Puno, also named the “Folkloric Capital of Peru”, has many things to offer to the avid tourist. One of its most famous sites is Sillustani, a pre- Incan burial ground built by the Aymara-speaking Collas - a population living in the Titicaca region before the Incas. The kings and nobles were buried in these towers, together with their riches.
The Sillustani towers named “Chullpas” are still an enigma for the historians, who have not yet figured entirely their construction style. Chullpas are regarded as the most perfect cylindrical constructions of ancient Peru, and in fact, such perfection can be found nowhere else in South America. The Collas believed in being reborn and careful preparations were made for life after death. The rebirth mythology is quite rich. The interior part of the tombs is the representation of a woman's uterus; and the corpses were buried as mummies in a foetal position. It was believed that this would recreate their birth.
A keen tourist with an attentive eye can also decipher lizards carved into the tomb stone. Because they regrow their tails, lizards were venerated as a symbol of never-ending life. Another unique detail, the tombs’ only openings face east, where it was believed the Sun was reborn by Mother Earth each day.
The engineering involved in the towers construction is more complex than anything the Incas have ever built. After Incas have conquered the Aymara cultures, the Chullpas were still preserved.
The Quechua speaking population living on the Altiplano, “Los Campesiños”, have kept the same housing style for hundreds of years: exterior walls made out of stones are protecting the small adobe brick houses.
Locals are very welcoming and they introduce you quickly to their routines.
Melissa is a 4 year old and she expressed her wish to show us her house. My first surprise: giant popcorn.
Animals, especially cattle, are essential for surviving. Every “campesiño” house (farmer) has at least a pair of bulls on top of the roof, or on the entrance archway. The farmers believe these animals have the power of looking after the house, protecting them from evil.
A local superstition; mandibulae of the sacrificed sheep are kept under the house, as this will bring prosperity over the owners. The kitchen is simple, reduced to the minimum. Only essential utensils are kept and the ceramic is similar to the old Inca style. Grains, potatoes, papas, corn - these are the main ingredients of a typical farmer’s diet.The houses are small and functional. Their adobe walls keep cool during the summer and warm during the winter. The crop is deposited in clay recipients.
The agriculture is still traditional in some remote areas and the tools used are quite primitive.
Traditional clothing is still preferred on the Altiplano. Women are weaving and sewing, proudly preserving their traditional patterns.
Infants and small children are most affected by the quick weather changes. Their young skin does not have the endurance of the parents and their cheeks get quickly burned by the wind and the sun. This endurance is built over the years and the best present a tourist can give a child is sun-screen; therefore Melissa gets my entire supply.