Cusco and the two festivals.

We have decided to stay in Cusco until the festival of Inti Raymi (the Inca festival of the winter solstice on 2006-06-24). Whilst we are here, we will leave our vehicles parked at the excellent Quinta Lala camp site and explore the area around Cusco by foot, mini-bus and train.

On Thursday we made our first intended visit to the centre of Cusco (a 25 minute walk downhill from the camp site) where two major festivals were in progress. The "short" festival was for just one day, whilst the "long" festival seems to go on for weeks. The short festival celebrations are centered around the main square, the Plaza de Armas, and involve tens of thousands of people, many in traditional costume.

Although the origin of the festival is long lost in myth, it is thought to be over 1800 years old. In Cusco, the celebration takes the form of a "competitive fashion parade" in which each of the fifteen local "temples" parade their richly decorated "icon" round the square accompanied by musicians. It is widely believed that the icons provide an enhanced way of communicating with the gods. As with the long festival, there is considerable "tribal" support for particular icons, although, to the untutored eye, their probable efficacy seems very similar.

Some richly dressed and very photogenic "celebrants" bring llamas or lambs with them, whilst others carry post card sized pictures of local buildings and views. Yet another group offer ritual foot cleansing. All these "celebrants" seem very keen to share their beliefs with us. Mingling with the crowds are a more sinister and secret "sect" that carry knives (see below).

Celebrants at the short festival in the south east corner of Plaza de Armas. The photograph was taken from the balcony of the recommended Norton Rats Café (you don't need a motorcycle to get in, but it helps).

One of the more ornate icons on its way round the Plaza de Armas.

Three more icons(San Blas, San Pedro and the Virgen Natividad) from the short festival being carried round the Plaza de Armas.

In contrast to the short festival that is celebrated in the open air, the long festival (at least in Cusco) is celebrated indoors. Many of the buildings surrounding the plaza have signs inviting the initiated inside to celebrate "live". Whilst the "teams" in the short festival are generally cooperative, those in the long festival are highly competitive. Indeed only those that are successful in the early stages are allowed to take part later. Both festivals are controlled from Europe, the short festival from Rome and the long festival from Germany.


Celebrants at the long festival often imbibe mind altering beverages whilst they gaze at the flickering green icon in the corner. Many of them remain immobile for 90 minutes, only emitting ritual wails from time to time.

We were warned that pick-pockets, armed with very sharp knives, operate amongst the crowds at festivals in Cusco. As a result we were all very sensitive about being brushed against or touched by people selling post cards or finger puppets. However, because of the density of the crowds, it is often necessary to push past people just to avoid being carried along with the throng.

In spite of our caution, one woman managed to cut a 150mm slit in Mick's trouser pocket before he realized what was happening and prevented her from stealing his wallet.

And finally: One of the many nice things about this camp site is wireless Internet access. That means not only will there be lots of new web pages from here, but it is also possible to use Skype (or other IP phone system) to call anybody in the world for a few cents a minute. Below, as promised, Clive calls his father (on Father's day).

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2006-02-18.