Tag Archive: Lake Titicaca


Sunday Travel Tales

Chapter 9 – Sillustani & Puno

 

The flight from Arequipa was short and we were soon landing in Juliaca. Leaving the airport was uncomplicated. We were met at the arrivals gate by a representative of the receiving travel agency, welcomed to Juliaca, and  soon on the main road towards Puno.

 

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Looking down on some of the older tombs – image: AV

The driver explained that he would first take me to Sillustani where I would meet the rest of my group for the trip to famous Lake Titicaca. Sillustani is one of the most famous sites of the Inca, it is a peninsula where the Inca buried their important, probably royal, dead.

 

As we neared the place, I could see the massive tombs rising from the ground. As we got nearer, the immensity of the stone crypts became apparent. Great markers of peoples past. We arrived at the site at the same a time as a small bus, these were to be my companions for the next stage of the trip. It was here I met Edgar, a slight man with an affable manner. He spoke quietly and gave us the history of the site before we started our climb up to the “chullpas” as they were called. Here at the top we found two distinctive types, one shorter and more primitive from a period earlier than the giants that could be seen from a way off. The actual burial place was small compared with the giant edifices, a small cavity facing the rising sun where the deceased was placed in a feotal position. The Inca believed you came into this world in a feotal position, so you should leave it. The rest of the monument was solid, simply a marker of the person’s passing.

 

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The large “Largata” tomb – image: AV

We were herded like sheep to one of the “chullpas”, here it was explained that some years earlier lightning had struck, and demolished half of the structure. We could see here, the construction. This was known as the “Largata” because of the lizard symbol on the side. No one knows why, or who was buried here, only those who passed, and they’re not telling. Photos were taken and we were lead to other aspects of the ceremonial site, temple of the sun and the smaller ring of stones, temple of the moon. Then even more primitive “chullpas”, white, an even earlier epoch of the Inca. Three ages of the empire were represented here, an indication of the importance these once great people placed on the area.

 

An interesting facet was pointed out, some of the stones involved were enormous. How did the Inca, who had no knowledge of the wheel, managed to transport, carve and manipulate the massive rocks into position? A question that until today remains unanswered.

 

After wandering the site and taking many photos, it was time to go. We retraced our steps back to the small bus. My van had gone, but I was relieved to see they had the goodness to put my baggage on the bus. Yes, on the bus, for it was roped, I observed thankfully, securely on top.

 

We didn’t immediately board the bus, but surrounded by the local kids selling everything from hats to Inka Kola and souvenirs we went to a small restaurant come museum. Here we drank coca tea, and wandered among the informal exhibits scattered about on trestle tables. Morbidly grinning skulls, bones, rocks that had obviously become and been tools in a past age, pottery and remnants of ancient fabrics that had withstood the test of time.

 

The bus at Sillustani - image: AV

The bus at Sillustani – image: AV

Coca tea finished, we faced the throng of kids again, some of us bargained for the offered goods and after winning small concessions from the expert negotiators we boarded the bus and were soon bouncing along the dirt track back to the potholed tar-seal. Eventually we came to the main road and turned right to Puno.

 

Our first sight of Puno was reaching the top of a hill and the road veered to the right and began its descent giving us a panoramic view of Puno, the bay, and the fabled Lake Titicaca as a backdrop. It was quite spectacular and several of took advantage when the van driver stopped. We piled out and took some photos.

 

Puno is an unremarkable city, plain, nothing to consume the interest of the visitor. Its popularity lay directly with it being the gateway to the famous lake. In fact Puno is a major hub for tourism in Peru; whether you came from Bolivia travelling to Cusco, you passed through Puno, or, if you came from Arequipa by plane, bus, or train, you passed through Puno, or, if you were doing the reverse, you passed through Puno. And, of course, while you were in Puno, there was the famous Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and it’s equally famous islands, the Uros floating islands and Taquile. Taquile is not the only attraction, fast gaining popularity is another of the Titicaca communities, the island of Amantani. Also, surrounding Puno, there were things to see and do like Sillustani, where we had just come from, and Chucuito, which was on our itinerary.

 

The railway station in front of our hotel - image: AV

The railway station in front of our hotel – image: AV

We arrived at an unremarkable hotel, totally non-descript, called the Railway Hotel, and as one would have guessed, it was in front of the railway station, which was slightly more picturesque.

 

Collectively we looked warily at our lodgings, and once we were settled in our quarters, decided that the hotel restaurant didn’t endear us to the festive mood that was around, for we had arrived during carnival. In the failing light we wandered as a troop to the tourist street. Jirón Lima had been turned into a pedestrian-only street and was home to the many travel agencies, banks and restaurants that catered to the needs and tours of the visitors. We found Edgar’s agency and were directed to a suitable restaurant, A London Pub, right here in Peru.

 

The Lake Pub, Puno - image: AV

The Lake Pub, Puno – image: AV

Once inside “The Lakeside Pub,” we were welcomed with, yes, if you guessed a complementary Pisco Sour? You’d be right. We drank them and ordered beers, not British, but certainly acceptable and well chilled. Even though the air outside was already chilling. Puno is 3,800m a.s.l. so at night, with no intense sunlight, the air chilled considerably. We were surprised we could get fish ‘n’ chips and enormous American style open hamburgers, even cottage pie was on the menu. Some of us opted for recognisable dishes, others experimented with lake trout and more ceviche.

 

Dancing in the streets - image: AV

Dancing in the streets – image: AV

After our meal, we discovered that the festive climate was heating up outside, so we went to explore. The streets, including Jirón Lima were crowded, gaily costumed dancers wriggled their bottoms in a quaint Peruvian fashion and we stopped to watch them. I don’t know the name of the dance, nor did I recognise it, although there were overtones of the “twist” from the early Beatles years, although there was more swivel than the “twist.”

 

We wended our way amongst the revellers and found our way back through the market to the austerity of our hotel. We were pretty shagged, but we did stop in the hotel restaurant for a whisky nightcap and an early bed.

 

The market near our hotel - image: AV

The market near our hotel – image: AV

In the morning we were awakened by our wake up calls. We had been given a list of things that we would need for our trip to the islands. So it was off to the market to search for such things as torches and batteries, because Taquile Island had no power; sunscreen was a must as well to combat the intense sunlight to which we would be exposed during our five hour boat ride on Lake Titcaca; and also some basic necessities such as the humble toilet roll, which wasn’t supplied in our next accommodations. Despite the early hour, the market was alive with throngs of people already going about their daily business. We joined the throngs and searched for our treasures. We found stall selling hot sweet fruit juice mixed with porridge, but not like the porridge that we know. Apple and porridge, heavily tinged with cinnamon in the crisp morning air, made a change from bread rolls and strawberry jam.

 

Back to the hotel, packed our bags for the trip. We were leaving most of our baggage at the hotel, only taking the travelling necessities for two nights and assembled in the “lobby” which was actually the wide corridor between reception and the restaurant, to await our transport.

Sunday Travel Tales

Puno is on the northwestern side of Lake Titicaca

Back to Peru this week, but not Cusco, at least not yet.

Puno

This small city is the hub for Peruvian tourism. Nearly every tourist passes through Puno on the way to somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re coming from Bolivia, going to Bolivia, coming from Cusco/Machu Picchu, going to Cusco, or if you’re coming from Arequipa or going there, or whether you are visiting the Uros (floating) or Taquile islands on Lake Titicaca. The tourist trail goes through Puno.

Most people don’t spend much time there, usually an overnight on arrival before onward plans, trains boats or buses. They don’t go to see Puno.

The centre of Puno is Jiron Lima, travel agencies, cambios (exchanges) restaurants and banks.

I spent five months there in 1999, I worked as a dog’s body for an agency. Sometimes as a guide out to Taquile Island which I knew from past trips very well, sometimes I simply collected tourists from their hotels and saw them off on their various transports.

When I wasn’t doing this, I was opening a restaurant. You see for all the tourists passing through Puno, there wasn’t one restaurant that offered them anything familiar except pizza, and it wasn’t very good pizza. The agency I worked for wanted a restaurant, mainly for their tourists, but that is another story, the politics of which were screwed up beyond recognition. I designed the restaurant, the bar and the kitchen and prepared the menu as a Peruvian/English parellel, and I named her.

The Lake Pub

I also carved the plaque for above the door. It started out as a 40kg slab of hardwood, geez was it hard wood, 100cm x 55cm and about 10cm thick.

The result was this…

The Lake Pub

 

The centre piece was an oil painting of Taquile Island sunset. I paint too… Sorry the photo is B&W, but I haven’t managed to recover a coloured version yet.

As I mentioned, the politics involved eventually meant that I quit the project and moved on to my next job. I heard the restaurant was changed to solely Peruvian and became ‘just’ another restaurant in Puno which failed after a few months.

Sad really, after all the work I did.

Sunday Travel Tales

Lake Titicaca

Puno, Peru

In 1999 I was in Puno working as a dog’s body for one of the local travel agencies that ran tours out on to Lake Titicaca visiting the Uros (floating islands), Taquile and Amantani as well as tours to the chullpas (burial tombs) at Sillustanti. My main job was the development of a restaurant for the agency catering for tourists, the other stuff, meeting tourists at their hotels, sending them off on their tours at the port, and occasionally getting out on to the lake itself to visit Taquile Island, a place I love.

But this story is about a ghost. While I was at the port one morning, I heard a loud ‘chuff come from behind’. I was alerted. Silence, then another ‘chuff’. It suddenly dawned on me exactly what I had heard, it was the sound of a boiler coming to life. More silence, then another ‘chuff’.

I ran up the wharf to the bus and grabbed my camera and ran back. In those days I was still able to run.

The first signs of life "Chuff!" and smoke rose from the smokestack

There on the mooring across the way was an old steam boat. “Chuff!” and a cloud of smoke left the smokestack.

I was watching a ghost come to life. The Yavari hadn’t moved under it’s own steam in 40 years. I had heard they were restoring and rebuilding her, but apart from that, I knew nothing. “Chuff!” louder and stronger, more haunting, less silence and then “Chuff!” The chuffs got closer and soon, about an hour later, she was building up steam.

I was watching history.

The Yavari returning to port after its first trial

Eventually the Yavari threw off its moorings and was off sedately around Puno Bay. I guess it was about an hour later, she came back to her moorings.

The above photos were ones that I had managed to salvage from an old HD where I had scanned the old negatives, the quality is poor, but it’s real.

You can read more of the Yavari story

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