Friday, 28 August 2015

The Hotel Pacifico

El Brujo
photo - Luis Gamero ©PromPeru

We have a good idea of what the Moche people looked like. The craftsmen of this culture that flourished on Peru's northern coast from the first century AD up until around 800 AD were highly skilled at reproducing facial features and expression. The distinctive decorated pottery style - dark red on a cream background - shows us scenes of everyday life such as hunting and fishing, and  Moche portrait vessels bring the people to life. 

El Brujo - the main religious centre of the Moche - is also decorated with motifs of a fearsome owl-spider spirit. Whilst elsewhere, at the Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna, an alarming fanged deity, with the head of a marine bird and a nest of snakes for hair roams the walls alongside vibrant depictions of ritual combat, blood offerings and human sacrifice. 

You get the feeling you wouldn't want to cross the Moche.  Not then....... not now.

The Hotel Pacifico
In which this particular hotel proves to be anything but

Rafael Chachapoyas was a veteran driver of Peru’s northern highways, that’s why Tello always sought him out when we were that part of the country. The archaeologist had already suffered some nail biting experiences with chauffeurs who didn’t know how to negotiate the sandy dunes, but Rafael knew his way around. One day when we were travelling with him from Trujillo to Pacasmayo, Tello asked him to recommend a hotel in the port; somewhere clean but not too expensive.

He drew the car up outside the Hotel Pacifico.  A nice sounding name and it looked reasonable from the outside. We climbed the steps and went in to ask for four beds.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

A life in the day of a museum

Not sure if tio Hernan would approve, but my favourite installation at Peru's National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History  was, and always will be, this fella.


In 2001 congress declared the Peruvian Hairless Dog to be a national treasure - and all museums and archaeological sites that were able to care for them were required to have one on site. On one of our visits to the museum in Pueblo Libre we found Farkis hanging out at the canteen (where else?). 

I think Hernan and Tello would have at least been pleased to see this ancient breed becoming more recognised on its home territory. 

Back in the early part of the twentieth century Tello fought long and hard to find a permanent home for a growing collection of significant finds; to create a place where both scholars and the public could have access to well preserved and documented artefacts. It wasn’t easy, but in 1945 he succeeded in establishing Peru's first state museum - today's MNAAH.

The first major task was to deal with the hundreds of fardos collected on the Paracas peninsula. Young Hernan found hands on conservation work far from glamorous. It was hard, dirty labour.  But the team was on a mission. Hernan’s stories capture the spirit that sustained them through the early starts, the lack of resources, and the backbreaking and meticulous efforts to unwrap and catalogue the mummy bundles.

Here are three of tio Hernan’s Anecdotes where we get a light hearted glimpse into daily goings on at the museum.

A bit of banter between mates
In which a lecherous truck driver has occasion for regret

Even though he was the director it was quite common for Tello to dress in overalls when he was working in the museum. Sometimes he could be studying thousands of pottery fragments for hours and hours. He watched over them all meticulously, guarding each one as if they were precious gold pieces. He employed the same dedication to the museum’s greasy, foul smelling human skulls and bones.

One warm day he was wearing his overalls, standing in the street at the service entrance to the museum, sucking on an ice lolly, when a truck load of plaster of Paris arrived. “Who’s going to take delivery of this plaster order?” shouted the truck driver as he got out, slamming the door.

Friday, 7 August 2015


In that first gloomy winter in Peru, tio Hernan’s Anecdotes gave me a taste of just how much more there was to see and discover, beyond the grey skies of Lima and the confines of mother in law’s sofa.  

The book provided a kind of cheat sheet layman’s introduction to the country’s archaeological sites and rich cultural heritage - so much more than the tourist poster Inca citadel at Machu Picchu.  

But more than that, the stories give a unique human insight into tio Hernan’s hero ‘el sabio’. They show us Tello the man, rather than Tello the father of Peruvian archaeology.  

It seems Tello had his favourite chifa (Chinese restaurant) and he was partial to a good lomo saltado*, an iconic Peruvian – Chinese fusion dish which millions of Peruvians still love to sit down to in homes and restaurants all over the country today.

In which Hernan speculates on the curious origins of a strange expression

‘Korcholis’ was el sabio Tello’s favorite word for whenever he was impressed by something. The word could have been one of his daughter Elenita’s creations. She had rather a splendid repertory of unique words that he called on from time to time.  But I have another theory. 

Monday, 3 August 2015

All in good humour

Falling in love is the easy part. But when two people from opposite ends of the globe join their lives together, there are inevitably times when the infamous ‘clash of cultures’ raises its ugly head. There’s no sugar coating it. Sometimes intercultural marriage gets you bent out of shape. In my humble opinion, best chance of success: focus on what unites rather than on what divides you.  Reach for the spaces in between.

It’s probably no great surprise then if I say that I’m not a great fan of nationalism. Sitting round numerous dinner tables on nearly all the world's continents, it sometimes feels like I’ve had to listen to just about every nationality declaim on just about every other nationality in any number of permutations.

What I like about Tello is that, although he undoubtedly had a strong nationalist vision, he worked happily with, and had great respect for his foreign counterparts. He was an Indian from the rural highlands who was at the same time an internationalist. In short he was comfortable with his place in the world. I think he had found his space in between.

That said, both Tello and tio Hernan were active participants in the indigenous movement which had begun to develop in Lima's intellectual circles in the opening decades of the twentieth century.

It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a time when congress still debated the ‘Indian problem’, with proposals such as the prohibition of reproduction by Indians and the importation of superior races from Western Europe seriously considered as viable solutions.*

Tello was one of the first social scientists to rigorously confront the idea that Peru’s indigenous cultures were inferior to those of the Spanish conquistadores.

All in good humour
In which our archaeologist indulges in a bit of good natured Hispanism vs Indigenism banter.

When the XXVII Congress of Americanists was held in Lima, Tello would recount to us each day on returning to the museum everything about the day’s happenings at the Congress. One day he couldn’t stop laughing. As the delegates were leaving they had seen a notice pinned up near the exit.  ‘Would the brachycephologist who mistakenly took a hat similar to his, please return said hat as soon as possible to the dolicocefalogist,’ signed Posnanski.