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.

It was Sunday and there in the small lobby were the owners of the hotel enjoying their day of rest to the full with a group of friends, well lubricated with plenty of beer and Pisco.

What impressed us immediately were the features of this group.  It was fascinating. They all had the exact same faces of the Moche that we came across in our daily work on the artefacts amongst the tombs and ruins of that ancient warrior people.

The landlady of the hotel was a thin, unfriendly looking woman, who had evidently already had quite a few beers. Nevertheless she got up and showed us to some rooms and we started to carry up all our equipment.

A little while later, after we had already carried up all our things and Tello was waiting outside for Mejía Xesspe to come down and pay the driver, Pedro Rojas Ponce appeared with some bad news: “The beds are filthy. I can’t even bring myself to touch the sheets!”

Well, as you know by now, Tello hated dirt.

Without a pause came the irritable reply: “If that’s so, there’s nothing for it. Chachapoyas will have to take us to a better one. Bring everything back down right now; we’re going to another hotel!”

The landlady in spite of her drunken rapture had noticed that we were all taking orders from this elderly man with the Indian face and energetic gestures. She stared at him curiously. He was stood in the doorway leaning on a divining rod that he used as a walking cane, dressed in his old boots, jacket and hat, to all intents and purposes a ‘nobody’.

Then as she saw us start to bring all our things downstairs again to take them back out to the car, good God she let loose such a tirade! Her tongue was more lethal than an axe.  She unleashed a veritable deluge of profanity, all under the serene alcoholic gape of her husband and friends. It was like a never ending torrent. No erudite scholar of obscenity could have produced such an astonishingly detailed and embellished string of insults!

Meanwhile, we traipsed up and down the stairs under this machine gun fire of abuse, carrying the bags back to the car. During one of the many times, we were forced to pass under the gaze of this screaming harpy I overheard her mutter under her breath: “The last one to come down, I’m going to give him such a hiding - he won’t know what’s happened to him.” 

Combat - Donna McClelland (artist)
©Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections

A threat like this from the mouth of a woman who looked as if she was capable of bringing down the sky with her bare hands was not to be taken lightly, especially as she was now very well oiled. I definitely didn’t want to be the last one out. I hurried my pace and when I had brought down all the equipment I was assigned to, I warned Tello of what I had heard.

“Pff who’s going to take any notice of that,” he declared impatiently “It’s obvious that the woman is the worse the wear for drink.”

I wasn’t so sure. “But doctor, she’s as strong as an ox and as angry as hell … whilst she’s still conscious…”

I didn’t have time to finish. The woman had come down the outside steps and, without pausing for breath, now turned her ‘megaphone’ on the good doctor.

“Oy, my hotel is for respectable people. Where the hell do all these bloody hick tenant farmers come from?  Yanaconas! You’re all used to sleeping in pig troughs. Sheets? What the hell would you know about sheets? You lot all sleep in straw. Get out of here now, whilst you’ve still got your balls! Don’t you go putting on your airs and graces with me.”

And again she discharged a stream of foul language.

What to do? As her volume increased more and more by the minute, we all became mute with astonishment.

Jewel of Sipan ©PromPeru

Finally, in a loud confident voice, and looking rather pointedly in the direction of the hotelkeeper in order to  impress upon her the importance of the person she was dealing with, I addressed myself to Tello who appeared indifferent to it all: “Doctor,” I laid stress on the term, “call the police, have her arrested.”

But this, far from intimidating her, only incensed her more. She directed her gaze right at Tello.

“God knows where that grave robber standing there came from. Get out of here. My hotel isn’t for huaqueros.”

For some reason the divining rod that the anthropologist was carrying alerted her to the fact that we had something to do with the burial grounds. And it is true that there are many ‘huaqueros’ that earn a living plundering the ruins along the whole coastal region of Peru and in parts of the Andes as well, which they trample over and destroy to get to their treasures.

These people are more or less professionals who are free to operate with impunity. There are of course laws, but they are never enforced, and inspectors, but they never arrest anyone. Often the huaqueros are well connected with local hacienda owners and business men who want the artefacts either to add to their private collections, to give away to friends or to sell in Lima’s antique shops, where you can find all manner of archaeological objects.

But I digress. Just at that moment, when the temperature of our lady hostess had arrived at about one hundred degrees, that is to say, boiling point, the last ingenuous expedition member came down the stairs and passed by her.

True to her word and with the additional strength of the righteous, now that she had convinced herself that we were all huaqueros, the woman landed an almighty slap on his cheek. My God, you could hear it echo off his jaw bone.  The poor man reeled in shock and almost lost his footing. The slap had come totally out of the blue. He had to move pretty quick to escape the second one too. 
Pacasmayo - photo rutamoche

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