They told us June is like a month long party in Cusco. And they were right.
Everyday at least one street closes to vehicles, and instead flows with festivals. Dancers young, old, and with vibrantly-colored ponchos spin down the roadway, as tourists and locals cram along the sidewalk in witness.
The past weeks of skipping girls and metallic marching bands in such desfiles (parades) all culiminate this Monday, June 24, for the major Cusqueño holiday Inti Raymi ("Festival of the Sun").
A few days before the traditional Incan ceremony Cusco hosts a firework show, known as the “Noche de Luz y Sonido," in the city center. Yesterday three other interns and I ventured out to event, not knowing what we signed ourselves up for.
Among hundreds of Peruvians, we stood inside the packed Plaza de Armas under the frigid (it’s winter here), full-mooned sky. At first, when the Plaza was filling in anticipation for the 8 o’clock fuegos artificiales, the crowd was porous and tranquil. I had room to shift around and stare at the surrounding cathedrals soaked in colorful lights, as well as the stage with a Peruvian guitarist. It was beautiful; one of those, wow, I am in a different country moments. However, by the time the emcees were done cracking jokes to buy time for the show, I was snugly trapped in a human mass.
The fuegos went off at around 8:20pm, and compared to the Fourth of July, were for the most part unimpressive. Later, the other interns and I agreed that music makes a difference when it comes to firework shows, and here the tracks varied from traditional Incan whistles to Michael Jackson… with the emcees making unnecessary exclamations in the background.
As soon as the last light in the sky flickered, my group decided to leave to avoid the rush. We were too late. The once peaceful Cusqueñan crowd suddenly became a whirlpool of humanity, as everyone began pushing to fight their way out of the Plaza.
Never in my life have I been so claustrophobic, so tightly squished by strangers, and so in anguish over human behavior. As I gripped onto the hand of one of the other interns, I shoved my shoulders into any empty spaces in order to make my way through the chaos. People pressed from all sides, to the point where I couldn’t even fully expand my lungs for air. And if that’s not enough, as I reached a near stage of panic, I noticed a man reaching into my pocket for my phone.
My first thoughts were, no way! Not another phone lost! (I had already had one cheap Peruvian phone and my iPhone stolen from me in the past 2 weeks, see the post below.) Instead of fearing possible retaliation, in the tumult of the human rapids I snatched the phone away from him, returning his smirk with a glare. Dear Lord, please let us make it out of here, I prayed.
He answered. We followed the flow, and despite random cross traffic and pushing drunks, we made it to the outside.
Well, that was an experience.
All of us walked away from the Plaza thinking, never again.
So, with that story, thanks to all of you who have been praying for my safety and time here in Peru! Although the night was a wee bit traumatizing, it was also another adventure. Inti Raymi is just a few days away, and the crowds will most likely be the same. I definitely cannot miss it, but let’s just say I will be watching from a distance. :)