Our second day in Puno with Sergio’s two brothers, we woke up too late to visit anything more than 20 minutes away. Thinking I could be of help, I pulled out my Lonely Planet to find another option, and there it was. It sounded great!
“On a small promontory on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca, Chucuito, a small Aymara town, is one of the oldest in the altiplano region....Said to date pre-Columbian times, Inca Uyo is composed of dozens of large, mushroom-shaped phallic stones, most a few feet high, which locals claim were erected as part of fertility rituals....At the center of the ring, lording over the temple is the king phallus."
Ha! Perfect! Close by! Historic! Pre-Columbian! Quaint! A "king phallus" included! What more could we want for a half day trip that would get us back in time for lunch with Sergio’s very anal-retentive aunt?
The combi (bus) dropped us off in front of a colonial church. With the two Brits we met on the combi, we went in. The paint had chipped away. The benches were dusty, as if no one had attended service there in quite some time. What little I know about the Catholic tradition frustrates me in moments like this. I don’t understand the paintings, nor the little glass boxes with doll-like saints locked in them.
And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one because within a few minutes we were outta there. We walked down a few blocks to a beautiful mirador (lookout) where we could see over the farms to the south to the expansive lake east of Chucuito. We took enough pictures to supply National Geographic for a year, and the finally were on our way to the main event—the king phallus!
We arrived to discover that it costs 10 soles ($3.30) to enter the dinky courtyard the size of a city block. Luckily, Sergio convinced the Senora to let us in at the “Peruvian rate” of two soles ($0.60). Quite a charmer, that boyfriend of mine.
On one side, there was a row of booths selling woven hats and trinkets to take home. In the middle, was the supposed main attraction.
But the real attraction was Panchito, the baby alpaca, whom the site managers so cunningly relocated to this little courtyard. Sergio’s 23-year-old brother must have played with Panchito for 10 minutes. I had to give him a little hug too.
After little Panchito started to bore us, we entered the kingdom of the phallus.
Sergio thought it was hilarious. Everyone laughed, took pictures and sat on the stones, which supposedly helps you to be fertile.
Sergio asked me if I wanted a picture. It occurred to me that the Incan sun god might be a little offended by my making light of this ancient homage to his greatness, so I declined.
The Brits laughed at that, and then proceeded to tell me how the whole temple was just a rouse, a tourist trap made to bring money into Chucuito. They had read it in a guidebook.
After we had our fun, we left to wait for the combi, where we met the man who cares for another Catholic church just off the plaza. He showed us around, even though the church was closed down, and then explained to us the “true” story about the phallus kingdom:
According to him, the garden was originally an old stone ruin, possibly pre-Incan. But before that could be documented, someone thought it would be really funny to adjust the stones just bit so they looked like penises.
It was just a joke until some foreign anthropologist came along, and without consulting any locals, publicized his interpretation of the place as a pre-Incan/Incan fertility garden. This interpretation, while antagonizing at first, finally benefited the community of Chucuito. Peruvian and foreign tourists have come flocking to see this odd “ruin.” At $3.30, it’s been a good thing for the community.
But some are not too happy with this farce. For them, it ignores the centuries of ancient culture, from which some of them descended. It’s not right, they say.
I took my picture, and enjoyed the novelty of it all. It will be interesting to see if this little "ruin" will exist into the 22nd century, or if the rouse will be discovered.
When I read my Lonely Planet again, it did say:
"..some contend that they, or at least the manner in which they are displayed, are fake, a hoax perpetrated by locals to rustle up tourist business. Spanish missionaries did everything in their power to destroy all symbols and structures they considered pagan, and it is highly unlikely that they would have constructed two churches nearby but left this temple intact."
That'll teach me to read a little bit more carefully.