The Sillustani Tombs

Lunch was somewhat hurried affair that day in Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  We had only about an hour between tours.  We had gone to one of the restaurants our tour manager had suggested, the one that we had not selected the night before for dinner.  We were recognized as we approached the place – and welcomed!  Unfortunately, there was a delay in the food getting to the table, and I had to leave half of my quinoa soup behind.   Since Pavel, or tour manager, was also at the restaurant, I was a little less concerned about Broz, our local tour guide, leaving without us.  Anyway, we got back to the hotel in time – but barely.

Sillustani is about 45 minutes away from Puno by road.  You travel on the highway to Juliaca for a while, and then take a turnoff towards Sillustani.  The ride on this second road is short.  The road also ends in Sillustani.  We were dropped off at the parking lot for buses, a fair distance away from the ruins we were visiting.  We had to make our way further on foot.  You could see our destination, the hill with the funerary towers of Sillustani, in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked past a little hamlet.  There was a setup for an open market  on both sides of the street.  Not many of the locals were out selling their stuff at that time. I noticed a few signs for paid restrooms.  Another business opportunity for the locals!

You could see the remains of a hailstorm from the day before beside the road we were walking along.  The funny thing was that we had also been caught in a hailstorm in Chinchero, on our way to the Sacred Valley, a few days earlier. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hill on which the tombs of Sillustani stand lies on a peninsula that juts out into a lake called Lake Umayo.  The lake is much smaller than Titicaca, and it is not that well known.  We climbed past the edge of the lake as we entered into the area of the park.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou could see signs of human activity along the shore of the lake.  We were told that there were reeds that were harvested from this lake, but that these reeds were not used in the same way as the totora of Lake Titicaca.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The picture below was taken after climbing halfway up the hill.  You can see two kinds of funerary towers in the picture.  Both of these kinds of towers are from pre-Inca times.  The one towards the bottom of the picture below is older, from a period of time called the Tiwanaku epoch. The tower at the top was built by the Aymara, an indigenous people who came later. The Aymara were later overtaken by the Inca during their period of ascendancy.  The funerary towers belonging to the Aymara are called chullpasOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Aymara respected the ways of their predecessors, and this is reflected in their adaptation of the use of vertical towers for tombs.  Their designs seem to be even more sophisticated than that of the Incas.  Unlike the Incas, they cut their rocks to specific sizes to fit in regular patterns.  The outside surfaces of the rock were also flattened perfectly, unlike some of the rock used in Inca constructions.  The difference between the two architectures in the picture above is striking.  We saw tombs of both kinds in Sillustani, mostly in a state of disrepair.

We climbed further up the hill to get a closer view of the first of the chullpas.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis particular chullpa was completely broken on one side.  You can see the smaller chamber within the structure at the bottom.  This is the chamber within which people were buried.  Many people (often from a family) could be buried together in a tower. The bodies were placed in a fetal position.  I got the impression that they were placed sitting up. People were buried with some of their belongings. As an aside, the Inca practiced mummification.  They used to bring out the mummies of their ancestors for big occasions, and also “consult” with them for big decisions. I do not know if the Aymara practiced anything similar.

The chambers were apparently quite short.  A height of five feet was mentioned.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are two other chullpas that have survived on the hill at Sillustani.  We next visited the place where they were located.  In the picture below, you can see that we were prepared for rain during the walk.  The weather had been threatening for some time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe two chullpas are at the head of the peninsula on which Sillustani is located.  As we crested a rise in the area of the chullpas, the grand vista of Lake Umayo opened up in front of us.  The view was simply amazing, especially with the threatening storm clouds around us.  This was the kind of grand view that one expected to see on the shores of a well-known lake. This looked better than Lake Titicaca!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven though the weather was threatening, we had to take an additional moment or two to celebrate, because, at 12,800 feet, this was highest level to which we had hiked during the entire trip.  It was even higher than Puno!  (It is true that we were at a higher altitude at the Continental Divide, but we did not do any walking of significance when we stopped there.) We had hiked about a little less than a mile at this point, and climbed a couple of 100 feet during this time, and we were feeling fine in spite of the altitude (although I did hear Broz breathing quite heavily in certain sections when we were climbing, when he was trying to get ahead of the rest of us).

The chullpa in the picture below looked completely intact on the outside.  You can see how tiny the opening to the burial space is.  You would have to crawl to get inside.  I read somewhere that these openings point to the east.  It is the direction of the rising sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rain started falling about this time.  We could observe the lightning bolts in the distance. Then came the distant thunder.  The storm was approaching.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe started making our way back to the bus.  It was all downhill from there.  We were able to pick up the pace.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were a little wet by the time we got back to the bus, but it was not too bad.

We asked Broz if we could see some llamas and alpacas on the way back – if it was not raining.  He offered to take us to the home of one of the locals if we wanted.  We accepted the offer under the condition that we were not disturbing the occupants of the home.  Little did we realize that the occupants of the home we were about to visit were used to receiving visitors regularly.

There were some animals tied up in front of the compound.  This is a llama.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is an alpaca.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this is a hybrid of the two animals above.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll of the animals pictured above are members of the camelid family.  There are also other types of camelids in South America.

The arch at the entrance for the compound included the usual two Pucará bulls on it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were a couple of storage rooms in the compound including this one.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe folks who live here raise the domesticated variety of cuy.  (More about cuy in one of my earlier blogs in this series.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe inside of the living quarters was tiny and crowded with stuff.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey had some food laid out next to their cooking space for the tourists to look at and sample. The lady of the house stuck her hand into one of the still steaming pots in the cooking area and pulled out a few potatoes of different kinds.  Broz cut one of these potatoes and added a paste on top of it. The greenish-grey paste was basically a local clay mixed with water.  He then ate the piece of potato.  A couple of folks from our group also sampled the potato with “mud” on it.  They said the clay was tasteless.  It is supposed to be rich in nutritional value (the picture in the link I have provided may be of the same place that we were at!).

In the picture below, Broz is showing us a bottle of some medicinal concoction that they use that has a snake in it.  It looked somewhat intimidating from closer up.  He is holding the piece of potato that he is eating in his other hand.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a closer look at the cooking space.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe man of the house was working in front of a separate building, creating items from alpaca wool to sell to the tourists.  There was a display of such items.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe returned to the bus after looking at their wares, after unsuccessfully trying to bargain down the price of a shawl that they were selling.

We headed back to Puno and our hotel after this stop.  We were done with trips for the day. Happy hour was happening at 5:00pm. Pavel, our tour manager, was buying us drinks.  Essentially, since this was our last day of touring, this was an opportunity for us to get together casually as a group, and for Pavel to solicit some feedback about our experiences of the trip.  Pavel also gave us initial instructions to prepare us for our impending departure from Lima – to get back to the USA.  Some in the group were actually departing the next day, immediately after dinner.  We ourselves were going to spend the next night in Lima and depart early in the morning the day after.

Since we had already visited the two restaurants in Puno that had been recommended to us, we had to ask around for suggestions for other places for dinner that night.  A restaurant that was right on the Plaza de Armas was recommended by others in our tour group.  That was where we headed.

Night was falling.  We could get a partial view of the cathedral across the plaza from the  the restaurant where we were having our dinner.  We were on the second floor and next to a window.  Dinner was fine, but we had to wait for about an hour for food to be served.  We would have preferred to have crashed out in bed earlier rather than later after another long day of visiting places.

Our trip home began the next morning.

Published by

K. Joseph

I am an engineer by training. I am exploring new horizons after having spent many years in the Industry. My interests are varied and I tend to write about what is on my mind at any particular moment in time.

One thought on “The Sillustani Tombs”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s