After the amazing experience of hiking the Inca trail we deserved a day of rest. No chance of that! Our final day in Cusco coincided with the winter solstice festival of Inti Raymi. The original ceremony included animal sacrifices to Pachamama, a fertility goddess that watched over crops from planting to harvest. The animal sacrifice is now gone but a theatrical representation of the ceremony is now performed each year at solstice. We were fortunate enough to be there at this time.
The ceremony began in the main plaza of Cusco and featured a procession of brightly dressed characters carrying offering for the Sun-god. The main character, a religious leader of some kind, then thanked the sun god for its blessing of the crops. It was rather awesome.
The town was packed with tourists and locals out to watch. I remember one woman standing up blocking a group of french people’s view and the french folk went crazy shouting “can’t see! can’t see!”. She didn’t seem to get the message and stood up several more times to the same response. Security wandered by and the ruckus ended. Poor form from the tourists.
We then moved on up to the ruins of Saksaywaman to watch essentially the same precession again just in a better location!
There were some clearly marked boundaries in place to stop folks trampling over the ruins but someone must have broke through the barrier as suddenly the crowd stormed the mountain in a bid to get a better view! It was crazy and it was mainly locals at fault. At one point the charge was so violent that I was worried folks would get trampled so I raised my palm and shouted “stop!”, briefly halting the crowd. My efforts at crowd control didn’t last long as folks simply took off again veering around us. You can see the madness in the pictures below. It saddened me that the locals couldn’t respect their ancient sites, something I continued to see in other countries.
That said, the ruins were spectacular and it was fantastic to see the festival. I recommend trying to line up your to coincide as the experience is fantastic. As we walked away from the ceremony, I saw quite possibly the most astonishing busker I have ever seen. The man had no arms or legs, only stumps, yet still managed to play the flute. It was a slap back into reality as to how poor some of these people were and how lucky we are to live in a country with a good welfare safety net (despite some of the details being at issue). Once we arrived back in Cusco we went to one of the restaurants overlooking the main plaza and had Alpaca and chips.
This trip was simply amazing and there are so many details that I have not included in this blog that keep coming to mind. I would highly recommend heading off and doing the trek as it is hard but oh so satisfying. I would also recommend using a tour company that has high ethical standards as it could be very easy to exploit the locals given their economic situation. I was left with the impression though, of a country that was proud of its history and its culture and was happy to celebrate it with us.