Cusco church from Plaza D'Armas Hostal
We got back to Cusco and were picked up at the airport by our travel agent friend Milagro from SAS who had found a couple of alternative places to stay for our last five nights in Cusco. We ended up opting for the Plaza de Armas hostal which overlooks the main square and actually had both heat and hot water which Cindy seems to enjoy ;-) and got a nice little room, overlooking the main road into the square.
Cusco’s biggest festival of the year is June 24th, three days after the winter solstice (in case you weren’t aware, Peru is in the Southern hemisphere and our summer is their winter) and preparations were in full swing by the time we arrived with huge parades day and night with people dancing and drinking in the streets, all dressed in colorful costumes.
Drinking Chicha at the fair
One night while wandering around, we stumbled on a big street fair where all the locals were out serving huge plates of traditional Peruvian food including roasted Guinea Pig (usually garnished with a red chilli pepper between their teeth) and KowKow (no idea if that is how you spell it but it is some orange fish egg type specialty from the coast served with seaweed that wasn’t to bad). Best of all, the old lady in the blue sweater was selling home made Chicha which is a sweet, pink corn beer which I really wanted to try.
The day before Inti Raymi, we drove up to Tambomachay which is an old ruins a few miles out of Cusco and we wandered around Tambomachay then walked down to the red fort at Pukara and through the fields to Sacsayhuaman which is a pretty famous site about a 45 minute walk, mostly straight up, from Cusco.
Sacsayhuaman is where Inti Raymi would be the next day so we figured we would check it out so we knew how to get there. It started drizzling when we arrived at Sacsayhuaman but we managed to wander around a bit and watched them building the stage for tomorrow’s festival. You can see how huge the stones are in the picture with me standing next to one of the walls. We meandered down the stone streets, slippery and steep, and insanity had arrived in the Plaza. The entire square was filled with group after group of costumed dancers, spinning (and drinking) in the rain. This went on late into the night • ask to see the videos…
The next morning, we woke up hoping that it wouldn’t rain, had breakfast and started the hike back up to Sacsayhuaman to watch the Inti Raymi festival.
We had opted to avoid paying the ridiculous $100 per person tickets for seating on the field, instead plopping down on the grassy hill above the field with the locals (several of whom tried to charge us which we smilingly ignored). More and more people piled in and things got very, very crowded quickly with local families and their kids and grandparents breaking out picnics of Cuy (that is the roasted Guinea Pig) cornbread and various other interesting looking stuff. We befriended a local woman and her family including the cute little girl who were all sitting behind us. We ended up sitting around for several hours before the festival finally started with the crowds getting bigger and the space getting smaller.
Sacsayhuaman Stone Wall
Eventually, the ceremony started and involved the king and a priest chanting and praying to the gods for a good harvest year.
The entire ceremony was done in Quechuan which is the local language so most of what we saw, we kind of had to guess as to what was going on. They carried out the queen and king on big golden thrones with great ceremony and there were probably eight or more differently dressed groups of dancers, all doing different dances throughout the day. The crowd seemed to enjoy the “deer” dance the most with one guy with horns on his head dancing around and being chased by sacrifice thirsty Inkans. There was also a mock Alpaca sacrifice where they took a tied up Alpaca, placed him on the sacrificial mount and “killed” him, offering the entrails to the gods. Luckily PETA wasn’t there. All in all, it was a really cool ceremony and hanging out with the locals was a lot more interesting than getting carted up the hill in air-conditioned minivans with box lunches. We trudged down the hill with the immense crowds of locals and spent the rest of that day and the next roaming the shopping markets and restaurants of Cusco for our last days there before flying to Lima en-route home.