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14/05/2010 Al packing a lot in

We continue our climb towards Puno and scenery is altogether different from the deserts and the coast. It is now more volcanic and the landscape is covered in Indian grass, almas and alpacas. There are a lot of road works and police checkpoints as an election is coming up and the present government are trying to spend money on improving services to get the crucial votes. Politics is no different wherever you are in the world.

I am pleased to see that there is a lot less plastic in the countryside and this may have something to do with the fact that we are no longer following the Pan American Highway. Before we reach Puno, we stop off to see the Sillustani funeral towers and it’s freezing, which apparently is unusual for this time of year.

Sillustani is about 13,500 ft above sea level and is only one of many sites in the Puno area that hold mysterious burial towers, called chullpas. We see the enigmatic chullpas, which were built by the Collas, an Aymara speaking tribe that dominated the Titicaca region before the Incas. Here they would bury the remains of Colla nobility, accompanied by their riches but grave robbers have long since removed their contents, even using dynamite, although the towers are still well preserved (some are over 36 feet tall).

The engineering involved in their construction is far more complex than anything the Incas ever built. Two of the towers are unfinished: one with a ramp still in place to raise blocks; the other with cut stones ready to place on a very large dome.

The towers were constructed in the general form of a woman’s uterus. The Collas believed it to be Mother Earth which created life and therefore the dead were mummified in a foetal position and placed into the tower in the same position as when they entered the world. The doors of the tombs faced east since that is the direction from which the Sun is born.

We pass a number of small villages coming into Puno and all the houses have ornaments of bulls on their roofs coupled with a Christian cross and the bulls are a pagan symbol to ward off bad luck.

We arrive at our hotel in Puno and the weather is notably cooler. The city was eastablished in 1668 and is located on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

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