Monday, March 8, 2010

Hidden Treasures of Ancient Peru

Prior to the Incas, parts of Peru, Bolivia and Chile were occupied by the Aymara people. Today, most of the Aymara people live in the region of Lake Titicaca. We found out through our hotel that there was a very interesting site to see, some 40km away from Puno, and so, we decided to spend half a day at Sillustani.

Sillustani is a pre-Incan burial ground that is situated by Lake Umayo. The tombs are built in the form of towers, and are known as chullpas. These chullpas symbolized the connection between life and death. While observing the architecture of the chullpas, I found that there were some similarities in the beliefs of the pre-Incan people and those of the ancient Egyptians. For example, corpses were mummified (in a fetal position), and lizards were carved on the chullpas, as they were considered the symbol of life (In Egypt, the key was the symbol of life).

We walked around the ruins while listening to our energetic and bubbly guide, Delphine. The weather, I must say, was simply awesome. The late afternoon sun was slowly setting and creating a beautiful blend of colors in the sky. We were brought to see Lake Umayo, which looked really pure and untouched. In the middle of the lake was a small isolated island. Delphine told us that the island was supposed to serve as a natural reserve, and so, some locals tried to leave some llamas and alpacas on the island, but these naughty animals tried escaping by swimming off in the lake. They then had to appoint someone on the island to take care of the llamas and alpacas.

After this enriching visit, we started to head off towards Puno. On the way, we decided to meet a Quechua family and visit their humble home. We were warmly welcomed by Julio, Isabel and their 7 year old daughter, Melissa. At the entrance of the house, there were lots of fluffy alpacas, and I felt so tempted to cuddle them. The house was built by Julio himself and was constructed with stone. As you can see in the below video, we were shown their room (whereall three huddle and sleep together to keep warm), and the guestroom which featured more modern amenities like a western toilet and also had electricty, unlike the other room. Then, we saw the kitchen, and the area where Julio and Isabel work. They make clothing out of Alpaca wool, and also sometimes, sell the alpaca to markets.

Julio then wanted to show us how they make quinoa flour, which is one of the main ingredients in Peruvian cuisine. It reminded me of my mom grinding Indian spices, using the grey stone and receiver. It was very interesting to watch this process. We were then treated to a simple meal, and Isabel had set out various food items on the table for us to try. There were varieties of potatoes, and the most unique ingredient there was chalk. Yes, you heard me right, CHALK!

The chalk was mashed and mixed with water to become a paste. This chalk paste is apparently a popular accompaniment to potato dishes, and is supposed to be good for the health. Although I was slightly hesitant to try it (we are talking about chalk after all!), I decided to give it a try and had some with boiled potatoes. A bit bland, but still good! Julio then let us sample some cheese he made himself, and David being the proud French that he is, wanted to test it to give his verdict. He actually liked it :)!

Isabel then showed us her impressive weaving. She weaved many hats, sweaters and scarves using alpaca wool. I fell in love with an alpaca hat and decided to buy it. I knew that no one else in Europe would be rocking a Peruvian hat, and this definitely would stand out, hehe!

We bid good bye to our Quechua family and made our way back to Puno. It was such a great experience. I was touched by the family's hospitality- they live in such simple conditions and yet give visitors the best that they have, rather than keeping that for themselves. They are always smiling and seem very happy with the simple things in life (similar to the Punjabis in Amritsar). It's too bad that in many developed nations, people are so materialistic and forget the simple things in life! We've got a thing or two to learn from these folks!

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Ravipa said...

Potato, potato, potato.... Simple people.. we are missing this kind of life. And David's expressions while tasting the cheese...well what can I say


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