After my adventures in the Urubamba River, I got on a bus to the town of Puno, where I would spend a few nights and visit Lake Titicaca. The trip was a ten hour bus ride and I was very slightly ill, so I wasn’t really looking forward to it. However, the company we were travelling with had organised a proper tour, and every so often the bus would stop at a tourist attraction and we would all pile out and take pictures.
It was bizarre.
Our first stop was just outside Cusco, at the town of Andahuaylillas. We were there to see the St Peter and Paul’s church, that our guide insisted was the Andean equivalent of the Sistine Chapel. It was certainly very beautiful – all covered in bright frescoes and ornate gilt friezes – and everywhere we looked there was gleaming gold and the fading faces of saints. The whole church was filled with lilies and the smell of incense, and in every little alcove there stood a mannequin of a saint, swathed in bright robes and adorned with gold, their empty eyes staring down into the church.
Then, we moved on. Our next stop was a small town called Raqchi, to see the ruins of the Temple of Wiracocha. The ruins dominate the town, towering far over the roofs of the churches and homes beneath. All that is left of the ancient Incan deity’s temple is a long, thin wall, over three hundred feet tall, and a small complex of walls that lie behind it that made up an old city, or perhaps some religious buildings – no-one is really sure.
After our stop at the temple, we had a Peruvian buffet lunch – where the band played ‘The Sound of Silence’ on the pan pipes – and then travelled through the La Raya mountain pass, where the air was so cold our breath hung in front of our faces like little clouds of steam. Then, we moved on again and did not stop until we came to the town of Pukara, where we were guided through a museum of pre-Incan culture.
It was, without a doubt, one of the creepiest things I have ever seen. The museum was filled with artefacts (mostly statues) from the Pukara culture, a pre-Incan civilisation that dated from approximately 600 AD. It is thought that most of the statues have some kind of religious significance, representing gods and other deities. However, almost all of them were carved holding the heads of their enemies, chewing headless bodies, their dismembered enemies sprawled around them. Our guide said that this was potential evidence of human sacrifice or cannibalism in the Pukara rituals; you could feel the collective shudder run around the room.
We all huddled back onto the bus after that and headed for Puno – a bustling town just on the banks of Lake Titicaca, where we would spend the next few nights. The next day, we would be heading out onto the lake.