Early, early Thanksgiving morning was spent winging our way toward the shores of Lake Titicaca. We landed in Juliaca, the closest airport to Puno, the city that we stayed in while exploring the lake. Juliaca is a large city, the capital of the San Roman province. The major industry there is smuggling things in from Bolivia. Evidently, the cost of living in Bolivia is much cheaper; so many things are smuggled across the border. Another interesting fact about Juliaca is that it is on the Altiplano (which is Spanish for high plain). The Altiplano is the second highest plateau in the world, Tibet is the first. It was interesting to be in the Andes at 11,450 ft and have the city of Juliaca totally flat!
We made a visit to Sillustani, which is on the shore of Lake Umayo and is the area where large circular burial towers were built. Lake Umayo is 120 ft above Lake Titicaca, Lake Titicaca is at 12,507 ft above sea level. So, as you can see, we were very high up and the altitude was an issue. Oh my gosh, at 8:30 in the morning, I felt as if I had been beaten and tossed aside. We had headaches and suffered from shortness of breath….putting one foot in front of the other was an effort.
We had taken altitude sickness pills that were recommended at the pharmacy, but throughout the rest of the trip, we came to realize that they were pretty useless. I had also read somewhere that Excedrin was good for altitude sickness. We faired better with Excedrin, but unfortunately, I didn’t bring enough. At the end of the trip, we met a couple who had gotten an “inside scoop” from a serviceman who is stationed in Afghanistan. He told them that for altitude sickness, the US government issues ibuprofen and Coca-cola. They tried it and had no problems. So, my next altitude adventure, I will give it a try.
So, back to the burial towers, which are called chullpas…..these towers, some as tall as 36 ft., were built during the Colla culture. Which was pre-Inca, I believe around 1200 AD. The Incas came to the area in the 1400s. These high towers were built to bury the nobility of the Colla and Aymaras cultures….later, when the Incas invaded, they utilized these tombs for their own people. The guide showed us that the rocks were very porous because they came from the volcanic rock of the area. So, they developed a drainage system to drain the water away from the rocks to prevent them from eroding.
One of the chullpas had the relief of a lizard, Torre de Lagartija and another had the relief of a serpiente (snake). The lizard is a symbol of life, since it has the power to re-grow its’ own tail.
Another interesting fact about the towers, is they are in the general form of a woman’s uterus. The Collas, who were way more advanced in design and construction, than the Incas were; believed that it was Mother Earth who created life. Therefore, the dead were mummified and placed in a fetal position in the tower, the same way they entered the world. The tomb doors face east since that is the direction which the Sun is born.
When you see the pictures of Lake Umayo, you will notice the shore with long finger like projections. This is how they irrigate their fields. It is on the long “finger” part of the land that the crops are planted. Frogs are brought in to live on these pieces of land and when they die, they are considered to be good fertilizer.
Leaving the Sillustani area, we passed some beautiful houses. These houses are several small buildings…one for the bedroom, another for the kitchen, another to store tools as well as open spaces all enclosed with a high stone wall. One that we stopped to take a picture of, the owner invited us for a tour. It was very lovely, very clean and appeared to be very efficient. The roofs are thatched and he had a bicycle tire thrown on top of each one. That was his “lighten rod”. Also, on top of the roofs, there were ceramic bulls and cow figurines….these were for protection and prosperity.