Who are the residents of Atuncolla? One of the oldest civilizations of Peru, the local residents descend from the Qollas, who lived from 1400 BC to 1200 AD , having risen to power following the collapse of the Tithuanaco culture of the 12th century. In turn, the Incas later conquered them, but perhaps because of their remote rural lifestyle they have successfully maintained their ancestral lifestyle–farming and fishing–in spite of economic hardship.
Following the lead of its neighbor city of Amantani on Lake Titicaca which began an association of living tourism in the late 1990’s, the village of Atuncolla near the smaller lake Umayo, joined the program just in time for our visit in May. In fact I believe we may have been among if not THE first visitors to this community.
What makes it unique is that visitors are invited to participate in daily family tasks as much as scheduling allows–in the fields, festivals and rites of the day, just as an ordinary family would. As intrusive as it may sound, if it works, the families will be able to retain their cultural identity in their rural setting just as they have for centuries.
That’s how we came to meet Julio and his family on May 30 during our Peruvian tour. He and his family climbed aboard our tour bus as we were driving to the Umayo Lagoon where we’d take the wooden paddle boats to view wildlife–particularly the shy Vicuña–in their natural setting on an island wildlife preserve. Although their colors blend perfectly with the colors of the island foilage, you can see several of a herd in the photograph below.
Here we are on our boat in Lake Umayo. Turns out it was our boat man’s first tourist gig and he apparently hadn’t yet figured out how to distribute passenger weight or maybe I looked a lot lighter than I actually am. At any rate, he had to stop here to bail water and scoot Hubby from beside me on the bow to the back of the boat, crimping our style a bit considering it was our 40th wedding anniversary. My shoes were already sopping wet with the water we took in as the bow kept dipping lower, taking in water. I was a little disconcerted by the cold, but determined to take it as it came. I had on my Mae West (life vest) after all, and it could hardly be much colder in the water than I already was with the chilly wind. Our guide Francisco was wrong when he said I wouldn’t need my windbreaker.
When we returned to shore to dock, we hurried to join Julio and family and friends who were helping for the day. When we had boarded our boats earlier, Julio somehow fell in the water so while we were out cruising, he went home to change into dry clothes. Oh well. Weirder things have happened during debuts I’m sure.
When the farmers go out to work in their fields during the day, they typically eat only two meals a day with a “snack” during mid-day, which fortifies them until dinnertime. We’ll share that experience today with a typical snack picnic by the river.
The snacks are made from quinóa and other grains, and taste vaguely like whole-grain versions of a cracker. There are also several varieties of small, potato-like, finger-sized tubers that, as good as they are for you, probably are an acquired taste. Hoping not to offend my hosts, I tried to eat enough so as not to leave a bad impression.
Like good hosts everywhere, everyone waited politely while the guests went first, then the boatmen–who had done all the hard work after all and were much more deserving of snacks than us–were invited to join in.
When snacks were finished, our group set off to the bus waiting for us on the road and Julio and his group headed back to their house to begin preparations for a mid-afternoon lunch to which we were all invited and were looking forward to. But first we would drive a short distance to a different part of the lake to explore a portion of the ruins of Sillustani where the funeral towers (chulpas) are.
I didn’t feel any vibrations while I was in this area, but I’ve found numerous reports of such in la la la la twilight zone stories online. One visitor, according to one story I read, felt herself taken over by the spirit of one of the noblemen buried here (their remains have long since been looted or removed to museums) and was able to answer any question about the period when asked. Regrettably I don’t have the link, but I have a healthy skepticism about that kind of thing no matter how fascinating the stories. It sure would have made a nice tour exceptional, however, but no one in our group seemed to feel anything more than wind tickling the hairs on their arms.
Corpses placed in each tomb were typically placed in a fetal position along with some of their belongings, including clothing and common equipment they might need in an afterlife. The construction of the chullpa varied with ethnic group. Those of the north Altiplano are circular and constructed with stone, while those of the south are rectangular and constructed with adobe. Some are left unadorned, while others have intricate carvings. At Sillustani, many have lizards carved into the stone, presumably because lizards could regenerate their tails if they were accidentally chopped off, therefore becoming a symbol for continuing life. Also, the tomb openings face the rising Sun of the east, symbolizing new life each day.
After we left Sillustani, it was time to head back to Julio’s for the much anticipated typical highland lunch. I had felt slight misgivings about the menu, so on the way I asked our guide for the day, Francisco, what was the likelihood of guinea pig being a portion of the meal. He assured me that they had been coached by the agency and would be serving a largely vegetarian meal but no cuy, and that the menu of the day would most certainly feature one of the main vegetable crops of the village, the potato.
This is the right side of Julio’s home, just before entering the courtyard. You can just barely see the religious bulls (left) on the archway entry. And, oh yes, every home seems to have at least one llama in residence.
My next Peruvian entry will continue from here, as we enter and prepare for lunch and the special event Julio has planned for us afterward.