PUNO AND THE MAGIC INFLUX
OF LAKE TITICACA -
WHAT'S NEW - PERU
Puno is basically a high plateau (3,500 a 4,800 meters above sea level). Its clearly-marked landscape is dominated by the presence of the great Lake Titicaca, which with a surface of 8,300 sq m is the highest navigable lake in the world (3, 812 meters above sea level). The snowy peaks on the eastern side of the great lake were considered sacred by the inhabitants of its islands. Creation myths and other legends indicate the lake and its islands as the birthplace of the Ayar brothers, the founders of the Inca Empire, due to which it is considered a sacred place. The islands such as Taquile, Amantan and Suasi harbor quechua and aymara populations that live on farming, weaving and fishing activities.
Another important place in the Puno Region is Juliaca (3,850 meters above sea level), whose weather ranges from cold to freezing (with daytime temperatures dropping below 0°C). However, this is the area's trade and communications center. Commercial flights land here daily from Lima and you can get here by car from Cuzco or Arequipa. The best time to visit this region is from May to September (the dry season).
The Cochas of Llallahua
Located in the Puna Highlands, at over 3,850 meters above sea level, Las Cochas are a totally operational system that the current native population uses for livestock and intensive farming.
In the high plateau of Titicaca farming systems are highly restricted by the climate, with high risk of production loss. The weather phenomena, including prolonged droughts, sudden floods, hail and frosts had been in ancient times offset by ingenious technological devices.
The system of cochas, for example, consists of small artificial ponds fed by rainfall and interconnected by channels that allow the controlling of the level of each pond and draining of the water for its use or into a nearby river. This has been shown to be an extremely intelligent way of maximizing water resources. The soil around the cochas is potentially very fertile, since the humidity generates abundant biomass, while the system captures earth rich in nutrients.
The cochas contribute also to reducing the greatest risk in Puna farming, frosts. They are thought to act by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night, thereby preventing frosts. The sloping edges of the pools favor air circulation helping the general effect of air warming.
The Waru Waru and the Titicaca
In the lower, less steep areas, around Lake Titicaca and its tributaries, in the Puno Region, from 3,800 to 3,850 meters above sea level, the ancient population had to face other risks - the regular floods caused by the natural overflowing of the lake. To counteract their devastating effects, they dug enormous trenches, 1 m deep, 4 to 10 m wide and 100 m long to help drainage, improve soil fertility and create a sheet of water protecting the crops from the frosts. This technology, developed in 1300 BC is found over an extension of 142,000 hectares. Recent research has shown that this technology enables a 40% higher yield for potato crops when compared with those grown on the slopes of the mountains or on the pampas.
The Pukara Ceremonial Center
This 4 km2 archaeological site, active from 150 BC to 100 AD, is at 3,825 meters above sea level and 106 km from Puno. It is notable for its monumental architecture, a series of pyramids built on top of platforms with stairways.
The most important of these is Kalasaya, whose walls were plastered and painted yellow. At the top of the pyramid, on the east side, there are remains of a small horseshoe-shaped temple called "Rojo y Blanco" (Red and White), with access by a special stairway from a sunken quadrangular plaza. On each of the inner sides of the plaza there are funerary structures with double doors, where human remains were found accompanied by gold, silver and copper objects. Around the upper edge of the plaza may be observed a group of small enclosures with an evident ritual purpose. The front of the platforms was decorated with stone sculptures, thought to represent fish, comets and lightning: excavations have turned up a series of decorated ceremonial vessels and small stone sculptures that occupied the niches.
The Chulpas of Sillustani
Sillustani is only 4 km from Hatunqollo, the capital of the Qolla Kingdom and is famous for its chulpas (funeral buildings), built for Inka nobles, on the Umayo peninsula.
The chulpas are of varying sizes (they can be up to 12 m high) and can be rectangular, quadrangular or circular: many of them are rustically built, some in adobe, and others have a finer finish. Technically their construction features a "false dome" as an inner ceiling and perfect lateral fitting of the stones.
The outside displays polished and rounded ashlars, cornices and relief decorations showing animal figures. Its style shows a clear Inka influence with some elements of the Qolla culture. There are indications that many of the chulpas had been originally painted white. Other similar chulpas are located in Viscachani, Paro-Paro and Katati, in the same region.
If you decide to visit this region, you may be sure that you will feel the altitude when you get there (3,850 meters above sea level), making you appreciate the fact that the inhabitants of this area developed such sophisticated methods of handling weather problems at this high altitude.