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If life on the stark highlands near Lake Titicaca was as difficult as experts believe, the graves of the ancient people who lived there deserve the commemoration that Sillustani offers.

 

Called “the people of the south” by the Inca, the Colla are considered part of the Aymara ethnic group. They inhabited the frosty, desolate valleys around the saltwater Laguna Umayo for hundreds of years. A sacred plateau, Sillustani, rises from the shore of the surrounding lake and contains cylindrical tombs that rise like silos across the hilltops. The Colla entombed whole families with their riches in these aboveground structures known as chullpas which were usually made from mortar and small stones. Some were coated with stucco which has slowly dissolved with time. Others, possibly the tombs of noblemen or the wealthy, were built using enormous blocks of stone meticulously carved to create a smooth, rounded outer surface. Incredibly, the perfect shape of the stones allowed them to be stacked over 12 meters (39 feet) high without the use of mortar.

 

Sillustani is located about 35 km (20 miles) outside of Puno, a popular town on the Peruvian shore of Lake Titicaca. The road there is rough but scenic. Several tour agencies arrange day trips and hotel pickups, and package trips to other local attractions are usually available. Plan to spend about three to four hours with a guided tour.

 

Many of the chullpas bear the scars of intentional destruction by looters and of natural destruction by time and weather (lightning rods are now in place on the larger tombs). Still, Sillustani has endured as a memorial for hundreds of years to the surviving souls who eke out an existence in this harsh perimeter of the world. At 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) above sea level, with coarse terrain and often freezing winds, Sillustani serves to remind visitors of the endurance and adaptability possible in all of us.



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