Meeting the team and journey to Tiwanaku

Posted: June 5, 2012 by Ben Weber in English
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On Sunday night we met with our guide, Caleb Smith, from Mountain Guides International, and our fellow mountaineers – Augusto and Kirk, Italian and American nationals, though Augusto now lives in Texas. The whole group seem really nice and it was great to finally meet up with them and get to know them (mainly done at a Thai restaurant with a Bolivian head waiter who had lived in New York for years and had a strong Italian New York accent). Should be good climbing with them.

So yesterday up early for a day to Tiwanaku to futher acclimatize and to get to know every one. We had very little idea about the Tiwanaku civilization and didn’t know what to expect. The site is impressive though the infrastructure is poor. I haven’t yet been to Machu Picchu, though I have been led to believe that it isn’t quite as spectacular (indeed, the setting of the ancient city of Tiwanaku is on the Andean plains near lake Titicaca as opposed to the Andean peaks a Machu Picchu is). Apparently the civilisation had started around 1500 BC and had spanned until around 1000 AD when they faded away most likely due to drought with the reclining waters of Lake Titicaca which had been close to the city and important for fishing and general hunting life, and the growth of the Incas. It is believed that the city itself had up to 30,000 inhabitants, though the valleys around the city held as many as one million people. The influence of the Tiwanaku civilization spread into northern Chile and also southern Peru.

We got an English-speaking guide who was very interesting. He explained about the layout of the main temple with the corners and main gate being spaced to coincide precisely with the spring and autumn equinoxes, casting shadows to the centre of the temple. He talked about how the civilization had what appeared to be an advanced calendar system, with 52 weeks, aong with 12 months of 30 days. He pointed out  carvings on the impressive monoliths, showing carvings of the Condor representing the sky, the Puma on the ground, and the snakes and fishes for underground. There was also a “mega-phone” in the rock which magnified the voice and also allowed people to hear quite voices from quite far away. All quite interesting. In a second temple which was part underground there were faces carved into protruding rocks – he said that many represented the former leaders of the civilization, though he pointed out a couple made with white stone that appeared to be different to everybody else, suggesting that these represented extraterrestrials… not sure how much we bought into this idea…

As we left the place, there were a few local kids around and we ended up playing kick-around with them using some deflated footballs. A lot of fun and the kids were very sweet. Also, the view going back to La Paz was impressive as we could see the main Cordillera Real and the mountains we would be climbing, with large cumulus nimbus clouds and storms having grown over them – good that we hadn’t been caught in them as that would be terrifying, but impressive to see.

The Tiwanaku didn’t leave any written information about their history or language, so it was not clear as to how much what our guide was saying was speculation, wishful thinking or generally agreed upon points. What was clear was that, with the gigantic monoliths (weighing several tonnes implying quite a lot of hard work in quarrying them and taking them to the city) with impressive carvings, Tiwanaku would have been quite a place to visit. As it is, however, it is definitely worth making the hour journey to if you have time. (As a note, though the town around the temple is nondescript, there is a great church (San Pedro) made from some of the stones from the old temples, surrounded by a plaza with various carvings based on the Tiwanaku culture. Worth an extra hour or so to visit as it is very close.

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