The Peruvians are great wall builders. Show the poorest campesino a field full of rocks and before you can say Sexy Woman, he ´s knocked together a wall – around his house, around his field, along the river, up and down the mountain side. Travelling across the altiplano through passes 5000m high, where only the vicunya lives, way out in the middle of nowhere, you ´ll see a wall.
Not a big sloping Inka palace wall like those in the navel of the world but a formal pile of stones representing a barrier, indication of ownership, a lasting monument to mankind ´s endeavour. Of course the Peruvians have had a lot of practice in dry stone wall construction, a thousand years in fact, and the vestiges of those pre columbian (or as I prefer, pre conquest, Columbus was never near the place) structures can still be seen in the royal palaces of Cusco, the sacred valley and the Pacha Mama of them all, Macchu Picchu.
Near Puno are the “chullpas” of Sillustan, the burial towers of the Aymara speaking Colla tribe. The engineering in their construction is more complex than anything the Incas built – so complex they have defied archeologists in rebuilding the tallest structures.
No matter where you go stone terraces hold back the decaying moutains. Guides tell you that the main purpose of the terraces was to arrest erosion so that the feilds of maize weren ´t washed away by the torrents of rain flashflooding down the hillsides during the wet season. Some of the best examples of 700 year old terracing are those in the colca canyon. Good thing there is some terracing to be seen as the major attraction, the condors, are conspicuous by their absence. One poxy juvenile who appeared to be chained to a rock, photographed by 50 bus loads of tourists lured by tour agencies over 160 km of appalling back-dislocating dirt roads, to a god forsaken spot even the locals have deserted.
I ´m glad we went to Arequipa as the city has an ambience and restaurants that really surprised. Our first day was spent with Omar who, while explaining the holy trinity in a painting, tried to flog us a Herbal Life plan. Our last night was spent at Turku2, feasting on stuffed peppers prepared by a Turkish chef who had trained in Germany as a gestarbeiter.
We tried to get a bus from Arequipa direct to Copacobana in Bolivia but because the bus left late and was unbearably slow traversing the high passes (without turbocharging vehicles have difficulty going faster than walking pace at more than 4000m) we had to spend the night in Puno – not a nice place. Even less inspiring was Juliaca – busses to Puno were stoned, not, we found out later, from any political motive – a soccer game between the two towns had been decided by a suspect penalty – consequently any bus going in the direction of Puno was stoned.
There seem to be many parallels between the Inca myths and legends and the Aboriginal dreaming. The Incas left no written records, the historical perspective was first supplied by the conquistadores who changed place names, fabricated creation myths from a Catholic perspective and generally treated one on the worlds great cultures with distain. It wasn’t until the early part of the 20th Century that anthropologists started to get some idea of the magnificence of the culture, it’s social heirarchies, complexity and achievements. Consequently, several different interpretations are common concerning the creation myths (arising from Lake Titicaca) right through to the relevance of Macchu Picchu and Vilcabamba.
It rained heavily while we were on the Macchu Picchu site so we took shelter in a reconstructed hut. While we were there about half a dozen tour groups, each with their individual guides, took shelter with us. Needless to say we were facinated by the different embroidery each guide gave to the basic set of facts. It confirmed for me that tour guides can get away with any old bullshit because most of the tourists dont know anything about the subject, the most enterprising guides telling stories that keep their audience entertained, not allowing the facts to get in the way. Just like the aboriginal guides in the Territory.