We took the advertized city tour but the name is a misnomer; we never saw the city of Puno, we only saw the small neighborhood around the Plaza de Armas.
We hopped on the tour bus none the less and arrived 40 minutes later at Muralla, a burial and ceremonial center of the Inca and the Pre-Inca peoples. This cemetery was a sacred place for hundreds of years and the tombs, both, Inca and Pre-Inca, were built like round silos and were the actual burial sites for the higher society at the time. Each burial silo was built to contain 4 or 5 people. The dead elite were buried in niches built along the inner sidewalls of each silo. Small motifs of their religious beliefs, in bas relief albeit very weathered, were visible on the outside walls of the structures. The symbol of a snake, the god of the underworld, was on one silo. Another had faint remains of the Puma in the stone work. The Puma represents the here and now. Symbolism abounded at this sacred site; we saw 12 continuous lines built around the entrance indicating some powerful magic associated with astrology and the Andean calendar.
This Muralla cemetery was for the well off and intellectuals only. The stone work, the location around a sacred lake; the position of each silo was not for the ordinary people. The entrance to the whole complex was guarded by a so-called powerful stone. A guide showed us that this stone. Even today, this huge rock will screw up the pointing magnetism of a simple compass. Skeptic that I am, I touched the stone and did it with my left hand, only to find that the hands and the digital display on my expensive watch are no longer in sync. I took the watch afterwards to a jeweller here in Cuzco but they just shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads. “Too bad“, they said, but the authorized Tissot dealer could not fix it. My watch has to be send to Switzerland to be fixed. It’s a Tissot, with a touch screen for a compass, temperature, altimeter, etc. My watch is working, although not perfectly. Something weird is happening around these areas in Peru. The huge magnetic stone certainly screwed up my Tissot.
I am starting to wonder what this all means. I have seen skulls of people with cone-shaped heads, lines in the sand that can only be seen from the air, and motifs of astronauts carved in the hillside that can only be seen from the air, big boulders laying about that effect a compass and certainly screwed up my modern watch which worked perfectly before I touched the stone with it. What is going on?
In the dirt, using a stick, our guide explained some of the ancient mysteries of the Andean Cross. It seems like a simple Cross yet it is more complicated than it seems. The area around Puno, the sacred Lake Titicaca, the burial site with its elite burial chambers are in the center of a the Andean Cross, using a 3 stepped pyramid, the mathematical calculations of points on this Andean Cross add up to 12 and represent the months of the year. A year, even in the old Inca calendar had 12 months. Each month in the Inca Calendar had 30 days with a few additional days remaining each year, which were the adjustment days for the year. The 5 or so days were used to celebrate or pray or offer sacrifices to the gods. The leap year was not calculated so I believe the calendar might be off a bit but it was always adjusted since the New Year began at the summer solace, determined by the position of the sun in June. I have to read up on it yet. The Andean, some say Mayan Calendar was spot on. Also, as part of the Andean Cross, the number 3 (3 parts to their pyramids) indicates the three worlds of the ancient beliefs. The upper world indicates the spiritual platform and in which dwells the condor, master of the sky. The middle part, the Puma, shows the fight for the here and now, using cunning and stealth to survive. The bottom or lower part is the underworld where snakes live in holes below ground, always slithering about, never leaving the ground, never reaching out for anything but living mostly on or below the surface. Strangely, the snake is not a mean thing, like in Christian beliefs, but a sign of high intelligence. The Andean Cross divided also shows the split of the main language groups, Quechuan (language of the Incas) to the north and Aymara to the South. Both language groups meet around Lake Titicaca. The groups, even today, hold the area around Lake Titicaca sacred yet they do not mix well. Peru is Quechuan, Bolivia is Aymaran. Their languages are very different; their belief system is the same. The cemetery we visited on our Puno City tour is Inca and Pre-Inca, and it was shocking to me that my watch broke from exposing it to a stone. When I looked at the area I saw nothing special, yet I can vouch for the effects this strange visit had on me and my watch.
After we left the old Muralla Cemetery, we had the chance to visit and enter a ‘modern’ Quechuan house. A family lives there with a daughter and a son and their main activity seems to be the weaving of wool blankets. I saw 5 looms set up, primitive looms for making rugs. We had a sampling of the food they eat everyday and as you can imagine, each meal contained potatoes. I am told there are over 215 different kinds of potatoes in Peru. The other staple is corn or maize as they call it here. Again, Peru has about 200 different types of corn. Each meal is enhanced with local spices and herbs and I cannot tell you what I ate. One creamy adage to the potatoes was a mix of clay and green something. Yes, I ate it. Why not, if they can eat it and live, I can at least taste it. It tasted like mud but it is supposed to cure stomach problems. Behind the house was a guinea pig farm. Guinea pigs were raised by the Incas for thousands of years and are not pets but a food source. Like we raise pigs, they raise guinea pigs for protein. No, I did not eat it. The small animal looked at me and I considered it a pet, I could not eat it. The corn has so many different uses and tastes that nobody can describe each taste. I tried a big kernel corn, that everybody seemed to rave about but to me the taste was bland and starchy, not like the sweet corn on the cob in the U.S. I did drink Chicha Morrada; a drink made from purple corn and loved it. Now that would be a drink the U.S. should adopt, very tasty and not too sweet. Chicha Morrada looks like dark red wine but has no alcohol content. We saw the family’s bed room and the beds are just platforms of stone, covered with straw and raw wool for softness. As a cover a heavy wool blanket is used. The temperature in June, the winter month here in Peru, can drop to minus 20 or 25 Celsius at night. The rooms are small, no electric lights, and no window. The roof is a covering of grasses that needs to be redone every 4 or 5 years. I would say the people are dirt poor; the floor in each room is dirt. The gardening tools are very primitive and basic and heavy. The ground at 3800 meters does not yield much produce. Corn, Potatoes is about all that grows well. Herbs from wild plants is collected in the warm season, November to April and then hung up to dry for future use. Medicine is herbal and administered by Shamans. I saw a small snake pickled in an old Coca Cola bottle and I was told it is good medicine. The visit was an eye opener to the inside living conditions of the people we see on the road, constantly begging for handouts.
Begging is a curse for Peru. Everywhere one goes, people of all ages beg you for money or want to sell you something totally worthless. The first 50 beggars of the day are ok, but then I begin to lose my composure, I need to walk away to some isolated spot because I am liable to yell at them to stop. The begging gets on my nerves, yet I can see why they do it, most folks around here are poor, I have seen it with my own eyes.
Yet, when I went to a bank to change Dollars to Soles I had to wait for a lady in front of me who took money out of her account. She looked exactly like the local Incan women, many skirts, petticoats, hat, frumpy looking stockings, bowlegged and all. She did not look rich, yet the stack of money she took out of her account was a staggering $5000 U.S. Dollars. So much for dirt poor, I thought to myself. I just don’t know the true story; I am a visitor and just write down what I see and feel at the time. Come and see for yourself, your experiences might be different, yet I liked the small city tour of Puno, even though we never saw the city itself.