on the road to puno

Thursday, May 28: After breakfast we depart by bus to Puno. Along the way, about 22 miles  southwest of  Cuzco, we will visit the village of Andahuaylillas and its main church, the church of San Pedro, also known as and referred to as the Peruvian Sistine Chapel. This Catholic church was built on the base of an ancient Inca temple in 1631 by the Spanish conquistidors as a way to impress and convert its inhabitants. Seeing as how the dominant religion in Peru is Catholicism, the ploy worked very well indeed.

The exterior of this humble looking building with its simple adobe walls and single bell tower is charming but not particularly impressive. Inside is purportedly mind boggling, extensively decorated as it is in 17th century style Baroque artwork and carvings. The main altar is made from cedar, gilded in gold leaf from the Amazon region. Other altars and chapels along both sides are further embellished with a collection of anonymous oil paintings from the slightly more modern Cuzco school of artistic tradition. It’s definitely the interior,  with its beautiful paintings and murals and things I’m sure I’ve missed in my research, that will make it worth the bumpy ride over a short dirt road–in a bus (I could tell you stories)–to get there.

Next stop is the archaelogical site of the ancient Inca town of Raqchi (not to be confused with the nearby town with the same name), with its vast collection of  ruins, still in amazing shape considering the stone remnants have been standing since the 16th century. I keep hearing the phrase, if only walls could talk inside my head. The complex of ruins consists of several different areas each designated with a specific function: living quarters, storage houses, and what is believed to be the fairgrounds & ceremonial baths.

The most prominent structure is the Temple of Wiracocha, devoted to the Inca god of sun and storms, Viracocha (or Wiracocha), a familiar Inca god figure represented with the sun as his crown and thunderbolts in each hand with tears descending from his eyes as rain.  According to myth, Viracocha arose from a lake (Titicaca) or dark cave in order to bring light during the time of darkness. He made the sun, the moon and the stars. Then he made mankind by breathing into stones. His first creations displeased him, however, as they were brainless giants. So he destroyed them with a flood and made a new, better version from smaller stones. Doesn’t that story sound familiar?

Back on the road to Puno, still traveling southeast from Cuzco, we arrive in the quiet pueblo of only a few thousand residents, Pucara. It’s famous for pottery production, and most known for the ceramic figures of Pucara bulls found on housetops throughout the high plains. These figurines are said to bring luck and fertility to the household. A walk through town reveals ovens from the Republican Period, and just about every adobe wall is said to contain shards of the thousands of years of its occupation.

During the time of the year when their famous pottery is not in production, people tend their crops of mostly tubers and quinoa, and watch over their herds of llamas and alpacas near the pueblo.

Next destination: our hotel in Puno, the Sonesta Posadas del Inca Puno Hotel, where I’m betting many of us will be glad to settle in and have a nice, long rest, and discuss what we’ve seen so far.

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