Cusco festival:  Inti Raymi

Crowds and more crowds at Inti Raymi, in Cusco, on Friday 24 June. This is the Incan celebration of the winter solstice, a very important holiday in Peru. With Cusco viewed as the centre of Peru you can start to guess the numbers in town. Classes were cancelled but the school offered an outing to it with a bbq.

About 30 of us walked from the school to the church of Santo Domenico. The crowds were too big there and we had no hope of seeing anything so we all walked back to the Plaza de Armas. Then we moved again. And again. And one more time. All so we could get a place where we should be able to see something of the procession. 

Wow! With a background cacophony of conch shells and a band the procession could be heard coming towards the Plaza. Thousands of people surrounded all four sides of the Plaza. We were jammed in near the south eastern corner, looking up along the northern side with its grandstand in front of the cathedral.

While waiting, I sat on the step of a building on the periphery, next to a cardboard box continuing lollies and small bars. Yes, a shop, from which the owner was successfully selling Chupa Chup equivalents. She had no teeth, looked 100, and when we compared ages, turned out to be 63, 2 years younger than me. She moved to the back wall as the crowd squashed in against us

On my other side two rotund, short locals were firmly ensconced on their little stools. Every time someone impeded their view one or both of them firmly tapped the offender on the back and told them to move, repeating it until it happened. One man put his child on his shoulders. Blocked our views totally and he was quickly moved on. The crowd didn’t take long!

Between us and the side of the Plaza two people held up large umbrellas against the sun. Yup, almost completely blocking our view of the plaza. So the crowd around me started, one by one: saca su paraguas. (Put your umbrella down). Finally worked and we could see, sort of. If you ignore the sea of hands holding up phones and cameras as things happened. 

Various groups of dancers, male and female, passed.

 Then 3 mummified bodies, each on its own bier carried by its own green clothed team. (Apparently the bodies were not real mummies, just representations of the mummified bodies of kings the Incans used to bring out to ‘feed’ daily and also to carry around at festivals). 

And then the ‘Incan queen’. She was carried shoulder high, sitting on an open litter by guys dressed in green. More dancers. 
Then smoke, cheers, and the ‘Incan king’, standing on a litter on the shoulders of guys dressed in beautiful red robes. 

Over time the ‘King’ was taken to near the small pyramid in the centre of the Plaza. He greeted the ‘shaman’ there and climbed up the red carpeted steps. From our distance it was a bit hard to figure what was happening. Then, the litters, biers and dancers were doing another circumlocution of the Plaza. 
By now I’d had enough standing and sat back down on the step, watching around me.

We left, heading back up to the school.  More waiting. 

Collected into a group we took off again and finally arrived at a small bus. Headed up the hill overlooking Cusco in this bus. Headed! Well, many many other little buses were also going up or down the same hill. Plus many pedestrians were attempting the same climb. We inched forwards. Slowly. Watching people watching us. 

Finally we all got out and joined in pushing our way up the hill between the buses, cars and our fellow walkers. Walking was considerably faster. My only regret: it stopped an excellent discussion in the bus on the imminent American presidential election. It was between a number of enlightened Americans and a member of another nationality with extreme right wing and racist views. 

Hell? Yes! Hot sun, people pushing, smelly diesel buses, sellers of drinks and food alongside pushing their wares. We climbed into a reserved area on the hill, along with thousands of others. And then we waited. The problem was finding out where we had to go. By now I’d had enough and wanted to leave. Hours of sitting and standing in the sun then pushing through crowds and I’d had enough! My apartment was not far down the hill….. 

Across on the other hill from us were the ruins and the continuing ceremonies (very expensive tickets, mostly sold out long ago). Oh, and the juxtaposition of the large white, very ugly, statue of Christ behind 3 roughly hewn crosses garlanded by local decorators, and the Incan ceremonies was interesting.

One of the teachers said 5 minutes more. So I stayed as an end seemed to be in sight. And then we crossed the road, down the hill to where our group was supposed to have gone. Fire pits dug out all around us, we finally found ours and arrived to a BBQ prepared by the Peruvian co-owner of the school. Plates of roasted potatoes, a type of tuber, chorizo, and chicken or fish were passed around. Wow! Excellent, especially the chorizo. We drank beer, coke or Incan cola and sat chatting.  The crowds were huge! People eating, cooking, selling were everywhere on the hills on both sides of the road.

An hour or so later and another student and I left. Back down along the road through near stationary buses trying to go up and down, thousands of other pedestrians and sellers of food and drinks. Finally! A staircase down the near vertical hillside. And we’d escaped. Past the tiled roofs with their cute Incan symbols. 
What a wonderful day! Markets everywhere in town, things, food. And even a pack of dogs.

Did I mention the many types of take away?

How amazing to have seen a festival that I believe the Spanish and/or the church had banned until the 1940s. And the level of pride of the locals in their culture has to be seen. Quechua is, according to the Chupa Chup seller, taught in all schools now. She had a few words but I don’t think could speak it. Interesting

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