Plaza de Armas, Cusco
After yet another night bus, we arrived in Cusco at about 3 a.m. to find the place still in party mode. Trash was strewn all over the streets and people were still out and about on the main plaza. We found our dorms and got some shut eye before morning. We knew Cusco was celebrating the Winter Solstice, culminating in the Inti Raymi festival on June 24th. What we didn´t know was what that really meant. So the next morning we got up and out the door by 10:30 and made our way to the Plaza de Armas, the main square. The crowd was already huge, encircling the plaza, and we stood with everyone else, staring into the sea of people wondering just what was it we were supposed to be seeing here. We overheard two older gals who sounded American, so we asked them what was up.
They indicated that there was a parade of dancers in the square and that at one o´clock they were going to head up to Sacsayhuaman (pronounced ¨sexy woman¨), ruins on a hill outside of Cusco about a 45 minute walk. The cost to see them perform on the hill in the ruins up close: $90. The cost to trudge up there with the locals and sit way in the back: free. The choice was clear, but that meant we had to get going in order to get a spot.
Having lunch before the show
We started following the crowd, carrying blankets and chairs, up steep hills through cobble-stoned side streets. Cusco sits at about 11,000 feet or 3400 meters, so I thought I was better acclimated after being in Puno, but no, I struggled yet again, making our way up to this spot on the hill.
There were thousands of people making the trek and we actually kept up with some of the locals anyway. Once we arrived, we saw a stage that was encircled by grand stands all around (the expensive seats). We were relegated to the back fields, pretty far away. Luckily I brought my binoculars. We found a spot in the grass among local families munching on chicken and potatoes for lunch. It was noon when we arrived, so we had about an hour and a half to wait for the show to start. During this time, we watched as people came by, selling just about anything you could want, including binoculars, ice cream, blankets, blow up cows, an apple tort, pound cake, empanadas, popcorn, voice alternators, necklaces, water, soda, beer, and hats, to name a few things. I wanted to kill the parents around us who thought it a good idea to purchase loud blow toys for their kids. Eventually we could see in the distance the dancers entering the stage area. I got out my binoculars, which decided to break right then, so it was more like a monocular.
Selling hats in the field
Jen picked up some cheap ones for sale to see what was happening and we eventually found someone selling a program in English to aid our understanding.
I like her braids. The women often put poms poms on the tips of their braids, the larger the older they are.
Basically the Inca stands on stage and shouts a bunch of stuff, to which the different groups dressed in various colorful costumes shout back in response and dance about. At one point there is a llama sacrifice, one black and one white, but we are not sure if that happened. We saw a group of men carrying some animal that sounded like a pig and then heard a squeal and next thing you know, the Inca is holding a glob of pink innards which he supposedly eats later. There is more to it than that, but being so far back, we found the crowd around us more interesting at times.
The crowd running to the hill to get a better view.
Speaking of, during the almost two hour show, we noticed how the locals around us were more interested in food, socializing, playing volleyball and so forth, not really paying attention to the stage and the activities underway. However, you can´t blame them since you felt so disconnected from what was happening way ahead of us all blocked and sealed off by guards. Who was up close and personal in these expensive seats? Why, the rich, white tourists of course! Here we were at a Peruvian celebration through reenactment and the locals, whose culture and heritage was being celebrated, were forced to sit way in the back, completely shut away from the performance, while the gringos who paid a fortune were up close to the action. It was so screwed up and bizarre.
I mean, I can´t believe they charge so much for these seats. Obviously most locals can´t afford this price, let alone budget travelers like us. People were still flowing in even as the show was already under way, but many guards were holding them behind a line to keep them walking to the back with everyone else. At one point the crowd around us erupted in cheers as they watched people finally breaking free of this line and the guards and started running up close to the sealed off area. Everyone around us got up and started running as well. I was afraid it might get ugly, but people just wanted to get closer to see what was happening. The guards had to relent as they were surely outnumbered. Nothing serious happened anyway.
Can you see what is going on?
The tourists in their protected stage area stopped to take pictures of this action, and the show stopped briefly, but as soon as people were able to sit closer, all was fine and the show went on. It was one of the strangest events I´ve attended. I was glad I finally landed in a place in time for a festival as I´ve continuously missed them along the way. However, I think something has gone totally wrong with the way they celebrate this festival. I could not get over how disconnected the celebration was from the locals themselves.
Jen watching the show.
After witnessing that spectacle, we made our way down the hill. It was the perfect time of day, with the sun setting.
The view of Cusco was amazing. This is one of the prettiest cities I´ve been in so far. Later that night we grabbed a pizza and did a little bar hopping. I think I forgot about the fact I wouldn´t need much to drink in this altitude, but most of the places around have 2 for 1s, so pretty soon Jen and I were good and drunk, dancing the night away. I woke up the next morning with the worst hangover of my life. Of course we also had to check out of our room and move places. We can never get that timing right. So we painfully packed and walked across town to a new hostel, whose beds weren´t ready for about three hours. After a long breakfast and feeling worse by the moment, we got our beds and slept the afternoon away.
Ladies with their llamas trying to make a buck during the show.
We haven´t wasted a day yet, so I guess we were due, but I think I´ll let that be my one big night out here given we start our big trek on Saturday. So for now we´ll take in Cusco, a great city to just chill in. It has beautiful architecture and is set in the Andes right in a bowl. There are way too many tourists and people bugging you to sell you tours, but every day you wake up and see the blue sky, and every day you feel like you can breathe a little better. Soon we´ll be trekking our way to Macchu Picchu, so in the meantime, we have to buy some last minute supplies and continue acclimating.
Dancers leaving the stage after the show. My best view of the day!