the inca fortress of sacsayhuaman

After spending part of our morning on our own ambling around the city center of Cuzco, Hubby and I ate a vegetarian lunch at a small cafe near our hotel. We’d seen the Cathedral in the main plaza and now looked forward to a long, busy afternoon visiting the ruins surrounding the city,  Puka Pukara, Tampu Machay and the renowned fortress and religious site of Sacsayhuamán.

My focus in this post is the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuamán (pronounced like “sexy woman” which also makes it is easier to remember). The imposing terraced fortress is more than one third of a mile long, and located on the perimeters of the hills overlooking Cuzco.

Experts believe that the city of Cuzco was set up in the form of a puma whose head was the hill of Sacsayhuaman.  The origins are uncertain, but it’s generally attributed to the period of Inca Pachacuti (1438-71), the man who essentially founded the Inca empire, after he succeeded his father as emporer. (For fun information on Pachacuti and his people check out this article.) They conclude that it was completed by around 1508. Pizarro reached his first Inca land in 1526.

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Some of the boulders are estimated to weigh more than 20 tons; the largest is 12 feet thick and 25 feet tall. Without a doubt the Incas were highly skilled stone cutters.  Since the quarries that yielded the Yucay limestone used for the foundation are located about 20 miles from the city, it boggles the mind how they were able to move the massive boulders across rivers and down deep ravines, then up to the hilltop site of Sacsayhuamán.

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Spanish conquistador and chronicler of Peru, Cieza de Leon, wrote in the 1550’s that some 20,000 men had been involved in its construction: 4000 men cutting blocks from the quarries; 6000 dragging them to the site on rollers; and another 10,000 working on fitting them together and finishing the work. Legend has it that 3,000 lives were lost when one huge stone being dragged uphill broke free.

However they cut the stones or managed to get them here, or how many men it took and lives were lost, they were so skilled they were able to fit the massive boulders together without mortar, so perfectly that a mechanic’s thickness gauging instrument cannot be inserted between the rocks of the walls as Ivanoff proudly points out.

Of course these mysteries continue to contribute to numerous fantasies that the structure wasn’t built by the Incas but rather by extraterrestrials who landed on earth thousands of years ago, or that only they could have come up with the technology which they used to teach the Inca how to do it.

feeling vibrationsIn fact many Spanish priests and historians of the day attributed the fortress to demonic enchantment because they viewed the Inca people as inferior.

Some people claim they feel an incredible cosmic energy here and that, rather than a fortress or religious site, this site was built as an astronomic observatory. Ivanoff suggested we might want to get close to the wall to see if we could feel the energy ourselves.

did you feel anything?

Nope. Can’t say that I felt much, but the wall was warm from the sun, and there was a bit of the chill in the air. Neither can I say it didn’t feel peaceful there. Maybe that’s what they mean about cosmic energy.

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If you remember the Cathedral paintings in my previous post about Quechua artists imprinting their religion into their paintings, it won’t surprise you at all to note the way the stone cutters and setters included religious symbols in the fortress walls. See if you can see the snake that represents the underworld in the Inca religion. Hint: Ivanof is pointing toward the head.

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And of course the whole travel group is quick to notice, having been away from our home state for 12 days by the time we came upon this part of the wall, this boulder shaped like an inverted  Utah (the cutout should be on the right side) right there in the wall.

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Some of us liked to joke that once you’ve seen one ruin in Peru, you’ve pretty much seen them all. But upon reflection this many days after returning home, I say or have you? Looking more closely, each ruin has its own story to tell. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it like this:

Rise, too, ye shapes and shadows of the past
Rise from your long forgotten graves at last
Let us behold your faces, let us hear
The words you uttered in those days of fear.

Revisit your familiar haunts again
The scenes of triumph and the scenes of pain
And leave the footprints of your bleeding feet
Once more upon the pavement of the street

quechua artists leave lasting impressions in cuzco cathedral

You may remember the post about our encounter with the protesters in Aguas Caliente and how we were delayed several hours leaving for Ollantaytambo by train after our visit to Machu Picchu. Because of that delay our bus to Cuzco was delayed as well, and resulted in still another delay as our bus driver maneuvered a typical traffic jam caused by a packed parking lot full of tourist buses and cars all trying to leave at once. Needless to say, we arrived very late to our hotel that night, too late for dinner in fact. Luckily we’d had sandwiches on the train which sufficed, and were all just very happy to be there at last.

The next morning we found that Cuzco had protesters too. It altered a few of our touring plans for the morning, but we’d seen many ruins already by that time and decided we could easily forgo a few in exchange for a few hours on our own to explore the city itself. Here we are in the main plaza, within walking distance of our hotel, in the middle of the city where the protest we encountered the day before was continuing. In fact we’d later learn there were demonstrations all over Peru. When we saw a member of this peaceful demonstration throw a supposedly symbolic stone, we decided to take the steps leading to less crowded areas of the plaza.

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These Quechua women walking around the plaza are far too typical of modern life in Cuzco as they lead their pet llama around the plaza for touristas like Hubby and me to pet and admire. They’re just trying to eke out a meager living from the visiting tourists. Under the same circumstances, I’m sure I would be doing the same thing if it was necessary to feed my children. What is impressive about the people in Peru, in my experience, is that there are very few beggars. Most, like the street kid and other artists who are everywhere, are offering a commodity in exchange, i.e., their images for photos to show friends and family back home, or colorful paintings of Peruvian scenery and people to decorate our homes and remind us of our visits.

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Sometimes, you can get even more interesting snapshots just by surreptitiously clicking the camera at random for more candid photos of city life, like these, when no one knows or cares that you have a camera in hand.

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For me, after living in a perpetually new city like Las Vegas for nearly nine years, a city known for destroying historical buildings every year in order to make room for new ones, it’s always refreshing to find a city that finds value in both the old and the new.

Below is a wide-angle shot of the main square of Cuzco as it looks today. The Spanish Church of Santo Domingo is on the left, and the impressive Church of La Compañia built by the Jesuits on the right. Many visitors claim it surpasses its neighbor to the left as the most beautiful church in the city. Of course the plaza didn’t look like this when Pizzaro arrived looking for gold in 1533. From accounts of the original Inca Temple of the Sun as described by the first Spaniards to enter the city we can only imagine how magnificent they must have been.

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They told of lavish ceremonies taking place here day and night by the 4000 serving priests. Decor was described as fabulous beyond belief with carved granite walls covered in more than 700 sheets of pure gold, and a spacious courtyard filled with life-size statues of animals made of pure gold standing in the midst of a field of corn. The temple was aptly called coricancha which means corridor of gold. Naturally, anyone whose original purpose in exploring Peru was to find gold, the first order of business would be to loot the palaces of their treasures, melt down the gold from the temple. Afterwards, they would build their own church and begin to convert the native Peruvians from their ancestor- and nature-worship to Catholicism.

Major earthquakes have severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand as a testimony to the superb architectural skills and sophisticated stone masonry of the Inca. In fact, when it became apparent that the stone supports were too difficult to completely destroy, the new church  was built directly over the original Sun temple foundation.

Of course the church is again filled with impressive artwork, as well as gold altars and statues of the saints, including Jesus, gilded but no less impressive. In fact, art was another way to change the Inca culture. Spanish painters from the Cuzco School were brought in to teach Peruvians to paint pictures from Christian biblical history.

Ivanoff, our guide, told us about one such artist, a Quechua painter from Cuzco named Marcos Zapata (1710-1773), and one of the last members of that school, who is famous for adding elements of his own culture into his 1753 rendition of The Last Supper.

800px-Marcos_Zapata (2)It shows Jesus and his disciples gathered around a table set with roasted rodent of some sort–a viscacha or perhaps cuy–as well as an assortment of fruit and vegetables of the Andean diet then and now rather than the bread and wine of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting.There are also glasses of Chicha, a fermented drink usually made from corn, featured in mug-like glasses.

Other artists included aspects of the ancient culture in their paintings as well. One that I hadn’t noticed before Ivanoff pointed it out is an interesting difference and one I believe worth noting here. In Renaissance paintings of the Christ figure, European painters show Jesus with his head tilted slightly to the left looking upward–presumably towards his father, God in Heaven, while those by Peruvians show him with his face tilted to the right and looking downward–towards Mother Earth, Pachamama, perhaps?

I’ve only touched the surface of the wonders of the talent and abilities of the ancient Chechua civilization, but our brief exposure to the lasting impressions of the culture left by the artist Zapata and other Peruvian artists have taught me to look at religious art in a whole new way. My next post about Peru will feature the religious site of Sacsayhuaman, famous for its cosmic energy.

the ruins of Machu Picchu

The prevailing story of Machu Picchu is that it was built by the Inca as a royal estate and religious retreat in 1460-70. It would have been practically impenetrable, since reaching them would have meant ascending a steep slope covered with dense vegetation. The whys and wherefores are still open to speculation. One is the Incas wanted to protect themselves from the Spanish.

Whatever the reason, after a hundred years the site was abandoned and forgotten for 500 years. Due to the nearly insurmountable terrain, it became well hidden and many thought it to be only a city of myth. Indeed there is not one sign of the Spanish culture nor the Catholic religion to be found there to this day.

Then along came Hiram Bingham, an explorer in charge of a Yale University expedition, who wanted to see if the legendary capital of the governing Inca’s descendants was real. Although disputes continue about other explorers having made the discovery as early in 1894, without question it was Bingham who introduced Machu Picchu to the outside world after his re-discovery on June 24, 1911.

zig zag road from aqua calientes to machu picchu from brian mcmorrow

There are several ways to reach the famous ruins. One is the classic and famous Inca Trail Bingham and other explorers used, which takes even seasoned hikers four days to cover with a guide, or the way we arrived there, by train from Ollantaytambo to our abode in the village of Aguas Calientes and from there a tourist bus over the zig-zag road you see here in a photograph taken by international traveler Brian McMorrow who graciously gave me permission to use it here. He has a very impressive photo-journal of his extensive travel in Peru and you can access all his travel albums by clicking here.

In the past five years, another trail–the Camino Salcantay–has begun to emerge as a popular alternative to the Inca Trail. In fact, a network of high-end lodges have opened for business along the route. You can either set up your own camps along the way or book the lodges, indulging in a hot shower, Jacuzzi, and a home-cooked meal at the end of the day.

Maybe if we had done this trip in our 20’s, 30’s–even our 40’s–I would have chosen the alternative trail, but for this stage of my life, the bus was just fine–thank you very much–and at the end of the ride, I was no less impressed with my first glimpse of the ancient citadel.

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Our guide Ivanoff explained the city’s design. Terraces were built for purposes of farming, the sizes varying according to the slope of the mountain, but some also may have had other purposes, such as securing the mountains from seismic activity of earthquakes.

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Whether the ancient city was built as a sanctuary for noblemen or as a religious sanctuary of sorts, it functioned much like any other city with areas set aside for residences. Others were reserved for temples to the gods (Condor, Sun, Three-Windows, as well as the principal temples, all named by Bingham) for for the houses of the priests, as well as a uniquely designed water works area built with stone. For stone walls assembled in 1460 and still standing in the 21st century, the walls of these temples are excellent examples of Inca masonry.

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Some visitors, after seeing this area of the Temple of the Condor (see the head in the foreground) have suggested this as a torture site with cavernous cave like areas (background) built to hold prisoners awaiting execution.

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From all accounts, however, Incas were an extremely advanced civilization in many ways. They developed a distinctly organized hierarchical class system with the nobility at the top as supreme leaders, religious leaders or chief priests second, then the relatives of those two in third rank. Last were all the other Incas.

As the empire grew, Incas were organized by a pecking order of privilege, beginning with those who had lived in Cuzco for a long time and spoke the ancient language (Quechua), under them were the public administrators, then the former leaders of the conquered states, and then came the artisans. The most important point of the whole civilization, however, was that everyone contributed to the whole society, not just themselves or their family.

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How the terraced areas were landscaped and maintained during the 15th century is up to interpretation and speculation by thousands of real and armchair explorers before us and the thousands more that will follow, but it’s easy to speculate that these modern-day inhabitants who have become popularly referred to as living lawn mowers are one of if not THE most photographed.

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We ate lunch that day at the famous Sanctuary Lodge located a short distance away. I had seen the lodge and restaurant featured on a television travel show in high definition and had been so looking forward to having lunch there. It turned out to be one of the few disappointments of the trip though. Obviously the strict class system continues in Machu Picchu, which a capsule room rate description will further clarify.

The cheapest STANDARD rooms available (no views) at the only lodge available outside Aguas Calientes where our group is staying is at this writing $852 per night. A suite with mountain views commands $1490. Food service likewise. I found there are TWO restaurants in the lodge. There’s the Tampu Restaurant with seating for 72, where you can enjoy Peruvian cuisine with spectacular views of the countryside.

Then there’s the Tinkuy that hosts a daily lunch buffet. Guess which one we lunched at? The food, Peruvian as well as international dishes, was definitely good, and there was even a local band trying to play loud enough above the noise of the crowd so as to be heard, but it was really difficult–even with the most positive of open minds–to enjoy it while feeling like a herd of cattle being shunted through the feeding stations. By the way, the relatively small dining area holds a maximum of 200 people. There were at least 188 already seated by the time we arrived.

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After lunch, we were free to board any one of the many buses headed back to Agua Calientes, or re-enter Machu Picchu. Hubby and I chose to do a little more looking on our own. Nearly all the tourists crawling the terraces were now gone–I suspect to the lodge restaurant–and we saw the lost city in a far prettier, less crowded light.

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IMG_0073We were both really happy we’d decided to go back, as it was one of the quietest periods of the whole day. And nobody messed with Texas that day either as far as we could tell. Then we walked up to the bus lot to head back down that curvaceous road.

zig zag road from aqua calientes to machu picchu from brian mcmorrow

You may be surprised to learn the road is two-way! Looking at the road here, I find it extremely difficult to imagine the severe turns or the agility of the hundreds of tourist bus drivers who make the drive each day, but we made it safely. On the way back down, I remember thinking we would be stuck for hours at the very least when our driver was headed into the curve itself and a couple of automobiles coming the opposite direction pushed ahead ignoring the apparent protocol (the driver in or near the curve has right-of-way). None of us could believe it when the driver not only stopped, but began backing up. I think you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

Luckily I was sitting on the side nearest the mountain and wouldn’t see us slipping off the edge of the road and bouncing all the way back to Machu Picchu. I think all our hat’s all went off to the driver after he deftly managed  maneuvering that one! The cars, by the way, were those of the police.

The class system of the ancient Inca not only continues, apparently it thrives!

part 2 – rural tourism experience in village of atuncolla

To recap from part l, the date was May 30, our 40th wedding anniversary. Our group had spent the morning gliding around Lago Umayo looking for wildlife, then we were treated to traditional highland homemade snacks with our host family and the boatmen beside the lake, a truly memorable picnic. After a stopover at Silistani for a tour of the pre-Incan burial grounds of the Colla people, the Aymara, we were bussed to Julio’s house to spend the afternoon.

I’ve written several times about the little bulls you see adorning so many homes and entries throughout the highlands of Peru. Thanks to my fellow traveler, Judy, you can see what they look like. Does anyone besides me see pigs with horns?

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Julio’s home has a courtyard, like most families have, with several buildings inside the compound. I like the idea of a private enclosed area like this. If I were designing my ideal home, it would certainly include an area like this where I could poke around with my clay projects and not worry about the muddy mess. Plus you could put up a clothes line to line dry your bed linens. Or dry your underwear outside without the neighbors knowing what size you wear.

IMG_0389 Inside, a three-quarter wall separates the prep and kitchen area from the dining area. Peruvian posters and pots of flowers add color to otherwise very plain decor. Despite how we look in the photos, I assure you our group was actually looking forward to this lunch. What you’re seeing on our faces is what tired looks like on 60-somethings, while Julio’s wife Maria begins to serve up smiles with our lunch.

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Hey! I recognize those dishes. I have a similar set of four plates and a serving platter in green, which I use for lunch or tea, at home in my cupboard! Lunch is all fresh items, and I think the peas (below) look like eyes, but the mouth seems to have rolled off. I finished mine completely, and drank at least two cups of coca tea.

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After dessert (I can’t remember what it was, hence a sense of urgency I have in completing these Peruvian posts) we settled back in our chairs to meet the village shaman and witness a ceremony Julio had arranged in our honor. In the following photos the shaman assembles an offering of gratitude to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the Apus (mountain spirits) and other spirits of nature. I think it’s a reminder of the inter-connectedness between all beings, elements, spirits, and sacred places of the earth.

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There was little formality other than our observing in quiet respect and taking part as we were instructed. To begin, we were told to think of an issue or something that bothered us, we should fix our minds on it and also think of a wish we’d like to come true, then choose two coca leaves and focus to transfer all those thoughts and energy on them.

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Marilyn (l) seems to be thinking hard, Caroline (r) is having too much fun to contemplate too hard, and Boyce (standing) seems to have a headache while we all watch. Note the other natural elements involved–the oyster shell which contains llama fat and wine if memory serves me.

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I think Kathryn may have her eyes on that bottle of wine, but Judy is certainly giving the shaman her full attention. My wish had long since made, and came true by the way, as I wished for a safe journey back to our homes for all of us, and I’m not telling what issue I focused on. The jury’s still out on that one.

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After the shaman had collected everything, such as all our wishes and issues now represented  within the coca leaves, he placed onto that clean rectangle of paper so that he could pray over them. Then he blew his breath on them and bundled them up to be moved outside to a firepit where Julio was waiting with a fire to receive our offerings.

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While all this ceremony, which as I pointed out was very informal, was in preparation, I decided to make a quick pit stop at the baño that Julio had installed for the comfort of western tourists. It had  a western style toilet, but the flusher didn’t work. This didn’t bother me much, as I knew from prior experience that the tub of water on the floor was there to be used to flush without a flusher. I filled the bucket half full and tossed it directly into the toilet bowl and, wa la, the toilet throat swallowed everything right up like magic. Meanwhile, things outside were about to begin full force.

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There was just enough time to see the shaman pouring a little more wine to an apparently thirsty Pachamama and getting the fire flaming still higher and receiving our offerings. It produced quite a bit of smoke in the constant cold breeze. Then he passed the incense around and asked us all to breathe our blessings in deeply.

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The shaman himself was a mustachioed man of small stature with a very peaceful demeanor, always smiling or grinning, and seeming genuinely happy. I asked Francisco (the guide) how one decides to become a shaman. He explained that it’s a job handed down in families. I’m sorry now that I forgot to ask if women can become shamans too, but apparently so. I’ve read that sometimes shamans come in couples.

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I noticed this shaman had a wedding band on his right ring finger in the Spanish tradition, so after the ceremony was finished, he changed from his shaman hat to his traveling hat, retrieved his bicycle, and waved goodbye. Presumably he was headed back to Mrs. Shaman. The whole afternoon, the luncheon, the shaman, the ceremony, had all been an experience of a lifetime.

IMG_0426 (2)Goodbye, Mr. Shaman. Godspeed.

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And a very special goodbye to the adorable little girl,  Julio’s young daughter and his best PR person, who stole our hearts.

part 1 of rural tourism experience in village of atuncolla

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.

IMG_0358(Lake Umayo, near Lake Titicaca in the Andean highlands of Peru)

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.

tomas.family.carolinaThat’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.

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pasu.me.lake.titticaca.carolinaHere 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.

IMG_0368When 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.

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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.

IMG_0371Like 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.

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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.

walking.to.lake.carolinaI thought you might like to see how beautiful the lake looks from the village as Marta followed Francisco to the lake. Those are the same reed plants that we’d seen earlier in the floating islands.

IMG_0386This 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.

IMG_0387Like neighbors anywhere, the folks next door–particularly the children–are curious about what those people next door are up to with all those gringos walking up the path.

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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.

a peaceful place: llachon pueblo village in southern peru

As our boat headed to Capachica Peninsula, a little less than 20 miles away, I couldn’t help wondering what could possibly follow our morning adventure with the families on one of the floating totora islands we’d just left that would not be anti-climactic. It would be a hard act to follow. There would first be a several-mile-walk to reach the house of Tomás, a member of the community who was beginning a new venture of hosting meals to visit tourists eager to learn more of the Quechua communal way of life. Members of this pueblo community of about 500 families have been very receptive to the fastest growing industry in Peru–tourism–as a supplement to their income from farming.

IMG_0294 Here we are at last, ready to walk for our lunch. Right away the path from the lake (Lagos Titicaca) goes up. ALWAYS up or down, seldom level! By now, we’ve become more used to long hikes up and down and around and over, and we’ve been assured it’s not too far, only about a mile. But we’ve learned to suspect that not too far means something quite  different to  Peruvian guides than it does to touristas.

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The path is  so picturesque with the lake behind and beside us as we walk, and everyday village life going on all around us, so that I was totally unaware of time passing. At the same time I was totally aware that–at the end of this path–we would be meeting and talking with people who live very different lives from ours.

IMG_0296We have reached the home of Tomás. Marta and Caroline are among the first to enter the courtyard. I’ve noticed that the entrances to all these pueblos have arched entryways adorned by two small statues either at the top of entries or on housetops throughout the high plains. They look at first glance to be pigs but they are Pucara bulls. They’re supposed to bring luck and fertility to the household.

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Inside the compound, on the way to the dining room or what Tomás calls his new restaurant, I admire these lovely little villas all flanked by beautiful flowers and our guide José explains that these are rental units for tourists.

If Hubby or  I were a bit more fluent in Spanish it would be tempting to come back someday and stay several days in this peaceful place.

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Llachon certainly compares in beauty to any island I’ve visited anywhere, even Hawaii, but without being saturated with commercialism. I really hope that these simple, peaceful places never vanish. Can you imagine a McDonald’s or  a Ben & Jerry’s, or a Starbucks littering the landscape?

José takes a few minutes to point out the different varieties of tubers gathered from the farm that morning. He demonstrates a primitive garden tool farmers still use, and tells us we’ll be invited to try our hands with it later in the afternoon.

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Just before entering the dining area, we pass one of the women who was helping out in the Tomás kitchen that day as she washes and prepares some of the tubers that will make up one of the first courses of lunch.

IMG_0310Tomás and his wife stand at the head of the long dining table made up to accommodate our group of 10, or 11 counting our guide. Mary’s knee had been giving her problems and was swollen that day so she decided to rest it and stay behind in the hotel. A voracious reader, she had  taken a loaded kindle e-book along with her. It came in handy as it turned out.

IMG_0308After assorted appetizers using different types of tubers and a first course of delicious quinoa soup, the main course was served: chicken breast pan grilled in butter, with sides of assorted peas, carrots, squash and tomato slices, each fresh from the garden that morning, accompanied by very hot salsas and unlimited cups of coca tea.

IMG_0311All the while we were in Peru, Hubby was quick to grab hats of all different sorts and try them on as you’ll see if you read further posts of our Peru tour. I guess we forgot to tell him, however, this one was for women.

We noticed lots of different styles of hats all over Peru. We learned that designs differed for each community, and is distinctive to that area. So if you’re a native Peruvian, all you need do is observe the hats worn and you know what region the wearer comes from.

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After lunch was finished, we paused for pictures with Tomás and his daughter Marielle on his left, who is visiting from Puno where she’s in her 2nd year of college. The other ladies are relatives who live nearby and have come by to help Tomás with his visitors.  They showed off some of their crafts of colorfully embroidered fabric, knitted hats and loom weaving. I felt someone plunk one of those hats on my head. Clearly it was my turn to try one. Is it my imagination? Or do they really look look better on the ladies that made them instead of gringos like us?

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Despite our promise of sorts to help Tomás with some farm chores after lunch, time restraints forced us to head back to the boat. So he grabbed his hand tool and went to work just to show us what a backbreaking job it is. Maybe it’s just as well all us 60-something gringos were spared by our hectic schedule. Just walking back down to the boat would prove to be a big enough job.

IMG_0329Along the way it was obvious that what we were seeing was a typical day in the lives of the Llachon people. Tomás wasn’t the only community member working hard. This man is carrying a load of dried grasses for feeding livestock off-season and the cool temperatures suggested winter was on the way.

The walk back would be longer than the walk in, because the boat had moved down river so that we could walk through and observe the village on the way back. Most of the faster ones in the group went on quite far ahead, and others of us, including me, stayed behind to check on Robert (Mary’s husband) as we knew he was not feeling well and didn’t want him to feel he was slowing everyone up. Besides, it’s always best to go slower and take time to smell the flowers as you go. Or, in this case, the watercress patch. . .

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. . .as well as checking the lay of the farm land and taking dozens of pictures as we walked. The terraced farm patches, the houses, the flowers growing wild, the stones, the red clay soil, offered such a textural and sensuous delight.

The blue mountainous looking island you see in the distance here is Bolivia. You may remember José telling us that, while Peru claims 60% of the borders of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia has the rest. Or to put it another way, titi for Peru and caca for Bolivia.

In the meantime, Robert was feeling worse by the minute and as robust a man as he appears normally, it was clear he was suffering because he asked José if he thought someone on one of the small rowboats could help get him to our boat. We didn’t know it then, but he had begun to feel chest pains and he was very pale. The boat was in sight by that time, but still little more than a speck that seemed to get further and further away with every step.

Luckily, José knew the people on the island and was able to get help. A woman out walking called out to her son who was out on the lake in his boat. He and his mother and José together were able to get him down the bottom of the hill. Long story short, with the assistance of these generous spirited people, Robert made it back in a rowboat with Judy, a fellow traveler who had stayed with him all the way back. For the rest of us, knowing that our friend could possibly be very ill, the walk along the sandy beach after we made it to the bottom, is one of the longest walks of our lives.

IMG_0347The sun was going down as we said farewell to Lake Titicaca. What a day it had been!

On the boat, Robert was administered oxygen, a pallet was mad up along the side passenger bench. By the time we made it back to the  hotel, he was getting some color back and feeling well enough to make it back to the hotel on his own two feet. It was not a heart attack after all, more likely the usual traveler’s problems plus a combination of heat exhaustion and altitude sickness. As they say in all the storybooks, all is well that ends well.