One of the loveliest things about Cusco in June is the fact that we've been here during almost constant celebrations. Every day we were surprised as we worked our way down through the Plaza de Armas or Plaza San Blas to discover some sort of party/celebration/parade/religious procession taking place. This was great as we recovered our health bit also fun once we were well. I'll list them here in chronological order, with photos.
On and off, we spent nearly two and a half weeks here in the "archeological capital of the Americas" and have come to love the city for its quirks and charm. We'll miss you Cusco!
Week before Corpus Christi/Qoillor R'Iti: Celebration of regional dances
Each group had a complicated dance which they preformed as they wound through the streets and around the plaza. This is no easy feat given that Cusco is all hills and at 11,000 feet. The plaza was lines with locals come to watch the show, and Blake and I were grateful for our height. At 5'9" I am a giantess here and could easily see above the crowd. The sense of community pride and enjoyment was palpable. At night, groups set to preform in the upcoming day would practice in the dark wearing street clothes, perfecting their routine and synchronizing their dance. We saw five days worth of parades and enjoyed them all.
Corpus Christi: religious processions
Every local church has a patron saint and an icon which they venerate. Each year for Corpus Christi these icons are taken from their homes and paraded through the streets by devoted parishioners. Priests and alter boys lead the way, followed by 40 men lifting and straining has they bear their patron saint, followed by a brass band (every saint has their own band), followed by the rest of the women, children, and elderly from the parish. Add to this all the tourists and looky-loos (like us!) and the streets are so packed as to be unnegotiable except as a part of the procession yourself.
Another interesting thing about the festival is the traditional meal every cuscqueno eats. Blake and I came to the plaza outside the church of San Francisco to find it filled with more than 300 food stalls all selling the same thing. The plate is composed of 12 foods eaten cold. There is cuy (guinea pig), pork, peppers, seaweed salad, corn pastry/bread, quioa, lima beans, and I am not sure what else. We were not brave enough to partake in the feast or try the many samples offered us. Around the square "osos" or masked men bearing whips kept the order and punished rabble rousers by actually holding and whipping them. The osos identity is secret and they speak in falsetto to keep their secret safe.
Corpus Christi: the saints come home
One week after the saints start wandering they return home. (I think they move churches in a circuit every day. Blake and I did our Salkantay trek and Macxhu Pichu during this week.) We returned to La Boheme hostel in the San Blas neighborhood the night San Blas the icon was welcomed back to his parish. His catholic purple vestments and those of his attendants were changes into the colorful costumes of the indigenous people of Peru. A stage was set up, a rock bad played, street vendors sold chicharron and anticuchos (pork ribs ad beef heart skewers) and everyone drank beer and chicha (home brewed corn beer fermented using human spit) merrily.
To cap off the evening men and boys built "Castillos". A Castillo is a fireworks Rube Goldburg machine constructed out of bamboo and mucho mucho fireworks. They spin, send off rockets, have waterfalls of sparks, and are magnificent. Safety concerns are waaaaay laxer than in the US. A car remained parked directly below the three story fireworks tower and was covered in sparks, taxis plowed their way through the crowd, and the intensity of the fireworks cannot really be translated in words or pictures. They were super fun fireworks fantasies, as if you bought every fountain, rocket, and cone in Wyoming and built a pyrotechnic's dream.