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Peru : Puno to Cusco, over the Andes

Friday 24th August – Along the Andes to Cusco

We woke early and had a leisurely breakfast. Our super efficient guide collected us, gave us a quick tour of Puno city (not a very large city, low
buildings migrating up hills- much of it looked quite poor, though along the lakeside was nice), before dropping us at the coach station for the Inka Express to Cusco.
Puno Town
It was established by Viceroy Pedro Antonio Fernandez de Castro in 1668 as San Juan Bautista de Puno, capital of Paucarcolla Province and changed to San Carlos de Puno to honour Carlos II King of Spain. Quite a number of Spanish settled, surprising given the altitude. There is only 2 miles of flat land between the lake and mountains, which is why much of the city has been built up the hills. As you go further uphill the houses become poorer and
steeper- generally unpaved and definitely not available to cars! It is easily the largest town in the southern altiplano and thus a magnet for people moving away from the harsh life of the altiplano. It is a Capital folklorica del Peru due to the indigenous dances. Puno is so high it has extreme weather- though at a tropical latitude it never goes above 15 °C and in winter (July/August) can drop below 0 at night. It is generally dry and the sunlight very strong.
We did see the huge condor statue of Kuntur Wasi view spot (700 steps!).
A really comfy coach with (again with internet) with free drinks (yummmmm, Inca Cola). A little know fact- Inca Kola was invented in 1935 by an English immigrant to Peru! The tour guide gave us a pass for all the things we’d be doing on the way and off we set. Now surprisingly difficult to leave Puno as the main road A... was shut for roadworks and the diversion was a dusty, thin track. Then through Juliaca, a modern town where we ploughed through the main street (slowly, due to the fact the police were on strike and were in the road holding up placards demanding more pay). Jualiaca has the nearest airport, Inca Manco Capa International, which is very high for an airport. The Puno Province is important for agriculture and livestock, especially cattle, alpaca and llama.

However, having got out the road is lovely, past Sillustani (see below) and Lakes. Sillustani is a pre-Inca site, a burial ground, by Lake Umayo. They are towers, chullpas, built by Aymara-speaking Colla people in the 15th century (the same group that moved to Colca Canyon). The towers contain families, probably of the elite, but many have been grave robbed, sadly.
We headed straight on up the Altiplano plateau with its beautiful colours (yellow soil, red and orange folded hills), little isolated farms, wandering livestock. We passed local trucks, brim full of people but generally traffic was sparse. There were lots of cows/ bulls around and our tour guide told us these were the famous Pucara (Pukara) Bulls (not so famous that we’d heard of them) and that they were often depicted on ceramics as “Toritos de Pukaca” or Little Bulls of Pucara (we chose NOT to buy a china bull later at the market!). Shortly after we descended (a little) into the town of Pukara (107km N of Puno). The Plaza de Armas was typically Andean but the red church against the hills was memorable. However, the best part of this was opposite the church- the Pukara Lithic Museum (Museo Litico de Pucara www.pukara.org). I thought this was fascinating- it was dedicated to displaying pre-Inca Pucara culture carved stones for southern Peru/ Bolivia. The older, more delicate pieces were inside (no photos please) but larger pieces were displayed in the garden outside. S briefly lost me but we refound ourselves. We met (again) an Indian couple who we kept seeing on our trip through Peru! Outside, in the Plaza was a fairly naff market with stuff we wouldn’t want to buy, so we topped up our water bottle supply instead. A close by excavations has dates of 200 BC-200AD.
PS- Pukara also means an Inca fortress.
Then off again, following the river Ramis (I was surprised how wet the Andean plateau was) and up into the mountains (we could see the snow-caps before us).

Eventually we reached the stop of La Raya, which is the border between the Puno and Cusco departments and the highest point of the road (4335m). The views of the hills and plains were amazing and (of course) a small roadside stall had been set up. This is also a meeting point of two plates, the Chilean/ Nazca Plate sub ducting (going under) the South American Plate (or Cusco Plate as our guide insisted) Plate. This had led to the huge snowy mountains behind us, Chimpulla and Yana Khuchilla. The South American Plate is moving over the Nazca Plate at 60mm per annum, which sounds quite fast, so its unsurprisingly that it has led to vulcanism and earthquakes.
We didn’t stay for long, mainly for photos, before we set off down to Sicuani for a buffet lunch. We parked at the edge of the typical Andean town to eat at a large glassy restaurant. We finished quite quickly so went outside to the open area for a stroll. They had pet llamas and alpacas, including a baby llama with a bow, and a friendly dog who wanted to play. In front was a weir on the river with a hill behind (and two cute children in traditional costume playing).
After gathering us up we headed over the train crossing towards Rachi (Raqui) and the Temple of Viracocha (Wiracocha). The entrance (over the Vilcanota river) to the Inca site is quite imposing as the huge Inca walls are mostly intact (with stone walking up steps set in). We parked outside and walked through a small courtyard with shops into the archaeological site itself. The guide quickly talked us through the site by the huge ancient walls, then left us to explore (good, always preferable to me). 10 minutes before we were due back we went back to the shops as she’d recommended looking at the silver jewellery. She was right, it was nice, so I bought a Viracocha pendant.

Although Raqch’I is a Quechua word, its original name may have been Cacha. It is 3,480m high and on the Vilcanota River on the edge of the Sacred Valley, on the Inca road. The whole site, apart from eight rectangular buildings round a courtyard (a tampu or lodge), is inside a huge 4km wall and dry ditch.
Raqchi’, as a site, clearly consists of several specific areas. There is a temple, an administrative/ religious area, living area, storage, agricultural and possibly a defensive area.
The first area we came across after the courtyard were the walls of the great Temple to Viracocha (Wiracocha). The temple is a huge two storey building 25m high and 92m long. The red adobe wall rests on andesite foundations and has windows/ doors. There is part of the roof still evident. The temple roof was the largest in the Incan Empire with a peak at the central wall and stretching down over the columns to overhang by 25m. Each wall was flanked by 11 columns. It was, sadly, destroyed by the Spanish. The sheer size of the temple suggests it was a site of some importance to the Inca. What remains of the temple gives some idea of how Inca temples were used. The design means that in entering one of the two doors, a pilgrim would be immediately blocked by the line of columns. They would then be forced into a more meandering zigzag path around them towards the statue of Viracocha, volcano and fountain. The temple is a kallanka, a large building covered with thatch.
Administrative Quarters (wayrana)
Leaving behind the giant walls we walked over to the area called administrative and/or religious. This is because its unclear on whether it was used by priests, administrative officials, both or if they fulfilled both functions. There is a suggestions that these larger building may have been used for barracks, given the large perimeter wall. I think this is unlikely on a temple site. Like many of these functional building they have three walls.
Living Quarters (Kanchas)
Behind the administrative area are 12 building for priests/ administrators. They are divided into separate square lots, the largest being 4x6m. They all have niches in the wall, maybe as cupboards, maybe to hold sacred artefacts (some have cover posts). The passages joining the living areas were straight and orientated to the mountains and, presumably, specific sun points.
There are 220 circular buildings in parallel lines around the site, probably storehouses (qullqas or colcas). Each one is 10m diameter. The nearby hillsides are covered with terraces, which would have produced the cereals (corn and quinoa) to fill them. These colcas are uniquely circular rather than round. Possibly pottery and valuable alpaca textiles would also have been stored.
Close by was a spring which fills a pool, probably ceremonial. Possibly llamas were kept nearby to offer as sacrifices (similar to the site Mayobamba). The pond (qucha) is fed through two stone fountains. Next to it is a raised platform with a deep ash layer, presumably from burnt sacrifices. Ash from rituals was often ceremoniously put into the river. It is very possible that the spring, widely regarded as sacred, was related to the origin myth of the K’ana people in the Viracocha legend base.
Its probable that the site was a pre-Inca site, but the walls and buildings are definitely Incan. The site is on a ridge overlooking the valley.

Raqchi legends
According to Inca myth Viracocha came to the Kacha area, but was attacked. He brought fire from the sky and burnt the hills. The Kacha people pleaded for forgiveness, so he extinguished the fires before heading to the sea never to be seen again. They then built a shrine (wak’a) to him at Raqch’i. When Sapa Inca Huayna Capac took the region he was told the myth and decided to build a temple around the shrine. This account was written by Pedro Cieza de Leon. The stone idol was later Christianised as an apostle! I would say the sky fire is a reference to an eruption of Kinsachata (now dormant), evidenced by the volcanic lava all around. A large field (which we did not visit) may have held an area for worshippers to use and a ceremonial bathhouse.

We drove out of Rachi (there is a small modern town right next to it), along the Vilcanota (Urubamba) River to Andahuaylillas with a beautiful (but a bit OTT) church, often called the Sistine Chapel of America. The Plaza in front of the square was particularly imposing with a beautiful tree in flower (bright red and furry) and a mountain behind. The church itself, San Pedro de Andahuayllilas was a no photos job and inside was VERY golden and silver- like someone had no idea of restraint). It was built by the Jesuits 1570-1606 on top of an Incan (or pre-Inca) ceremonial site. Apparently there is so much
gold in there that locals volunteer a 24/7 security watch. We bought a postcard and waited for everyone in the plaza, before our descent to Cusco.
En route we passed the pre-Inca site of Pikillacta perched on the hilltop to our left, but did not stop. Pikillacta, despite being in what is now core Inca territory, was a pre-Inca site, built by the Wari/ Huari people. It was occupied c550-1100 AD as a ceremonial centre. For whatever reason it was never completed. When it was abandoned the builders appear to have deliberately burnt it. The site was almost certainly religious. The large central patio/plaza may have been for rituals and feats. The elite would feast and drink chicha (maize beer), maybe with village leaders. The halls around probably held sacred objects in niches (now lost). Wari artefacts show offerings of plants and animals around a central ceremonial post. Attached, smaller buildings (over 500) were for smaller meetings. In sector 4 the buildings appear to have been linked to the Wari culture of bringing out their mummies for ceremonies, possibly giving them offerings to help protect the living. One room contains an immovable rock, possibly used as a sacred object similarly to the later Inca.

Then down into Cusco itself, along the main entrance road, round a huge roundabout (where’s all this traffic from?), past the wonderful bronze of Pachacutec on a huge round stone pedestal, and into the bus station. The guide, Carlos, who collected us gave a running commentary through Cusco (go to this place, try that restaurant etc) until we got to our hotel. He sat down with us and gave us details of all our trips, his telephone numbers, times and places to be, even maps in case we got lost. Best organised of all the guides in our trip.
The hotel room was ghastly (more on that later), but we wanted to have a walk anyway, so we headed down to the Plaza de Armas (5 mins walk through Inca cobbled streets, pedestrians only) where we popped out of an alley into the corner of the Plaza. The hotel, Carlos V looked like King Carlos V was indeed the last person to stay there. It had so seen better days. We went down Calle Tecsecocha to the end, turned left, and right at once onto a pedestrianised street, Procuradores (with lots of tiny shops) to the almost corner of the Plaza. We wandered around the Plaza, admiring the cathedral and the Jesuit church, browsing the gift shops, and sitting by the fountain and golden statue of Pachacutec. As it turned dusk we looked for a restaurant and on the side opposite the cathedral went to the second floor to a lovely large (not that cheap) restaurant (Tunupa). The attentive waiter found us a table (posh) and we ordered ceviche (well, we had to try it somewhere), which turned out to be the most ENORMOUS plate you could imagine, filled with seafood of all description. Nice white wine to join it (Tacama Blanc de Blancos –a sauvigon/ viognier/ chardonny blend that had a
really fruity feel of apricot, lycee, almost lime- strong 13%). The floor show was great, focusing on Amazonian dances (and it was only polite that I joined in!). The shops below stayed open late so we had a browse and bought a ring (for E) and a T-shirt (for M and for S), before heading to bed.

The Dance Show (Amazonas Region)
They danced La Chumaichada- an Amazon-French dance; the Huanca, and Los Danzantes de Levanto – a brilliant dance involving the male wearing a white shirt with overlong sleeves, a black vest with red ribbons, black trousers and a peacock (or other) feather hat. A ‘pifador’ played a whistle, antara and tinya drum.

Posted by PetersF 20:49 Archived in Peru Tagged peru river cusco puno inca pukara andahuaylillas racqui urumbaba

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