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?

bulls over arch-judy

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.’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.

vicuna-lake titticaca refuge-judy 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.


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.

IMG_0377 IMG_0378

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. 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.


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.