Inti Raymi

Procession entering Qorikancha
Procession entering Qorikancha

Today was the big annual festival of Inti Raymi, a re-enactment of an Inca ceremony to give thanks to the sun and hope for a good harvest during the year. It was an early start by my current standards. After breakfast, I made my way down to Qorikancha, where I thought the ceremony was due to start at 8am. As it turned out, it was at 9am but it was providential that I had arrived relatively early as the crowds were already large.

People were standing 3 or 4 deep around the grassy arena, so it was going to be difficult to see anything. Fortunately, there were some enterprising locals renting out chairs and stools for people to stand on so, for 5 soles, I hired a chair. I still had someone standing in front of me, on a chair, but could just about see between the branches of the bushes and arms waving cameras around in the air, hoping that the lens was aimed in the right place.

Ceremony at Qorikancha
Ceremony at Qorikancha

Inti Raymi consists of three ceremonies. The first is at Qorikancha, the second is in the Plaza de Armas and the last, a longer one, takes place at Sacsayhuaman for the entire afternoon. It is a public holiday so everyone is out and about, if not watching the ceremonies, at least having family picnics on the mountain sides

I never really discovered what was taking place in each individual ceremony. A King and Queen presided over them and there was a lot of colour and noise. At Qorikancha, the ceremony was relatively short and, just before it appeared to be finishing, I made my way to the Plaza where thousands of people were already waiting. The crowds were too much for me so I retreated to my regular cafe. However, quite a few people had beaten my to it, including a tour group who had paid to reserve a table right by one of the windows.

The ceremony in Plaza de Armas took place around the central monument
The ceremony in Plaza de Armas took place around the central monument

I had some time to wait for the next performance to begin and had a coffee in the meantime, sharing a table with a couple of Peruvian men. Once proceedings commenced, however, everyone congregated around the windows and I was fortunate in that an American in the tour group let me stand on her chair whilst she stood in front of me. That way, I could get a view of half of the Plaza and could hang out and round the side of the window, albeit a little precariously, to see the rest.

Hordes of people going up to Sacsayhuaman
Hordes of people going up to Sacsayhuaman

Afterwards, I made my way up the hill to Sacsayhuaman. It is possible to purchase seats with prime viewing here but these were $140US so I had resisted the temptation. Instead, I wandered around the hillside until I spotted a space where I thought I might get a bit of a view and there was a minuscule space on the grass for me to sit. Once settled, I started talking to a lady next to me, whom I had, surprisingly, given that there were very few foreigners in this particular spot, not registered was English. It transpired that she lived near Yeovil, (where Dad is in a nursing home), had lived in Australia and her grandfather came from Whakatane, (just along the coast from Tauranga). It is a very small world! She had been to Peru several times and had come specifically for a Summer Solstice ceremony this time. She was accompanied by a Shaman from Puno, with whom she had travelled previously, and who was going through South America opening up the chakras of various places. This was new information to me as I had never come across actually places representing specific chakras before e.g. crown, heart, throat etc.

Sacsayhuaman procession
Sacsayhuaman procession
Ceremony in full swing at Sacsayhuaman
Ceremony in full swing at Sacsayhuaman

We stayed, uncomfortably, on the hillside for most of the ceremony. In order to see the arena, I had to stand up but there were people behind me objecting to this. However, a number of people stood eventually, so I didn’t feel guilty. Sitting was not particularly easy either because of the slope and the very prickly kikuyu grass.

I watched most of the ceremony (although managed to miss the llama sacrifice) before making my way back to the city, with hordes of others. It was obvious the festival was winding down as most of the street sellers had disappeared and there was not the activity that there had been over the last few days. I was glad to arrive back as I was quite exhausted! It had been a long, hot, day.

Cusco Festival

Getting ready for the festivities
Getting ready for the festivities

My intention today was to go to Pisac and then on to Calca, where I had arranged to have a ‘reading’ with Laura, who is obviously many talented! However, the best laid plans of mice and men……… Whilst I was finishing my breakfast, one of the ladies who runs the hostel asked me what I was doing today as there was a big procession, starting now. (It was then just after 9am.) This, then, would explain why I could hear all the noise from the loudspeakers once again.

A very large Andean flag
A very large Andean flag

I got ready and made my way to the Plaza, where there were already thousands of people congregating. Having determined that the procession was going all the way round, I made my way to the stand on the far side, which seemed a lot emptier, at that stage, than the one on the side that I had sat before to watch the dancing. The central one was already full. I found a slightly precarious perch on the top of the stand, which, of course, had no back barrier, there being no health and safety standards here!

The procession started at 10am and I decided I had to leave at 12. It was still going on. Every community and dance group was represented, so there was a vast array of costumes and colour and the noise was phenomenal. As per usual, every group had its own band, all playing their own tunes. Add the loudspeakers to this, and it was deafening, but also spectacular. I don’t know how much longer it went on for but it showed no signs of finishing after 2 hours.


Negotiating my way off the stand was somewhat tricky, as it had now filled up. Even so, there were vendors working their way amongst the people selling hats, ice creams, drinks (water or gaseoso, meaning Inka Cola or some such fizzy drink) and other food. For me, however, there appeared to be no way through. Luckily, one man ended up offering me a hand, so that I could step down without injuring myself, the baby lying across the bench or standing on someone.

I had to make my way to the collectivo station but first had to have a coffee. Needless to say, I am now recognised in the cafe, having been there every day. I do try to make it a different time each day though. I would hate to become a creature of habit!


I didn’t have time to stop at Pisac after this so went straight to Calca, where I had a little difficulty, initially, finding the house. The directions I had been given were ‘from David’s house’ (which is where I had been staying), ‘look for the red and green hereria sign on the right and turn left. Walk along until you see a school, go to the end of the building and turn right. The house is about the third one along’. Simple! Except that I walked past the ‘hereria’ sign about 3 times before I spotted it. It wasn’t quite as large as I had anticipated and not on a corner, where I thought it was going to be. I found the street, but which house was it? Luckily, Laura, anticipating that I might have problems, emerged just as I was contemplating what to do.

View of Ausangate Mountain
View of Ausangate Mountain

Having spent much longer talking to her than I anticipated, my journey back to Cusco was in the dark. Thankfully, the collectivo driver wasn’t one of those that wouldn’t start without a full van, so we set off not long after I boarded, even though there were only about 3 of us in it. However, it filled up at Pisac, so all was well, and we arrived back in the city just after 6pm.

Walking from the collectivo station, I had to go up Avenida del Sol, which was absolutely jam packed with people. The festival was obviously still in progress! There were food stalls everywhere, so I took advantage and bought an ‘anticuccho’, which is liver kebab and far more tasty than it sounds. I then fought my way through the crowds to get back to the hostel. At one point, I was being pushed strongly from behind, which is something I dislike and also makes me a little fearful. There were so many people that I couldn’t have gone further or faster anyway.

Having bought a chicken kebab to supplement my already devoured liver kebab, I was thankful to arrive ‘home’. Whilst I feel that I am missing out a little on the festivities, I also do not like being in such large crowds, especially as Peruvians seem to have no compunction about pushing and shoving when they can’t get through.

Being a tourist

Plaza packed with people in the morning
Plaza packed with people in the morning

Today, the dancing competitions were obviously continuing, so I watched for a short while before going to do some of the tourist things that I still hadn’t done. I started in the Cathedral, where I bought a ticket that allowed me into a couple of other churches and a Religious Art Museum. I wasn’t allowed a free audio set in the Cathedral, which annoyed me somewhat, the reason for this being that I only had a copy of my passport and not the original for identification.

The main spectator area in front of the stage
The main spectator area in front of the stage

I cruised around the Cathedral, picking up bits of information from one or two of the English speaking tour guides, as I passed, although there weren’t many of them there today. The most famous part of the Cathedral is the large painting of the Last Supper with a guinea pig as its centre piece. There is also a massive amount of gold in the Church.

However, I have seen enough of these buildings now. They are all, it seems to me, very ornate and opulent and a stark contrast to the reality outside the door. All the while I was in the church, I could hear the very loud loudspeakers outside, which detracted somewhat from the experience.

Dancers on one side of the Plaza
Dancers on one side of the Plaza

I next made my way to the Museum and had a quick look in there (not somewhere I would have visited if I hadn’t had the ticket) and then walked up to San Blas, whose church was also included. This is a much smaller and simpler, adobe church that is considered to be the oldest in Cusco. There is still an excessive amount of gold covering the altar, however, and the principal feature, other than the altar, is a very ornately carved wooden pulpit. I sat in a pew and looked whilst the cleaner spread disinfectant on the floor around me.

Courtyard of the Museum of Religious Art
Courtyard of the Museum of Religious Art

On the way back to the Plaza, I did a bit of unsuccessful window shopping, having bought no presents for anyone. However, I quickly got fed up with being hassled by the vendors. There are thousands of shops in Cusco selling weavings, alpaca (supposedly) jerseys, hats and gloves, religious candles and icons and all sorts of other items that they seem to think tourists might want. There are also many, many people (mainly women) making a living selling llama key rings, paintings and jewellery (amongst other items) on the streets, as well as those attempting to lure people in for massages. Consequently, as you are walking around, there is a constant barrage of people thrusting goods or pieces of paper into your face, which gets a little irritating after a while.

The Plaza in the late afternoon
The Plaza in the late afternoon

I found a small cafe for lunch where a couple of Peruvian ladies sat down at my table, there being no other vacant ones. One of them was, I thought, extremely rude and kept calling to the waitress, who was attending to other customers. She then refused to eat the trout, which was the only choice left, and demanded one of the other items on the menu. Surprisingly, they actually found another portion of the supposedly run out dish.

After a lunch of soup and trout (for I did not demand one of the other choices!), I walked around the corner to the Machu Picchu Museum and spent some time looking at that and the photographic exhibition. The latter was quite small and contained black and white images of villagers in the high Andes, taken by three photographers, one of whom was the owner of the Earthship I had visited.

I walked around for a little while afterwards and then made my way back to my room. The dancing had all finished in the Plaza and the stands were decidedly empty but there were still a few people milling about as I passed by.

People milling around in the centre of the Plaza
People milling around in the centre of the Plaza

Dancing and the Cusco Festival

Getting dressed for dancing in the Plaza
Getting dressed for dancing in the Plaza

My morning was decidedly relaxed. I could hear a lot of noise from the Plaza (even though my hostel is some way away) and eventually went to investigate. As I walked along, in the beautiful morning, I passed people getting dressed in their costumes and food stalls being set up.

I decided that today was the day to try street food and started with helado de queso (literally translated as cheese ice cream). This originates in Arequipa and is, apparently, best when bought from an artisan on the street. When I was in Arequipa, I was still being cautious about the street food, so hadn’t tried it. It was fairly bland and the cinnamon and chocolate sauce on the top were the best part! Strangely enough, there were not as many food stalls around today, so the only other things I tried were churro (like doughnuts and often, like the one I tried, stuffed with dulce de leche, which is extremely sweet), and chicha, which was served to me in a glass dipped in water. I suspected that the one glass was used for everyone and the water was not fresh and therefore anticipated stomach problems, but this didn’t eventuate. (Normally, the sellers use disposable cups, so the glass took me by surprise.)

First stop was the cafe where I sat for a while observing the goings on below me. Stands had been erected in front of the stage by the Cathedral, as well as on each side of the Plaza. Groups of dancers commenced on one side, progressed to the Cathedral, where I assume judges sat on the stage, and then finished around the other side of the Plaza. There was therefore plenty of time for observation and the dancers were on the move the whole time. They must have been exhausted at the end of the day as they were very energetic!

I sat on my own for some time before I was joined by an American lady. She had seen me sitting on the balcony from down below and decided to come and talk to me for some reason. (There were plenty of empty tables in the cafe.) She was a retired anthropologist, travelling on her own, and had come here specifically to take ayahuasca and san pedro. She assumed that I was the same age as she was, a fact about which I felt a little insulted as she looked about 10 years older than I feel, but maybe I am deluding myself once again or maybe she was younger than she looked! Interestingly, she had booked at a retreat that, I think, is near Calca and is the same one that Laura and Valentino had been talking about.

After she left to go and meet her Shaman, who was picking her up, I joined the locals in one of the stands and watched the dancers for the remainder of the afternoon.

The costumes were incredible and, I think, all hand made. Every one was different, even within the dance groups, as the embroidery and weaving patterns vary according to the design ideas of the weaver. It was a most enjoyable afternoon.

Group photo time!
Group photo time!
Peru is playing soccer on the television in the cafe!
Peru is playing soccer on the television in the cafe!

Earthship and Sound and Light Festival

This morning I rather regretted my arrangement with Laura to go and view the Earthship. I had had a message from Bobbie to say that she was coming to Cusco for the procession this morning and Sound and Light Festival this evening. I arranged to meet her later on but would have liked to have stayed in town. There was also a festival in Calca, however, and I was hoping to see that.

The garden of Viva Peru cafe
The garden of Viva Peru cafe

As it happened, the day turned out totally unexpectedly and, once I left Cusco, was out of my control. Laura and Valentino had a yoga class at the Viva Peru Cafe in Huaran, which is on the way to Urubamba from Calca, that was scheduled to finish at 11.30am, so I had promised to be there then. I thought I was going to be late as the collectivo driver was very reluctant to leave Cusco without a full van, which meant sitting there for some time. Then, after driving up the road a little way, he stopped to pick up a lady, who had a baby on her back and a toddler by her side. Of course, there wasn’t a seat and, after the driver told someone to move so she could sit down (interestingly, none of the men did), one of the ladies in the seat behind the driver offered her her seat. The poor woman had to clamber over three large paint buckets, of what I assumed was chicha, and a gas cylinder that were parked in the door well, to get to the seat, whilst the other woman manoeuvred around the lady with the children and the other obstacles. This caused another delay but eventually, we were on our way and I arrived right on time.

Walking between Huaran and Arin
Walking between Huaran and Arin

The cafe was in an entirely unexpected place, off the main road and up a rough track. Inside, it was completely modern, had excellent coffee and a very tempting array of food. Outside, was a beautiful garden with a view of the mountains. As the yoga class hadn’t finished, I decided to have coffee and a muffin whilst I waited. I was then joined by Laura, Valentino, Shalloney and David, another guest at the house in Calca whom I hadn’t met. The latter two were also interested in looking at the Earthship. We stayed chatting for a while and then I found out that Valentino had another class at 1pm so they suggested going to see the Earthship after that. Consequently, I stayed 3 hours at the cafe and didn’t end up seeing any of the festival in Calca but I just had to go with the flow….!

Wall of the Earthship showing the construction using old tyres
Wall of the Earthship showing the construction using old tyres

We set off to walk to Orin at about 2pm. This was where the Earthship is located. It is owned by one of Valentino’s Mexican friends (Carlos) and he has created a place where artists can rent small houses and work at their leisure and without distractions. There is also a communal area where they can relax or cook together. Some of the place is still under construction although Carlos is hoping to open the complex in August. The Earthship is next to his own house (also under construction!) and comprises a bedroom and bathroom. The exterior walls are built of tyres and glass bottles are utilised on the interior. The purpose is to use as many recycled materials as possible.

By this stage, I was becoming a little anxious that Bobbie would be waiting for me in Cusco so we walked back to the main road, via the village of Orin, and caught a collectivo back to Calca from where I was able to get a van to Cusco almost immediately. Consequently, I was back in the city just after 5pm and made my way to the Plaza in the hope of finding Bobbie. After a quick circuit around, I went up to my favourite cafe, which I had told her about, thinking, if she wasn’t there, I could use the wifi to message her but, there she was, patiently waiting! (Our arrangement had been a little vague.)

A wall constructed from old bottles in the Earthship
A wall constructed from old bottles in the Earthship

We had a coffee and then a pisco sour before going back to my room so that I could collect my jacket and put on some socks and shoes. We then had dinner at a local cafe where the only choice was what was on the menu, after which we went off to investigate the happenings in the Plaza.

We arrived there just in time to see a wonderful firework display, which lasted quite some time. The whole area was packed. A stage had been set up in front of the Cathedral and there was music going continuously throughout the evening. After the fireworks, we ventured into the middle of it. However, in trying to get out, we were pushed from all sides by Peruvians. I’m not sure how they thought this was going to get them anywhere any quicker, as there were just too many people for progress. We made it out and didn’t return!

Food stalls
Food stalls
Bobbie admiring the dessert table!
Bobbie admiring the dessert table!

Outside of the Plaza de Armas, it appeared to be one giant street party with food stalls everywhere. There were also people selling rum and coke (bottles, not just individual drinks) and, in one plaza, a VW combi van had been converted into a bar. There were thousands of people sitting around eating, drinking and chatting. Whilst this particular evening was classified as a Sound and Light Festival, it is also the Inti Raymi Festival this week, which celebrates the start of the Andean calendar, which begins on 21st June with the Winter Solstice. In effect, then, this was like one giant New Year’s Eve party.

We walked around for quite some time, sampling odd food and drink before I decided at about 10pm that I had had enough of the crowds and said goodbye to Bobbie, who was going to wander a bit more before returning to her hostel.

(Apologies for the quality of the night photos. My camera doesn’t seem to cope well with low light.)