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Published: April 5th 2006
Hola - yay for Travelblog! I can finally put my pics on. First things first - Sillustani and the best replacement for the standard Jebus-on-the-hill: a weird looking puma. Every town in South America seems to have some sort of religious symbol towering over and seemingly admonishing its inhabitants - good for Puno to buck the trend and have a ferocious carnivore to do the job instead.
Sillustani, outside Puno in southern Peru, looks a lot like the set of Braveheart from a distance - all craggy moors, windswept lochs and large crumbling stone edifices. Up close, it´s a little different, as you can then tell that no-one actually lived around here - they were just sent here once they´d shuffled off this mortal coil. Wrapped in rope in the foetal position and stuffed into what looks like a big chimney - definitely not the way I want to be immortalised. The guide gave the group the spiel that the different parts of the funerary towers symbolised male and female genitalia - maybe he was just a lonely man, who knows. Each tower has a small opening, facing east - supposedly representing the vagina. The burial chamber within is to
represent the womb, and then the tower itself, well, if that´s not a massive phallic symbol, then I don´t know what is. The vibe is that the sun rising in the east is supposed to ¨enter¨ the small opening and ¨fertilise¨the foetal mummy within, reincarnating the poor soul within to another life of being buried ignominously. Luckily this burial process was limited to the chiefs (and their oldest child, who was ¨honourably¨ sacrified to be placed in the funerary chamber as well). The ordinary schmoes and shmucks were just thrown in a pile over a cliff (kidding - they were buried like decent folk). The soldiers were lucky enough to be able to emulate their favourite bosses, and got a small tower of their own, barely big enough to accommodate the average foetal-position Incan killer.
Surprised a small family of wild guinea pigs going up the hill to the soldiers towers. Wild guinea pigs differ from their domesticated counterparts in that (a) they are all the same colour - a greyish colour, (b) they make a lot less noise and (c) they aren´t as fat and juicy. However they do make just as much mess crapping all over the
Incan funerary tower
Sillustani, near Puno, Peru
place as modern day piglets.
Also got to admire the ingenuity of the Incan agriculturalists, with their frost-free growing areas down by the water. A series of channels were cut between crop rows to allow the inflow of water, which absorbed energy from the sun during the day, releasing enough warmth at night to prevent the freezing of the crops. Extending from this are the ¨laboratory of the Inca¨ amphitheatres, covered later....
After wandering around the site, we got to visit one of the houses of the locals - where we once again stumbled across a family of guinea pigs, but this time bound for the dinner table. Sleek, shiny, deliciously soft and tubby .... errr, I mean they were really nice as pets, and all went to guinea pig heaven a few days later, I´m sure.
Nearly every village house in southern Peru (or that I have seen to date) has a small collection of items on their roof, symbolising fertility, and whatever else the householders wish for. Generally they consist of a pair of cows, typically a few Peruvian flags, and in varying frequency - farming tools, children, earthenware pots, flowers and plants, the sun
and moon and automobiles. I think if most people in so-called ¨developed¨countries made their own rooftop shrines/altars/whatever, they would be rather interesting...
The roofing itself was also rather intriguing, being made of whatever plant material was readily available nearby, needing replacement every 12 months, or less in inclement weather (or swarming guinea pigs).
The group was treated to a little of the local cuisine - in this case hot potatoes, fresh cheese and a sauce made of clay - no joking this time, it was actually made out of clay. Not just any old clay either - they travel for two days to collect this particular kind of clay, rumoured to help with digestive problems - needless to say I had an extra large helping on my potatoes. The taste is nothing to write home about (ironically), just bland and a little salty. But I will admit that my stomach problems were all but over a day or two later (this may also be due to the antibiotics that I restarted, or the Imodium I also bought on the way back to the hostel). However I stand by the reputation of the local clay diet. I defy anyone
out there who´s feeling a little bit under the weather to go out and eat dirt, and then tell me they don´t feel better ....
Next on the whirlwind first leg of Peru was Cuzco - town of many crumbling and antique buildings, and the world´s greatest concentration of Daewoo taxis. Everywhere you walk you have to contend with the hoopla of the Peruvian elections (next Sunday is the big day), little kids trying their darndest to sell you finger puppets (sorry kid, I got mine in La Paz) and piles of dog mess on slick cobblestones. You spend so much time watching your feet, you see little of the town. Fortunately I was only there overnight before heading away from the hustle and bustle of the big town to the quiet pastures of Urubamba. I think most people on my mailing list have heard me rambling on and waxing lyrical about the beauties of Urubamba - at least now I have some photos to prove it. Where Cuzco was cold and cloudy, Urubamba was mild and sunny. Where Cuzco was full of tourists and bad smells, Urubamba was full of wildlflowers and Peruvians. Where Cuzco has your stock-standard
gringo dormitory hostels and cold showers, Urubamba has double rooms with hot water and glorious gardens. Need I say more?
The first field trip in Urubamba was to the ¨Laboratory of the Incas¨- a series of three ampitheatres that allowed the Incas to experiment with crop growing at different temperatures and altitudes. I was a little dubious as to the difference in temperature possible, but you could feel it as you descend down the sides of the amphitheatres to the base. I´m not sure exactly how much of these amphitheatres has been reconstructed and how much is original stonework, but they looked very neat and impressive to my non-archaeological eye. However I was distracted all too frequently by the overwhelming abundance of wildflowers, surprising for mid-autumn. Many photos later, I headed over to the millenia-old Salinas saltpans.
They were a little less impressive, having been diluted by recent rains, so that what are typically dazzlingly white patterns are now a patchwork of dark brown and light brown squares, with the occasional highlight of white salt in between - however, in a black and white photo you can never tell!
Back to the hostel for a bit of
wild guinea pig hidey-hole
Sillustani, near Puno, Peru
napping and reading on the verandah overlooking the garden, then resting up some more for the morning´s foray into Pisac to check out one of the most popular local markets in South America.
The market turned out less exciting and vibrant than anticipated - just a lot of gringos checking out gringo souvenir stalls. Granted, there was a local food section in the centre, but it made up less than a quarter of the entire market - but they do make a good hot corn on the cob... Got out of the market area as soon as humanly possible between the squeeze of oncoming tourists, and wandered the town streets away from the craziness of haggling and shouting, eating my corn. I did succumb to the power of cheap silver jewellery, but I consider it enhancing the wealth of the local population.
Reluctantly made my way back to Cuzco for one more night, wanting to visit the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay, Puca Pucara and Qenko before leaving for good.
Woke up early to get to the bus depot, taking the easy way out to Tambo Machay, the ruins furthest from Cuzco (8km). Beautiful stonework in excellent condition,
with a spring-fed waterway leading to what is known as the ¨Bath of the Incas¨. The Incans can´t have been very big if that´s where they had their baths, and they must have had tremendous immunity to the cold as well. Walked 500m or so to Puca Pucara, the Red Fort of the Incas (everything is ¨.... of the Incas¨ around here). Nice enough as far as forts go.
Spent a little time wandering to the next site, a few kilometres down the road - at least the weather was on my side - cool and cloudy, but not cold or wet, a welcome sign after the huge thunderstorm the previous night. Entered the ruins of Qenko (or Qenqo, depending on your linguistic tastes), an outcrop of limestone riddled with holes, caves and carvings, including an altar at the top, and channels that allowed the flow of sacrificial chicha/blood down the rockface. Some excellent Inca walls a few hundreed metres away (too far for most tour groups to walk) with a surrounding moat, but becoming overtaken by wildlflowers over time.
Sacsayhuaman was the last of the ruins on the way back to Cuzco, and the most impressive in
local village house
Sillustani, near Puno, Peru
terms of size and sheer grandeur. A massive three-tiered fortress of massive stones (some 2-3 metres high and wide), all perfectly carved and fitted to its neighbour, so that in many instances the walls are free of plants, as they can´t establish a foothold in the rock!
Climbed up the hill opposite the Sacsayhuaman walls, to perch myself in the Throne of the Incas - carved straight into the bedrock, overlooking most of the Sacsayhuaman walls.
Walked back into to Cuzco following an old Inca Road, then collapsing in my current position to let everyone know what I´ve been up to!
Hopping on the overnight bus to Arequipa tonight, just a flying visit, then on to Nazca on the overnight bus tomorrow night. Will update more fully after I´ve survived my flight over the Nazca lines.
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