I have been in Puno, Peru for about a month and now that the excitement of Candelaria and my first major illness have passed, I’ve realized that the majority of interesting things to see and do in Puno are actually outside of Puno. Today I went with my friend, Stacey, on an organized tour to the ancient pre-Incan cemetery of the Aymara people known as Sillustani.
Visit to the Ancient Burial Grounds
The main sites to see at Sillustani are the large towers or chullpas which served as the tombs of the Aymara people. The Aymara were the peeps rocking out in Peru’s Altiplano region before the Incas crashed their party. The chullpas come in all flavors, above and below ground, large ones for the nobility, smaller ones for children and each with its own patron animal if you will. The main chullpa that is shown in most photographs of Sillustani is the tower of the lizard and is symbolic as a place for meditation, tranquility and silence.
What’s interesting about the chullpas is that many of them remain unfinished and are made of magnetic rocks that actually aren’t indigenous to the region (at least the white rocks were not). Upon closer inspection, they also looked a little like asteroids. Magnetic rocks that look like asteroids? I couldn’t help but imagine I was on the set of an X-files episode and at any moment, Mulder was going to crawl out of one of these tombs and start preaching about the impending apocalypse. Note: this may seem strange to you but trust me, letting your imagination run wild makes history more fun and helps you remember facts and details.
If you’re lucky, you will have at least one eccentric person in your tour group and in mine, it was an older Dutch man who was perpetuating my fantasy about being in an X-files episode. I never actually figured out the why to this mystery, but all throughout the tour he was constantly wandering off and inspecting under the rocks. I still have no clue as to what he was looking for, but given that we were at an ancient burial ground, I couldn’t help but think he was searching for some creepy human skulls to take home as a souvenir. I mean, what else do you think you’re going to find kicking up a bunch of rocks in a cemetery?
Visiting a Traditional House
Our final stop was the ever cliché tour of a traditional house of the local people living in Peru’s Altiplano. I say cliché because Stacey and I were joking about how they didn’t mention the visit to a traditional house as one of their selling points for the tour. If there was a blog entitled, “Stuff Western Tourists Like”, visiting a traditional house would definitely be one of the posts.
Visiting the traditional houses can definitely be a culture shock when you see that the people are living without electricity and running water. However, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s akin to the atrocities we see in documentaries on poverty. It’s simply an experience that exposes you to a new perspective about housing needs. However you choose to interpret that new perspective is up to you. Honestly, I couldn’t help but admire at first the courtyard format of this compound and the impossibly adorable mini-house they constructed for the guinea pigs. I couldn’t help but think that was an added touch to entertain the tourists that visit, but I was still digging it. I also thought PETA would have been pleased to see the good rural people of Peru were treated their animals with dignity before eating them.
All in all, Sillustani makes for a great day trip from Puno. In only four hours and for 30 soles, you can experience a healthy dose of fresh air, get some exercise, see beautiful vistas and learn a little bit of history. Plus, if you’re creative and good at finding ways to make history fun, it can be very entertaining.