So today turned out to be far better than yesterday. Of course with my love of history and old stuff it was bound to be a good day since I would be visiting a pre-Incan and Incan burial site known as Sillustani.
The morning started out with my guide Saul (pronounce Sow ul) and driver picking me up for a 45 minute driver through the highlands (we would be about 800 meters higher than Puno which was already at 12,000 feet … YIKES!). Our destination was Cacsi Community on the shores of Lake Umayo where a young woman, Marta, met us and was going to row us over to Umayo Island and then to Sillusanti. I have to admit I felt pretty lousy sitting in a row boat while this woman stood and rowed while she carried on a conversation with my guide. I really wanted to stand up and help her, but that would have no doubt ended up with all of us in the lake. I later learned that this was a pretty normal day for her and she made a pretty descent living at it combined with her farm.
Anyway, the scenery around Umayo Island was fantastic and after about 30 minutes we approached the shoreline and saw a mama vincuna and baby standing on the shoreline. Yay! As Marta rowed parallel to the shoreline, we saw a number of other vincunas as well as some sheep and cows that are raised by the island caretakers.
Marta then veered the rowboat to the left as the sun began to shine through the clouds and row towards the mainland and the historic Sillustani.
After another 20 minutes or so, we reached a rocky makeshift bridge to the mainland. Uh … not sure I can walk on that … but nevertheless, Saul helped me out of the rowboat, I thanked Marta profusely, gave her a tip and then attempted to walk on the large stones that led to dry land. Fortunately my heavy duty hiking boots did not fail me and in short order I was on a small dirt hill that led to the entrance to Sillusanti.
Now about that entrance. I am not sure why, but all these ancient cultures loved to build their burial grounds on high ground. This was no exception. So we were going to have to hike about 15 minutes straight up hill. Ugh. I knew this was going to be tough because it was the highest elevation I have ever hiked. Fortunately, Saul knew that most tourists had a tough time hiking the hill up so we took it VERY slowly. About half way up, we stopped and Saul gave me a short history of the site.
The site was apparently originally used by the Colla people and later the Incas it bury their nobility in chullpas, large funerary towers that were spread across the hilltop. The cylindrical buildings included the bodies of entire families as well as servants, food, pottery and gold and silver for the afterlife. There was a small hole in each chullpas allowing for the body to be moved inside and then sealed. The walls of the pre-Incan chullpas were made of stones, while the Incan chullpas were made from massive stone blocks that were moved by stone ramps.
So with that, we continued the climb through grasses and stones and finally reached series of stone steps to the top. All I wanted to do was sit down, breath and drink and bottle of water. (The air is incredibly dry.)
Once we arrived at the site, we began a tour of the various chullpas. Most of the chullpas were either partially destroyed or I completed. There were very few chullpas that had carvings (which is unusual for Incan buildings), but one notable chullpa had a large lizard carved in the side of one of the walls.
After visiting the site, we hiked back down and head to a local country house for lunch. As we entered the archway, I had to start laughing. The archway had two bulls over the arch. I recall seeing these on the top of houses in Ollyantaytambo in 2010, but this was the first time I had seen bulls over any kind of building in southern Peru. (The bulls are a superstitious symbol and are used to bring good luck. So there you have it Bull … we need to change your name to Lucky Bull.)
Anyway, we entered under the archway and into a courtyard where there were a series of stone buildings. Outside one building was a clay pot over an open fire in which I suspected was cooking soup. Next door was the standard guinea pig pen (cuay – a standard meal in Peru). There were also a couple sheep in the yard and a shy young girl wandering around.
After watching the guinea pigs for a little bit, we were told to come inside for lunch. It was a very nice meal (not as good as the magnificent lunch prepared by Josefina, but still good). We had a wonderful potato soup with pumpkin base, small cheese empanadas and a main course of vegetables, sweet potato, rice and chicken. (The Peruvians love their startches.) Anway, after the soup and empanadas, I could only eat the veggies and a bit of the chicken. There was also a desert of a peach and whipped cream, but I was so full I could not eat any more.
We said goodbye to our hostess and made our way back to Puno. It had been a far better day today and my guide and driver had been quite good. Tomorrow I was leaving Peru and crossing into Bolivia for a two week trip through Copacabana, Sun Island, La Paz, the Uyuni salt flats, Sucre and Santa Cruz and the Jesuit Missions. I was really looking forward to hitting traveling across Bolivia for the first time.