July 5, 2008
We were up early once again, for a final discovery-packed day of our “Extension” trip to southern Peru. On the agenda for today were the ruins of Sillustani and site-seeing in the city of Puno. We came down for a wonderful breakfast, as usual, at the hotel, and were on our way by 8:00 a.m.
I haven’t talked much about the breakfasts we’ve had in Peru. All the hotels we stayed at had wonderful meals for us. There was always some type of grain, like oatmeal, yogurt, bread, cheese, and the “usual” fare catering to Americans – eggs, bacon, etc. I generally steered clear of that in order to partake and savor Peruvian food. (When in Peru, do what the Peruvians do…OK, I was a tourist so I was hardly having a “typical” Peruvian day, but whatever I could try or see, whatever I could learn, I was eager for).
We stopped at an overlook of the city and environs on our way to Sillustani. It was an amusement park, of sorts – there was a giant puma and a giant snake’s mouth that you can stand inside of. Apparently there was a giant condor there somewhere, also – but I never saw it. The snake, puma and condor are the three sacred animals of the Inca religion, representing the sky (condor), the earth (puma) and the underworld (snake).
Another “attraction” was standing behind one of those life-sized pictures or statues of people with an oval cut out for people to put their faces in and have their pictures taken. Which was exactly what we did – cheesy!!
Puno is not a particularly beautiful city, but the view from above of the city on the hillsides overlooking Lake Titicaca, stretching out toward the horizon, was quite lovely. On the far side of the lake is Bolivia.
The Sillustani site is located on altiplano (high altitude plains). It is a burial site constructed by the Kolla (or Colla) people, an Aymara speaking culture pre-dating the Incas, around the eighth century A.D. It is dominated by funeral towers, called chullpas, which were used to bury family groups, primarily the ruling class. The Kolla practiced ancestor worship, and visited these chullpas to honor their dead for hundreds of years.
The towers have different styles, indicating different time periods. Some show evidence of the Inca architectural style, which could mean that either these people adopted Inca techniques, or that the conquering Inca culture reworked some of them.
Grave robbers sacked these chullpas long ago, and there are no bodies left at the site. However, archaeologists say that the people would have been buried in fetal position. Although the bodies were not mummified intentionally, due to the dry climate created in the closed tomb, the bodies survived for centuries.
These above ground funeral towers exist all over the altiplano, but Sillustani is the largest site and the structures relatively well preserved. Some of the stones have carvings on them, although it is unknown who carved them or why.
A spiritual “aura” is said to exist here and there is a custom of standing within a semicircle of small stones and sprinkling coca leaves on the ground, in order to feel this aura. I’ve never been able to feel anything at vortexes or other such sites.
Sillustani looks over the Umaya Lagoon, apparently an “offshoot” of Lake Titicaca. It has a unique beauty with its contrast to the stark, rather barren landscape surrounding it.
On the way back to Puno, we visited a local farm, where we met a farm family and heard about the economy of the farm. They grow potatoes and other staples, and raise llamas, alpacas and guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are commonly eaten here: many host families will serve guinea pig to guests (ours didn’t) and it is usually on the menu at restaurants. I never did try it so I can’t say anything about the taste!
Back in Puno, we visited the Carlos Dryer Museum, which has many archaeological artifacts of regional pre-Columbian civilizations. The main attraction was the Archaeological Sillustani section containing 500 pieces of gold artifacts from that site, as well as a replica of the Funeral Tower (Lizard Chullpa). We were not allowed to take pictures, so I have no photos of this exhibit. I downloaded pictures from Google of things I remember seeing.
Afterward we toured the center of the city, including Plaza de Armas (this is what Peruvians call their main square – every town has a Plaza de Armas).
In the plaza, there is a monument to the “Heroes del Cenepa” . I took the picture but didn’t know what it was about. Since then, I looked it up.
According to Wikipedia and other sites, the “Guerra del Cenepa” (sometimes called Guerra del Alto Cenepa) was a conflict between Peru and Ecuador, basically a border dispute that had been fought over and unresolved since the times of Simon Bolivar. It took place between January and February 1995 (I don’t remember ever even hearing about this!). The outcome, brokered by Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the USA, and ratified in Brasilia on May 8, 1998, was mostly in Peru’s favor: it gained the piece of land in the mountainous rainforest that had been disputed, and Ecuador gained access to a small section of it called Tiwinza where 12 of Ecuadorian soldiers are buried. This disputed territory is the Cenepa Drainage Basin, which lies along the eastern border of the Cordillera del Condor and borders on the Cenepa and Marañon Rivers.
From there, we went to a farmer’s market. To get there, we were transported in bicycle taxis – actually tricycles! – being riden by “drivers” behind our seats. It was called, quite aptly, “Pioneros, King of the Pedals Caravan”!
As we were walking down a street near the market to return to our bus, we saw a police band serenading some workers on a construction site!
That evening was our “farewell dinner” in the hotel dining room. The next morning we would be getting on a plane and returning to Lima. We’d have the day in Lima, then we would take our flight that night back to the USA. So this dinner had a tinge of sadness among the people of our group, bonded by this amazing trip. We’d seen so much, and yet so little…guess I’ll have to come back to Peru again sometime!