Puno - 15°50′36″ S 70°01′25″O
Cuzco - 13°31′30″ S 71°58′20″O
PUNO - PUCARÁ - LA RAYA - SICUANI - RAQCHI - ANDAHUAYLILLAS – CUZCO
We left the Islands of Uros and Taquile behind to delve into the central mountain range of Peru. It was a journey of fertile hours, ten hours touring captivating and picturesque villages from Puno to Cusco. The comfort of our buses and the wisdom of our tour guide, Manuel, made the journey very enjoyable.
The first stop was in the town of Pucara, north of Juliaca. This town of potters is home to 2,000 people, and preserves the name of the first civilization in this part of Peru. There, we visited the Lithic Museum, where archeological remains from this pre-inca culture can be found. We noticed that on the roofs of the many buildings they place two ceramic bulls which, according to the people’s beliefs, promote the protection of the site.
For your Pretty Face
Exiting the museum we heard music coming from the Saint Isabel XVIII Church. As we got closer, we realized that a wedding was being held. At the entrance of the temple, musicians playing cymbals, drums and trumpets celebrated the newlyweds. In front of the church, at the town square, the artisans made a varied display of their pieces, from paintings to wool hats. Big sellers, who through their marketing skills persuaded us to buy some crafts. – "For you, for your pretty face, only twenty Soles" – said one of them. After hearing him repeat the same phrase, increasing the degree of beauty each time, who could resist?
La Raya, the borderline between Puno and Cusco was our second stop. This was the highest point of the trip, four thousand three hundred and thirty-five meters above the sea. From this altitude we were able to appreciate the snow on the mountain tops. Manuel, our guide, told us that people who live in these heights grow Andean grains such as quinoa and amaranth once a year; as well as potatoes and vegetables. They also work in livestock. Ever since 1969, every cattle rancher is the owner of his land thanks to governmental efforts to promote this activity. The way of life of this population is quite simple with an amazing landscape. The houses are very rustic with brick walls and thatched roofs. There are fireplaces in the homes because the temperature can drop to fifteen degrees below zero. For heating, Peruvians living in this area use camel’s posts; drying the droppings to use them as firewood. It is common to see camels, alpacas and llamas in residential grounds, as these animals can be domesticated.
For lunch we stopped at La Pascana restaurant in Sicuani. In these remote Andean valleys in the province of Canchis, the landscape is painted a dazzling green. The two-story building rests on a fresh plain, where the mountains embrace it, a river crosses and alpacas rest. Lunch was a buffet that included, among other alternatives: quinoa soup, white rice, cucumbers, avocados, beets, spaghetti with vegetables, potatoes with cheese, fried potato chips with vegetables and alpaca meat. Yes… alpaca meat! Although I avoid eating meat, when I travel I usually taste all the dishes served at each location. However, after seeing the docile alpacas grazing right next to the restaurant, I didn’t even consider that option on my plate.
After lunch we continued our journey, this time heading to Raqchi in the San Pedro district. During the Inca epoch, a great temple dedicated to the Wiracocha god was built in this archeological complex. The ruins of twenty two structures in volcanic stone and adobe once held a huge thatched roof. The remains of circular warehouses that were used for storing ceremonial food, such as quinoa, potatoes and corn are also found in this complex. Spanish colonists destroyed this Inca treasure, but the Peruvian people are in the process of restoring this valuable sanctuary.
A Few Soles
Only a hundred families live in the tiny village of Raqchi, and most are big ceramists and weavers who gather in the town square to sell their crafts to tourists. For only a few Soles, some artisans allowed us to take their picture as they worked. So, we not only contributed to their economy by buying crafts, but also negotiating several photos. This was a detail that we noticed throughout our entire trip through Peru, many natives manage to get economic benefits from their image. In some places we didn’t have to ask for permission to take their picture, they offered their attractive and colorful figure in exchange of some Soles.
Our last stop, Andahuaylillas, is one of the twelve districts of the Quispicanchi province. Here is the small church of St. Peter built in the seventeenth century. This temple is also known as “The Sistine Chapel of America”, for it is lavishly decorated inside with wall paintings and baroque altars. As part of the decoration, the floor of the entrance to the temple and all its steps had several circles in cement relief simulating ropes. Like many of the colonial architecture towns we visited, opposite the church is also the town square. Old whitewashed houses surround the square of this striking place.
After the cultural trip through the southern route of Peru, our next stop, Cusco.
(This is the fifth article in the series of stories about Peru.)
Conscious Travel Practices:
1. Promote the local economy buying from the artisans and restaurants.
2. Learn about the history and culture of the different points of the route.
3. Enjoy each one of the places without making any harm.
Places of interest:
Saint Isabel XVIII Church
Highest point of the trip (4,335 meters above the sea)
iracocha Archaeological Complex
t. Peter’s Church