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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Friday, 24 June 2011

June 24th: Cuzco

On June 24th 1976 I was in Cuzco.  This was the day of the winter solstice, the day of the great festival of Inti Raymi, maybe the biggest festival  in the Andes.  Inti Raymi had been the most important festival for the Incas, the day the Inca called the sun back to Earth.  A reconstruction of the Inca religious festival had taken place for a few years in the terraces of Sacsayhuaman above the city.  The party had been going on for several days already.

Cuzco was full, the hotels were overflowing and I had been lucky to find a single room.  Hundreds of people had come from Lima and other cities and a huge range of foreigners had come, as I had, for the fun.  On 22nd June there was a small parade in the evening, with costumed dancers and big crowds.  With friends I gate-crashed the opening of a new restaurant.  When the food and drink finished the party-goers were left frustrated (everyone was a party-goer now in Cuzco).  Two Brazilians I knew started playing blues harp and sambaing and nobody wanted to leave.  Eventually the samba left the restaurant and we all sambaed up the hill and in the Plaza de Armas until well into the night.  I'd had enough by 12.30.

Inti Raymi, 2007:  Picture by Al Lemos, CC
The town was lively very early the next day, and they were taking the saints out of the cathedral and around the Plaza de Armas in mid-morning.  The parade began in late afternoon and I roamed the streets with everyone else.  The parade went on and on, sometimes with good costumes, but more often it was more just men and women walking in ponchos, some fancy dress, like the birds, some fine native costumes.  As the crowds grew the streets became crowded and it was very difficult to walk about, or get to the hotels and so on.  The best thing, however, was to keep moving, pushing through the bottlenecks with everyone else, just getting into it.  I ate anticuchos and drank ponche from the stalls, fiesta food.  In a cafe in the late evening I met an English guy and we thought we recognised each other; he turned out to be an old friend from University now married to a Peruvian with 2 kids.  I found my way to John's, an American owned bar, where there was a party and loads of friends.  John's shut well after midnight so I went to the square which was still hugely crowded.  I watched some singing, joined in some dancing, and ended with an hour or so of samba and ponche until about 4 when I went cold and exhausted to bed.

Inti Raymi, 2008, Picture by Cyntia Motta, CC
On this day, the day of the festival proper, I was woken up in my room by friends in mid-morning.  After a quick breakfast we walked up the hill to Sacsayhuaman, the Inca ceremonial site on the hills above the city .  There were crowds of people spreading through the terraces and a sunny atmosphere; it felt rather like a small rock festival.  We sat and drank a couple of beers in the sun, but when the ceremony began we had difficulty to find somewhere where we could see, so I ran about during the introductory music and entrance, and came back to stand near where I had been.  The ceremony was slow and stately, with fine costumes, a chicha ceremony and a llama sacrifice, not very long, but dignified, pure theatre of course, spoken in Quechua with a Castellano commentary, but it satisfied the crowd and left people in a good mood.  Down in the Plaza there were strange ceremonies with saints outside the Cathedral, but not many onlookers now.  The evening was quieter, an animated paseo going on past midnight but the fiesta energy had largely passed.

My time in Cuzco stayed sociable rather than anything else.  Three days after Inti Raymi, wanting some solitude, I went back up to Sacsahuayman, and sat a while on the rocks.  It was quiet that day, not many tourists, they were all passing to and from Pisac in minibuses.  The site however was strewn with rubbish, still in the aftermath of the rock festival feeling.  I walked on to Qenqo, the huge carved Inca rock; I admired the stones, looked down over the town and sat for a long time on top of the rock.  I looked at how the streets on this edge of the town seemed to be Inca in origin.   After this I began more and more to wander around the back streets of Cuzco, understanding a little more how the colonial town sat on top of the Inca town and how the modern town sat on top of the colonial town.

Sacsayhuaman:  My picture taken in 1986
In Cuzco: My picture taken in 1986

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