Peru Journal: Sillustani, a farm, and the city of Puno

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).

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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!!

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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.

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The ride to Sillustani took about a half hour, and along the way we saw many farms dotting the landscape, and crops planted alongside a lagoon.

Traditional farm complex with thatched roofs
Traditional farm complex with thatched roofs
Modern aluminum-roofed farm buildings alongside a lagoon.
Modern aluminum-roofed farm buildings alongside a lagoon.
crops planted at the water's edge
crops planted at the water’s edge

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.   983

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More chullpas in the distance
More chullpas in the distance

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.

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An animal has been carved or embossed on this stone - it looks like a small rodent of some type.
An animal has been carved or embossed on this stone – it looks like a small rodent of some type.

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On the right side of this broken stone, near the bottom, is a carving of a snake.
On the right side of this broken stone, near the bottom, is a carving of a snake.
A different style chullpa. A local resident takes a rest nearby.
A different style chullpa. A local resident takes a rest nearby.

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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.

A semi circle of stones surround a spiritual spot. There are two or three of these on the site.
A semi circle of stones surround a spiritual spot. There are two or three of these on the site.
Our guide, Edith explains the tradition about the spiritual aura experienced here. These are the coca leaves she spread on the ground.
Our guide, Edith explains the tradition about the spiritual aura experienced here. These are the coca leaves she spread on the ground.
Val tries to feel the aura.
Val tries to feel the aura.
Jayme in the "aura" spot.
Jayme in the “aura” spot.

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.

Jayme and Dale next to Umaya Lagoon
Jayme and Dale next to Umaya Lagoon
Great place to pose for a group shot!
Great place to pose for a group shot!

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Another rock carving
Another rock carving

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!

Exterior of the farm complex. This is a traditional farm.
Exterior of the farm complex. This is a traditional farm.
Llama on the farm
Llama on the farm

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On top of the archway are two bulls, placed there for good luck. This is typical on traditional farms.
On top of the archway are two bulls, placed there for good luck. This is typical on traditional farms.
Farm woman with alpacas
Farm woman with alpacas
Here she poses with a baby llama, or possibly a vicuna!
Here she poses with a baby llama, or possibly a vicuna!
I don't know what the significance is of rocks piled on top of the arch. Possibly good luck, like the bulls?
I don’t know what the significance is of rocks piled on top of the arch. Possibly good luck, like the bulls?
Thatched farm building
Thatched farm building
Food set out for us - mostly potatoes & grains.
Food set out for us – mostly potatoes & grains.
Edith is showing where the family's kitchen is - they cook and do most other activities outside. Inside is mainly just for sleeping.
Edith is showing where the family’s kitchen is – they cook and do most other activities outside. Inside is mainly just for sleeping.
Lots of carbs!
Lots of carbs!
Archway with view of exterior of residence. (In the distance is the pen where guinea pigs are kept).
Archway with view of exterior of residence. (In the distance is the pen where guinea pigs are kept).
Guinea pig pen! Although kept as pets, most likely they'll be a future meal!
Guinea pig pen! Although kept as pets, most likely they’ll be a future meal!
Weaving and spinning
Weaving and spinning

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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.

The signs say Cafe/Bar & Cultural center with exhibits and expositions. This might be an entrance to the museum.
The signs say Cafe/Bar & Cultural center with exhibits and expositions. This might be an entrance to the museum.
Carlos Dreyer Museum
Carlos Dreyer Museum (downloaded from Google)
Ancient coins (image downloaded from Google)
Ancient coins (image downloaded from Google)
A ceramic, two-headed jar, from the Nasca culture
A ceramic, two-headed jar, from the Nasca culture

puno museum-gold necklalce

 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).

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Puno Cathedral
Puno Cathedral

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.

The plaque says: La 1a Division de la Infanteria, A la memoria de los hijos de la patria. HEROES DEL CENEPA.
The plaque says: La 1a Division de la Infanteria, A la memoria de los hijos de la patria. HEROES DEL CENEPA.

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”!

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We're ready to go!
We’re ready to go!
Puno market
Puno market
potatoes
potatoes

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!

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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!

Our tireless guide and protector, Boris Cardenas!
Our tireless guide and protector, Boris Cardenas!

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One thought on “Peru Journal: Sillustani, a farm, and the city of Puno

  1. What an interesting travel diary. I admire Your photos, because thru them I felt like being there. I have a small Llama about half a meter high which bought from Lima in the seventies. When I flew to home I had it in cabin and everyone wanted to fondle its long fur. 🙂

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