The biggest fiesta of the year in Cusco occurs around the time of the winter solstice. Theoretically, Inti Raymi occurs only on June 24th (originally June 21st) as the Incans celebrated their god, Inti (sol, sun) on the winter solstice. However, Cusqueñans don´t seem to believe in celebrating for just a day. All of June seemed to have some celebration or other occuring at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.
Little did I know what I was in for this past week, until I returned from Pisaq to a Plaza de Armas filled with people, parades and random gigantic floats. Since then, there is a daily parade that lasts through most of daylight, plenty of random fireworks going off and tons of people milling about the area.
Of course, it was difficult not to get sucked in when the air of excitement emanating from the city. When there was a chance to be part of the big parade the night before Inti Raymi, I signed up. My friends and I spent two nights rehearsing, which resulted in much hilarity. It was even funnier when we practiced at the plaza because the locals were laughing as they watched foreigners attempting their local dance. Since we were not taking ourselves too seriously, there were only good times all around.
The day after rehearsals was even more interesting. I had to buy a pair of jotas (sandals made out of car tires… yes really!) to go with the costumes. However, when I tried to get to the mercado, there was a parade (another one)! I detoured through the streets with other tourists and saw a plethora of just stuff being sold on the street and sidewalk. To top it off, there was a 5 year old who (out of nowhere) pulled down his pants and peed on the street exactly where he stood.
I had to ask around to find jotas. Everyone pointed me to actual shoes. When I told them I needed jotas, they looked at me quizically, likely wondering why I would want those type of sandals. Finaly, I was pointed to a certain direction, which I followed until I finally found the special footwear. I tried on the size 5s, which were too big. When I asked the kid for 4s, he thought I meant price and countered with 4.50. So I ended up getting a pair (in the right size) for only 4.50 soles!
At about 6:30, we all met to get our traditional Peruvian clothing on. It was a skirt and sandals on a winter night! I was afraid of freezing to death since the parade lasts til 2am! But, the teachers took care of that problem. When we got to our places, they handed out shots of ron y coca-cola and bottles of cervezas for the duration of our walk.
The part that I found most amusing was that we actually were allowed (almost mandated) to drink while walking in the parade! It was how they keep warm. To top it off, my Dutch friends had been pre-gaming and therefore completely drunk for most of it. They began an Amauta School chant in Dutch and would randomly chant-sing-yell something or other.
When we arrived at the plaza, we were ordered to chug the beers so that we could start our performance. There were so many people who all cheered us along. The announcer made a point to mention that we were comprised of people from around the world and everyone seemed to enjoy our dance.
After that amazing experience, we hugged everybody and went out to grab some dinner (it was midnight at that point). Since the rest of Cusco was partying, we had to do the same and headed out to one of the discoteca after eating. My friends back home would probably be surprised to hear this, but I do enjoy dancing. And somehow, the discotecas here were more fun than whatever I encountered at home. We danced until around 3 in the morning.
After that night, I had 3 hours of sleep before heading out the next morning to catch the Inti Raymi celebration, which was a steep uphill climb from the main square. There were so many people when we arrived and all were pushing for space. It got nasty though when some people pushed their way in and didn´t have space to sit because the people behind were yelling for them to sit and started throwing things at them. At first, it was a little more innocent with fruit peels being thrown, but it slowly turned to bottles and even pebbles. It got a bit scary being around those people.
After a while, we decided to head back down the mountain for a late lunch and I walked back home with my friend for a nap. This was very much necessary since my other friend would be returning back to town this weekend (after traveling around Peru) and we needed to celebrate.
So, this is a long account already. I´m tired and really need a siesta ahora!