showed me that the fake ones don’t have straight lines where they should be.  So far, Peru definitely has a higher learning curve than Ecuador.

It was only 4 p.m. and I already had had an exhausting day.  I spent an hour in an air-conditioned supermarket and bought supplies for an upcoming unpredictable river trek to the Amazon, and did some internet work.  I had a chicken sandwich and paid for it with my fake coins since the guy didn’t have any change for a five.  Ha, that’s what they get for not having change.

THE SUN WENT DOWN and the lights went on in the Plaza das Armas.  Salsa and Christmas music played on a nearby speaker system and it was a nice relaxing change from such a hectic day.  I ran into Liliana in town on my way to buying a bus ticket — she had just gotten out of class — and I tried to get her to go out for a drink, but she just wanted to go home.

I slept for four hours and got up for an early morning bus due east towards the jungle.

Next entry: Eastward Ho!

Previous entry: On the Road Again

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Comments for “Tomb Raider”

  • Woah… All that archeological info… It’s like watching an special on TLC, entertaining and informative.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  02:01 AM

  • Ditto to Td0t’s remarks.  Loved reading this and loved the pics.  Amazing!  smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  02:17 AM

  • senor de sipan was a tru pimp….that 50 cent guy can sure learn something from him, eventhough he has been dead for a long long time…

    tranquilo, tranquilo….can’t u just imagine the costanzas yelling that like the phrase “serenity now!”...

    one looked like it died passed out at a party could be WHEAT…hahaha

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  02:39 AM

  • wow what a day! good thing for nice people! smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  04:30 AM

  • i feel like watching indiana jones now

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  01:11 PM

  • Since you know the difference, do you have more counterfeit coins? 

    Can you tell which paper money is falso now?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  01:55 PM

  • wow, those pictures are amazing. this definitely feels like a discovery channel documentary. and i got confused when you first mentioned ricardo. i thought it was the same taxi guy who tried to rip you off.  it was like a pokemon episode.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  02:08 PM

  • Risa:  I think i can tell the difference in coins but not the paper…but i am in iquitos now, away from the gringo trail and the border, so people aren’t so wary of counterfeiting here…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  05:15 PM

  • wow! that’s neat:) sounds like a great day. great photos too.

    does it feel like christmas season over there? no cold weather, no snow.. ? does santa wear shorts?

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/10  at  01:29 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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