Founded in 1668 near a now defunct silver mine, and on the shore of Lake Titicaca, Puno sits at 12,500 feet. My faulty heart beat hard in my chest climbing up the hills to see the Chullpa Tombs of Sillustani-hell, it protested going up the stairs of the hostel.
The chullpas, huge stone towers cut into square, cylinder, and rectangular shapes that all fit snugly together, is where the Colla tribe buried their dead over 500 years ago.They have been plundered by grave robbers, tumbled by earthquakes, and defaced by tourists. However, they continue to stand as testament to their respect of the dead. I get it. I take great pride in my family cemetery plot where the remains of my beloved family lies in Foxburg, PA. although in comparison, our tomb stones are a bit understated.
Would you be interested in setting up house on a foundation of tortora reeds that rot continually, forcing you to move every 25 years or so? I didn’t think so. The small island, part of the Uros Floating Islands that we visited was one of about 48 on Lake Titicaca. Three or four families, a total of 26 people live there. I bought a hand-embroidered pillow case of Pachamama (mother earth), made by Maria, the matriarch of the clan. When I was paying her, the coin fell into the reeds causing us to dig among them to find it. Walking on the reeds, ones feet sink in am inch or two. I watched a toddler lurch and stumble, but he got to his destination without help.
The island was very small, less than a whole block in the US; the houses not much more than thatched roof huts. The tribe used to use reed boats exclusively , but out back, behind the houses were several motor boats that the kids were playing on when I was there. A puppy, that dared to poop in front of us tourists was isolated in one of them, looking longingly at the kids. Apparently most of the families only go the islands to meet the tourists, and live on solid land these days. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating history and gives one a clue to ‘back in the day.”
Taquile Island is a non-floating island, with an intricate pattern of terraced farming, fenced off by large rocks dug up on the land. It reminded me of Ireland and England.
The Aymara and Uros tribes have intermarried, causing the Uros language to fade out. We were given a demo of the hats the men wear. Similar to Christmas stockings complete with tassels, depending on if he is married or single, or needs a visor for the sun, it’s turned around on his head. Boy, it takes out the guessing for the girls, who wear long scarves around their hair but don’t cover their faces. They wear tons of petticoats under their skirts and intricately, handknit sweaters.
The guide books say Puno pales in comparison to the colonial beauty of Ariquipa and Cusco. Maybe so, but it beats them hands down for sheer friendliness. Saturday, I happened upon a festival in the plaza. It was not for tourists. The colors of the costumes dazzled under the bright blue sky and hot sun. Walking around taking photos, I was asked to danced, given a cup of beer, and asked questions about my country. Even the women who are usually shy and don’t want their photos taken, allowed me to take a few.
Hilda, the woman who owns Inka’s Rest Hostel could not have been friendlier or more accommodating. Within a day I felt a kinship with her. She suggested I move there, and teach English to her, he
Huts: Uros Island
r 4 year old daughter, and the staff. It’s tempting. Having ceviche in a tiny restaurant, the owner came out to sit with me, to share lives. That to me, is the point of travel.