Few places inspire belonging in me. This is one of them. It’s as if you walked for hours before finding a place that brings you tranquility and good vibes; you want to remain there, as in an oasis that offers solace.
I traveled to the North of Peru for the first time in the 70s. I was very young back then. When you’re young you always feel like you’re off to discover the Egypt of the old travelers and chroniclers, the Egypt of Lord Carnarvon and the discovery of King Tut, so the experiences you live and the things you see mark you in a more permanent way. I’ve had the opportunity to come back to this region several times in my life without really being able to explain why.
Casually, in Túcume one day, I ask myself this very thing; I say: What attracts me so much to this place? Perhaps it’s that feeling of belonging. Or maybe it’s due to those indelible experiences I carry with me from my youth. Or it could be because, in a certain way, the North of Peru is a place very much like the Egypt of the 19th Century and early 20th: with its pre-Hispanic temples, its mummies, and its sandy dunes riddled with objects of the past.
Then, the moment of introspection ends and I return to reality: we’re in Peru, not Egypt… here there’s still so much to be done! And that young adventure-seeker of the 70s out to discover the world comes back to me, that feeling of potential and possibility, but matured, changed into that of a man with experience who can now transform wish into concrete actions and obtain results.
Thus we arrive at that which we’ve lovingly baptized “The Mother Earth Tour”.
“The Mother Earth Tour”:
To wonder the world today isn’t—as it was in the early 20th Century and before—only the desire of a young adventurer who roams until he has to return home because his last penny saved has run out and because he has duties—both self-imposed and imposed by society—he must fulfill. Today, we travel for work, economy and climate, too. The practice of moving almost effortlessly from one place to another has allowed us to turn traveling into something common and unimportant. Nonetheless, this doesn’t preclude the possibility of making something useful out of the values and cultural baggage we take with us.
In my capacity as a promoter of my country’s cultural values and, in particular, a promoter of the Peruvian Hairless Dog, I learned of the existence of the Peruvian Hairless Dog Cemetery of the Túcume on-site museum. I therefore decided to take advantage of this place to bring the ashes of two of my beloved dogs who died in 2012, Pau and Kiki, so that they may permanently rest there. In doing this, I joined the cause of the architect of this brilliant initiative that seeks to revalue this dog in Peruvian society.
I’m talking about the archaeologist Bernarda Delgado Elías, director of the aforementioned museum, and a woman of great sensibility toward the national heritage, animals and, in particular, the Peruvian Hairless Dog.
I had the opportunity of visiting the place a couple of times and I immediately felt—as I’ve always felt about Túcume in general—that this cemetery is a place of tranquility and good vibes, of well-deserved rest for our adored Peruvian Hairless Dog. I said to myself that this was the ideal dwelling for my Pau and Kiki and, indeed, for all Peruvian Hairless Dogs that have touched the lives of their humans.
Encounter with Bernarda Delgado Elías (Director of the Túcume On-site Museum) at the Peruvian Hairless Dog Cemetery:
“It all started in 1997,” says Bernarda, “with Chisca Primera, Chilalo and Pucky. They were brought to me as puppies in a potato sack but I could only buy two of them. So I called my sister, who bought Pucky. That way I wouldn’t be sad to think of what would become of Pucky.”.
Holding back the tears, she explains it to me with that great emotion that reveals a true and deep sensibility for the subject. Speaking with her is like a return to the past: her love and veneration for Peruvian Dogs makes me relive the customs of our ancestors as something that is still transmitted through time from generation to generation.
I say to myself that it’s a very natural feeling in Bernarda’s case, for she is from Lambayeque, born and raised in the city of Monsefú, festive town of farmers and artisans known as the “city of flowers”. In her childhood she and her family were surrounded by beloved pets: she tells us about her parents’ first Hairless Dog, called Nat King Cole (after the famous jazz singer), and Waro, another Hairless pup, that she had when she was very young. Currently, one of her great companions is Celeste, a little Hairless Dog with blue eyes (an eye color quite unique for this dog breed). Beside Celeste, she also has Manchas and Ñamla (after the “bird of the sea” god of the legend of Lambayeque)—both, Hairless Dogs born to Celeste.
Her love for her dogs has also had her face rather sad times. But thanks to her strength of spirit she keeps on going, raising new dogs, actively contributing to the preservation of this breed in Lambayeque Bernarda says: “I adore them because they’re playful and energetic little dogs, and very affectionate.”
Her bond with her pets is admirable. Not only because she adopts them with open hands and brings them to live with her, but also because she has provided them with a special place to rest after their deaths. “Chilalo died young,” she tells me, “and we buried him here. But there was no cemetery back then. Chisca Primera was a very good little dog. She had 4 litters of puppies. She was the one who inspired me to build this cemetery for Peruvian Hairless Dogs. They’ll be our guardian angels for the rest of our lives.”
Without a doubt, Túcume has a wealth of folklore that is a source of inspiration for artists. The appreciation for the deceased is reflected in the chapels and little roadside chapels designed by their own inhabitants. Bernarda, as a good Lambayecan, has designed the chapels for her dogs. She tells us: “Every dog that’s buried in this cemetery has been much loved.
Calac was born of Chisca Primera’s last litter. He was one of the bigger dogs and he looked the least like the rest. He was noble and detached. He adopted Samín, who was more territorial.”
Richie, who accompanied Bernarda for 15 years, had a very close bond with her. Bernarda consecrated a very special epitaph for him:
“My Richie, so loved, sweet, tender and so obedient…
15 years with me, and now you will certainly accompany me from wherever you are, my dear old dog. Rest in peace, my faithful and only friend…”
It’s clear that her relationship with her little dogs has been very close
She, and the rest of the Museum staff, collect some money among themselves in order to feed and vaccinate the dogs, as well care for them, because the Museum itself has no budget for that. This way alone can they keep them healthy and happy in life. Some staff members also help in the building of the mausoleums. Bernarda says: “They’re multi-skilled people; some of the models are even products of their own inspiration. The materials we use are adobe, canes and carob branches. Now, with the climate changes, we reinforce the bases with some cement and the roofs with tiles. The pain is special, and it undergoes maintenance. Because the cemetery is located in a rural environment I wanted it to have a strong presence.”
And a strong presence is exactly what it has. The colors used for the mausoleums are typical of the region and we find them in the artifacts and objects used by the pre-Hispanic cultures that inhabited that place. They’re tones of ocher (red and yellow), turquoise, emerald, malachite, lapis lazuli, etc. In addition, each mausoleum is decorated with beautiful flowers that are white with different shades of pink, called “Chavelita” (Catharanthus roseus). Lastly, each one has a framed portrait of the little dog that is buried inside. Each little dog has his epitaph and his description, which highlight his virtues and talents. In this way, they’ll always be present in both Bernarda’s and the staff’s daily life.
When she tells me about each mausoleum I feel as if I’m listening to the tale depicted in the funeral ceremonial pottery made by our Lambayecan ancestors (in a time without written language). It’s impressive to see how the art and the worship of our dogs is reinvented and reborn in such a natural way through the times.
“We would like to give room to all people who love this dog breed, so that their little dogs may have final resting place in this cemetery,” she tells me. “Túcume has over 221 hectares and room to grow, and the costs involved in building the mausoleums are very low.”
The affection and peace that radiate from the place have turned it, nowadays, into the inescapable touristic circuit of the Museum and, moreover, a reason of admiration for its visitors, which naturally makes Bernarda, her collaborators, and the inhabitants of Túcume very proud.
Mother Earth: “From you we are born and to you we return”:
Fate brought together me and my great friends, Pau and Kiki, and in this way we ventured in this great adventure of touring Europe to raise awareness about their breed in dog shows After their death in 2012, I decided to keep their ashes with a sense of belonging, as an unbreakable bond that deserves much appreciation and care. But my dreams to continue raising awareness about their breed weren’t paralyzed: they’re still alive. Thus, my return to reality: We’re in Peru and there’s still so much to be done!
As a traveler in these modern times who seeks to discover pre-Hispanic Peru, I think nowadays one also travels in order to make something useful of our cultural values. Undoubtedly, Túcume is the ideal resting place for my adored Pau and Kiki, because together with the little dogs of this city they’ll contribute to the preservation of their breed and the perpetuation of the cultural values it symbolizes. Therefore, in many ways, I believe this specific adventure I started with my dear Pau and Kiki closes a circle today with them becoming permanent part of this great initiative to revalue the Peruvian Hairless Dog that is the Peruvian Hairless Dog Cemetery of Túcume. I feel I’ve been true to my dear friends, who would be proud to continue representing their great ancient breed in this way. And I feel that now I have one more thing that links me to this beautiful place; one more excuse to find my way back here soon.
When Bernada is proud of the admiration of the visitors to the site, I can’t help feeling proud, too: of her initiative and the initiative of her collaborators, of the role that my dear Pau and Kiki will play in it from now on, and, above all, of the great progress that we are achieving, together, those of us throughout the world who love the Peruvian Hairless Dog, this ancient Peruvian breed, cultural heritage of our nation. The road we must travel is still very long, but with wonderful people like Bernarda Delgado Elías and her team of collaborators on our side, traveling it is very gratifying.