Towers of the dead

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
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Trip End Oct 08, 2008


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Saturday, October 27, 2007

In case you were wondering, yes, many Peruvian tourist sites involve death.  I donīt know why.  Theyīre just down with that. 

Sillustani is a short drive from Puno and consists of giant burial towers that rise out of the rather desolate landscape and can be seen for kilometers.  These pre-Inca towers were built by the ancient Colla people, and no one can figure out how they did it.  The towers are made of huge stones and rise up to 12 meters from the ground.  Each tower was put together without any form of cement and all the stones were perfectly smoothed.  They really didnīt look that old.  But they are. 

There is a sort of mystique to the site.  Our guide (who would not stop talking) was telling us that a certain ring of stones called a sundial (even though it had nothing to do with a sundial) had interesting, strange properties like those of Stonehenge.  Supposedly compasses stop working in the circle of stones, as do small cameras.  Also, if you stand in the center of the circle with your arms extended you're supposed to feel tingles on your fingers, and if you hold your palm downward you're supposed to feel heat on your palm.  We had a cynic amongst us, and he pulled out his compass and looked at it outside and inside the circle.  Travis said the arrow switched directions, but I didn't see it so I will remain sceptical.  We didn't try the camera, and the tingly fingers didn't work, but when I stood with my palm down I definitely felt heat, like sunlight on you bare skin.  Travis couldn't feel it though, and I think he didn't believe me.  I called him an unbeliever. 

Enough amusement with the circle.  On to the main event.  The most famous of the towers was also the first that we saw.  It is 12 m tall and has a diameter of 8 m.  Originally the towers were all open with a roof over the very top, but the roofs are now gone and parts of the tower have been torn down (by the conquistadores, they believe, because they were not fans of indigenous religiosity).  Rock people tried to rebuild the towers (why not, when all the materials are still right there on the ground?), but they absolutely could not do it.  So how did the indigenas do it?  It's a mystery.  What the rock people did do was cement little rocks over the giant hole in the tower.  They did this to preserve it, but if you're not allowed to climb on the towers and there aren't anymore bodies in them and they managed to weather the weather for this long, was it really necessary?  I vote no because it looks stupid.  But what's done is done.  Besides, the towers were built so tall so that the spirits of the bodies inside could float around in the top.  Now there's no top.  Also no bodies...whatever.

6-12 mummies were placed in each tower, but never atop one another.  Always next to each other and (can you guess it yet?) always in the fetal position.  Also, our guide wanted to make very clear that the people buried were not the wealthy, but the wise.  The towers were opened on the first of November (why, team?) to let the spirits out and celebrate the dead.  We've still got the sort of holiday...what is the meaning of Halloween?  (All hallow's eve...it preceeds Dia de los Muertos - the day of the dead - rock those sugar skulls!)  Now you know a fabulous factoid! 

When the towers were built they were covered with gold and silver and decorated with symbolic animals.  We learned that snakes mean fertility, condors mean peace, and I don't actually remember what else because, honestly, everything means something and there weren't any pictures anymore so I couldn't associate a meaning with an image.  And our guide wouldn't stop talking.  But he was rather interesting and quite smiley. 

On the whole Sillustani area there are 95 chullpas (towers) of three varieties.  The only one we actually explored were the most impressive ones that I have described.  Later peoples also made chullpas of flat stones and then finally of rounded stones.  These are also much shorter than the ones I have described.  But they make pretty pictures. 

Fabulous factoid: Sillustani means fingernail, and it is named thusly because the site is situated on a sort of promontory that looks like a fingernail.  Woot!

On our way back we stopped at a local house and half the group went in to look around.  Travis and I stayed outside and took neat photos of the house and the llamas.  These houses were made of adobe, but they were quite elaborate and had several modest buildings surrounded by a tall wall with a front entry archway.  I wanted one.  They also put bulls on their roofs because they're lucky.  The minute we all exited the bus a bunch of kids somehow appeared from nowhere.  I wandered down the road to take a photo of another pretty house and this annoying little dog jumped on me.  The minute this happened a little girl of about 5 years came running out of the house spouting gibberish.  This is because I speak neither Spanish, nor Quechua.  She wanted me to take a photo of her, so I did, and it was rather charming in its inability to turn into a decent composition.  Maybe it's a good indication of the high-dwelling people of the Titicaca region.  She was bundled into a big down coat with a knit cap (home-made, you may be certain).  Her hair peeked out from under the hat and chapped cheeks indicated a less-than-charmed life in the wilderness of Peru.  I liked her, and I like the photo, even if the composition is boring. 

Take care! 
Erin
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