It was nearing four in the afternoon. Andean sun-down was strictly 6pm. Once the sun dipped behind the rocky mountain fortress we would be reduced to sudden twilight shifting to darkness and plummeting temperatures sometimes reaching zero degrees. It was July in the Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo. I was all set with my new American companions, Lis and Nabila to attend a Peruvian festival in a nearby towns-land.
Rumira, we were told by Hoovert (my Peruvian shop-keeper friend) is a forty minute walk from Ollantaytambo in the direction of Santa Maria and the Jungle. The girls had stayed an extra night in Ollantaytambo so as to accompany me to the Fiesta del Carmen, an annual religious celebration which takes place in this part of Peru in July. While Carmen is a Catholic saint we were about to witness the amalgamation of two religious cultures during this colourful celebration. Hoovert was keen for me to go so that I would also see him dancing.
We didn’t meet many people walking out that road but we did encounter traffic, mostly trucks and cars. To avoid the trucks I found myself hopping across large drains on the edge of the roadside. We walked in silence mostly, which allowed for contemplation of the journey. Hoovert told us that there would be parties in the houses and we were to go to one of these. ‘All are welcome,’ he had explained, ‘no-one is refused during the Fiesta.’ We didn’t know really what to expect as the instructions he had given us were quite loose and the starting time kept changing whenever we asked about it.
We had walked almost an hour. I was still drained from our extravagant night out the night before. Another serving of Coca tea would have suited me fine. Nabila who was slightly ahead of us on the road had come to a stop just outside the entrance to a courtyard. She appeared to be talking to someone. A young man was beckoning to Lis and I, he looked vaguely familiar to me. ‘The family say that we are welcome,’ Nabila explained to us.
We entered and were offered seats amongst the Peruvian people seated in the outdoor yard and we were each handed a bottle of Cusqueňo beer. I looked at Lis who was beside me. ‘No me gusta,’ I whimpered quietly in her ear. ‘Pretend you are drinking it,’ she answered with her ever-ready smile and winking at me. We sat there smiling at the locals. There was no lively conversation, most just sat there sipping their beers and watching the chickens clucking and picking in the earth. It was fortunate that those chickens were constantly looking downwards for around the corner of a small hut was a clothes line with full skins of chickens hanging out to dry.
A dog sat beneath a chair with a beer by his side. His eyes intrigued me. They were wildly dark and lively and matched his tanned wavy coat. He had the stature of a regal warrior. He surely deserved a beer.
We were the only tourists amongst these Andean people. The older folk were dressed in more traditional clothing. This pertained particularly to the women who wore full skirts with petticoats beneath, woolen jackets and blouse and hats that were particular to their clan. The hats here were tanned and brimmed. These were older women. I had noticed that the colours of the clothing grew duller with the aging of their wearer. Thus, the younger girls could be seen vividly in full array of colourful clothing.
We passed a half an hour this way, observing the details of the company. A group of younger men scarpered in and out of doorways of the house behind us. It turned out that they were busy preparing their costumes for later. They were one of the groups of dancers for the evening’s festival. The atmosphere was about to get more lively. Hoovert had arrived.
© Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing Blog
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