Puno, Peru
15° 49' S 70° 1' W
May 14, 2006 01:52
Distance 134km

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Text written in: English

Once U-Puno Time...

Once upon a time, Tim and Ben arrived at a makeshift bus stop in the town of Puno.

The young travellers had been through the town before and were thus greeted as returning heroes. Two chariots were employed to bring them to their castle, the illustrious Illustani hostel. The charioteers were so eager to please their masters that they even offered to take their money and book a tour for them for that afternoon, but Tim and Ben told them to run off and race their chariots in the sunshine instead and decided to organise the tour themselves. Unfortunately, all the afternoon tours had already departed and it looked like all hope of making it to the famous chullpas of Sillustani was lost.

Tim was close to weeping, until Ben saved the day by suggesting that they might solicit a private expedition from the rulers of Kingdom Travel. And so it was, that a small sum of money was handed over and some strange sorcery was used to turn this into a taxi, driver and guide. "You shall go to the funerary towers," the guide said, "Although, you will have to be back by 5.45pm, or else the taxi, the driver and I will disappear, because I have an evening job."

The guide, who gave them more information in the forty minute journey to Sillustani than their Bolivian guide, Freddy, had given them in four days on the salt flats, took Tim and Ben past the gatekeeper and into the grounds of the ancient site. The driver, perhaps wary of the spirits of the dead buried in the chullpas (or funerary towers), refused to pass beyond the entrance. However, he need not have feared.

The exploration began with what Tim and Ben believed were the less impressive towers, whetting their appetite for what was to follow. They saw the Tower of the Lizard, a chullpa, that had been partially ruined by the marauding Spanish conquistadors and their excitement grew. The differences between those constructed by different generations and cultures were pointed out, but then things took a turn for the worse.

A chill air developed, the clouds gathered, the sun began to set and the guide began to look at his watch. It appeared that they had seen the best of the site, and the chullpas, that Tim and Ben had seen in photos and other texts,  were being restored and were thus covered in scaffolding. It was already past 5.30pm; the guide was keen to leave.

Nevertheless, as fortune would have it, they encountered a local lady, her daughter and their pet vicuña on their way to the taxi. The adventure was salvaged with a couple of photos of Tim, Ben and the bizarre group. Yet more enjoyment was to come. The guide decided to enliven the journey back to Puno by regaling the Englishmen with a few local legends. The tales told were of the first Inca, who came from Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca. Gold medallions, a fire that could never be extinguished, clairvoyants, telepathics and El Dorado (not the BBC soap) all got a mention in the strange story, between phone calls from the guide's enraged evening manager.

The fact that the guide truly believed it all was punctuated by the appearance of two 'dogs' at the side of the road. Both the guide and the driver became very animated at the sight of the "lucky and magical" Andean foxes.

Once back in Puno, the 5.45pm prophecy was fulfilled and Tim and Ben found themselves alone in a strange land. They sought refuge in a nearby tavern that put on a banquet of chicken, chips and coca cola for them.

Four plates and twenty minutes later, they stumbled upon a crowd on the main square. The masses were being entertained by a pair of midgets, whose act consisted of a few jokes and then one beating the other with a rolled-up newspaper, when the punchlines failed to produce any laughter. When Tim took a photograph of the jesters, the flash drew their attention and suddenly he was the focus of the act, branded 'El Gringo' and forced to enter into a bit of banter with the vertically challenged duo.

The fierce battle of wits came to a head when Tim and Ben's reaction to the tiny twosome's request for a tip was met by, "You should shave!" (in Spanish) from one of the little fellows. This raised a little mirth from the public, but Tim quickly repelled the verbal assault with, "I would if I could afford to, but I keep wasting my money on shows like yours!" It was the biggest laugh the stunted comedians were ever likely to hear in their lifetimes.

Tim and Ben bowed out and slept happily ever after.



Photos / videos of "Once U-Puno Time...":

The final leg of the journey! The funerary tower of the lizard Chullpas Tim at Sillustani The last of the Inkas "The vicuña is spitting at us!" The 2 midgets' act