Wrapping up the Weekend- Carnival
Today was Carnival and when I woke up around 6:30am and peeked out the window in my room near my bed I saw blue sky which, perhaps, was a good omen for the big festival on the plaza later in the day. As usual the room had warmed up overnight so it was not a big problem to get out of bed. I slowly put some pressure on my injured foot and found I could walk, if carefully, and only on tip-toe. Good enough, I hoped, to be able to hobble down to the Plaza des Armes later and see some of the celebration. I really did not want to miss it. The morning was fairly quiet and I basically rested my foot. Unfortunately the blue sky disappeared around 10:00am and the gray clouds which had kept us company the whole week rolled in and the rain started, coming down in a steady, depressing downpour. The temperature dropped a bit too. Regardless we decided to try and walk down to the festival after lunch, hoping the rain would let up some by then.
Carnival is a major holiday and we were expecting to see lots of people down on the square irrespective of the weather. After lunch the rain had slowed to a drizzle so bundling up and grabbing rain gear we headed out. Being determined not to miss anything I hobbled slowly to the square with Julie, one of the girls in the house, keeping me company. As we approached the center of town we started to hear music and in each small plaza we passed on the way to the main square there were tents and awnings set up with music and food. The rain hadn’t damped any of the party spirit it appeared.
One of the things that we were warned about, which I have mentioned earlier, was the fact that during the celebration there would be children having water fights as well as people running around spraying some kind of foam or silly string on anyone in sight. Well I can attest to the fact that it was actually a soap of some kind and had a lemony, soapy smell to it. There were vendors walking around in the crowd selling the pressurized cans for a S/1.00 (about 30 cents US). As I looked around at the foam clad people around me it was clear there were three colors of foam/soap available – white, yellow, and blue. There were also people walking around in the crowd selling water balloons. So retrospectively, it was probably good that it was kind of a rainy day because one way or another you were likely to get wet anyway.
A large stage with an awning erected over it to keep people dry had been set up right in front of the main Cathedral and when we arrived, after the festivities had been going for about two hours, there were some dignitaries on the stage. Right in the street in front of the stage were some people dressed in native costume dancing a folk dance. It was all very colorful and that is where I headed, slowly- I wanted to watch the dancing. I stood along the street, nearly opposite the stage, facing the dancers and that is where I remained, balancing on my good foot. Off to my right, at the corner of the square, a huge foam/soap/water fight was going on with participants a mixture of “gringos” and locals. It was not just the kids who were squirting foam and throwing water balloons around, almost everybody had a hand in it and especially in that corner the battle was fierce. Some of the people from our house headed over there and were shortly white from head to toe, having immediately been showered in suds. I remained where I was watching the dancers. I had no doubt the foam/water would find me eventually and had no need to get in the heart of the battle.
(Note: I did not take my camera with me to the square as I could not trust that it would not get soaked (Elizabeth had a bucket of water dumped on her earlier in the morning). Elizabeth and Carrie had gone by the square earlier on the way to yoga class and Carrie took some pictures then and kindly let me use them. So, unfortunately, I have no photos of foam clad people. If I get some from anyone, I will post them later. But, in general, it was a bad place to have electronic devices!!!)
As I stood there and watched it became obvious that there was something of a review occurring at the stage. Different groups would line up, as if in a short parade, dance over to where they were positioned in front of the stage, perform, and then move on. The next group would then move in. The costumes were all colorful and different and while the dances had some of the same moves, they were each distinct. The one thing that was similar, however, was the music. Interestingly enough, the dancers were not spared in the battle of the foam and water. While the dancers were performing various people in the crowd, adults and children, locals and tourists, would squirt water or foam/soap at the passing performers. They took it in stride and just kept going. At the end of the dance their costumes would have a polka-dot, checkerboard, or modern art inspired pattern of white arranged about them. Then the next group would move in and the whole process was repeated.
Standing there merely watching the dancers, part of a larger crowd, did not shield me from the foam/soap battle. The kids were running in and out of the crowd pelting each other and anyone who happened to be in the way and there seemed to be a “get the gringos” theme active. Some of us tourists seemed to be especially popular as targets. I got sprayed in the face once or twice (having to wipe off my glasses once) and on my head and back several times. Since there was a steady drizzle the rain eventually wiped off the suds so getting clean, at least for me, was not that big of a problem. Some of my house-mates, however, probably could have used a good hosing down (everyone took showers when we got home). I was lucky in that I only got hit by one water balloon and that was in the legs so I remained relatively dry (which means I was not soaking wet). Overall everyone was having a great time and it was all done with great good humor.
The “parade” and review ended about three and being at this point both cold and wet we headed home. It was a great experience and worth the hobbling it took to get me there and back. (Hopefully my foot will feel better in the morning!)
A few “I forgots” about earlier in the week:
Thursday afternoon: As I have mentioned in “It’s Festival Time” Thursday was a holiday here in Cusco, with bands playing on squares, confetti being thrown on people and a few other local traditions in evidence. When we showed up at the convent it seemed that the girls were getting a break from their chores as part of the holiday. Usually when we arrived they were involved in washing clothes (using buckets and water faucets) or other chores. Today when we arrived they were involved in a heated volleyball game with the nuns. We walked in the portal to the complex and heard the shouts and as we turned the corner saw a court full of nuns in their black habits facing off against a team of our students. I honestly can say I never have seen, nor expected to ever see, such a scene. We sat down to watch, of course. As I sat there and observed, calling out encouragement and cheers to the girls, it was clear to see that the nuns were some really good volleyball players! Clearly they had some experience with the game and had built a coherent team. They also displayed a certain determination to win. The game finally ended at 3:00pm and we started classes shortly thereafter. We adjusted our lessons that day to be in line with the holiday spirit (we played “word” bingo). It was a fun day at the volunteer project!
Friday morning: Mikhail wanted to go see the Cathedral before he left and since I did not mind seeing it again I went with him. We had been told that it was open in the mornings from 6am-9am, for free. When we got there, around 8:00am, it turned out that it was open, but for service, so we decided to go in and attend the service. We sat in one of the pews off to the side and listened to the Spanish mass while we absorbed the beauty of the church. I had been raised Catholic (it turns out he had too) and thus we both recognized the rhythm of the mass even though we could not understand much of what was being said. The music was the one thing that was noticeably different, it seemed to have a bit of local sounds intertwined to the hymnal music I was used to. The mass was well attended but there were others walking around the church during the service, preferring to spend a quiet moment in reflection at many of the small side chapels that lined each side of the church, instead of concentrating on the main mass.