Day 12 — Chucuito & Templo de Inca Uyo

Tuesday — April 14

If you are easily offended by phallic symbology, don't go past Santo Domingo in this post.

A short drive from Aramu Muru brought us to a town that gave the appearance of being deserted. On first glance, it looked like not a soul was stirring, but a closer look revealed locals here and there going about their daily business.

It was a photo of Chucuito’s Plaza de Armas and the words “charming, Spanish-style square; Inca settlement; capital of the province” that had prompted me to ask Vidal to include the town on our itinerary. It turns out that he had already done so and meant to surprise us on the way back from Aramu Muru. Ooops; didn’t mean to spoil the surprise.

Plaza de Armas is nearly deserted mid-afternoon on a Tuesday.

These Aymara women are a few of the locals we see going about their business in Chucuito.

With its white, wrought iron railings and lush green topiaries, I found the square of this small Aymara town on the southeastern shore of Lake Titicaca to be both charming and welcoming. We wandered around for a while, eventually ending up at the church that dominates the square — Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. The church, which dates back to 1601, was closed. Since our time here was limited anyway, we did not seek out someone to unlock the doors for us.

Left: A topiary sculpture welcomes us to Chucuito with wide-open arms.
Right: Curious about the oversized jug? It’s the public “baño!”

The Nuestra Señora de la Asunción is one of two churches in Chucuito.

Left: A closer look at the façade of the church.
Right: Juxtaposed against an ad for beer, the cross makes an interesting photo.

Next we walked a short distance down a narrow, cobblestone street to take a look at Santo Domingo, the second colonial era church in Chucuito. It too was closed. In fact, Percy told us that there was no resident priest and that the church was open only on special occasions.

Santo Domingo sits pretty against a background of brilliant blue skies.

After we finished taking photos at Santo Domingo, Percy asked if we would be offended if he took us to see Inca Uyo, a fertility temple next door to the church. Curious, we told him to lead the way. At first, the walled-in compound looked quite innocuous — children were playing soccer; women were sitting on the grass waiting for someone to show an interest in their trinkets.

Aymara women wait for tourists to visit the temple and buy their trinkets.

Then we looked towards the far end of the enclosure. Oh wow! Fertility temple is right! The small “stone garden” was strewn with phallic columns of varying sizes. Some of them were pointing to the sky — towards Inti (the Sun God); others were planted upside down — towards Pachamama (Mother Earth).

Percy explained that the temple had been buried and abandoned, with most of the columns removed by the locals. At some point not long ago, the good people of Chucuito decided that the site would bring curious tourists to their town. They restored the temple as part of their “business improvement plans.” It obviously worked; as we were preparing to take our leave, a busload of giggling tourists descended on the temple.

Left: Inca Uyo is next door to the Church of Santo Domingo.
Right: A few of the 86 phallic columns at the fertility temple.

The popular story goes that the Amerindian women of the Inca empire would visit the temple and sit on the columns to increase their fertility. Inca priests would pour chicha (ceremonial maize beer) over them, and read the path of the beer to determine the gender of the baby-to-come. An opposing view has the purpose of the temple directed at men and says that it was intended to help men improve their virility.

Was the site a fertility temple to begin with, or has it been touted as such for enough number of years that fiction has become an accepted fact? Does the word uyo, which means “field” in Aymara, but “penis” in Quechua, contribute to the confusion? I really don’t know, but the visit did cause a chuckle or two to escape our lips as we made our way to the van for the return trip to Puno.

Footnote: Here’s a New York Times article I found on the subject of Inca Uyo. Read it and make up your own mind.

Next Up: Day 12 — A Relic of Peruano Naval History Restored

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