The red lands on the way East of Cuzco to the Amazon were the same dusty, vast landscape that I had watched from the window of the bus one month before on the way to the village of Paucartambo. It was a quiet village, and people there often say that for 362 days nothing happens in Paucartambo. But between 14th and 17th of July the village comes alive in the celebration of Fiesta del Virgen del Carmen. I had cruised through Paucartambo in June to go to Tres Cruces for the sunrise ceremony that takes place on the winter solstice on June 21st. One night spent outside in creeping cold waiting for the sun to rise - which never did- had been enough then to make me take the first bus and head straight back to Cuzco. Paucartambo, though, definitely deserves more than that. It is one of the most traditional villages in the area. It likes to celebrate its fiestas with lots of color and music. As I saw the village take shape among red lands at the hour of the sunset, that day of the Fiesta, I felt glad to be back. Stepping out of the combi I found myself in a procession of music, dances and traditional costumes. People had gathered in the small Plaza to watch the dancers, and warm up with endless bottles of beer and local alcohol. By midnight this had turned into a general drunkenness. In the afternoon of the first day, procession started, all the ensembles making their entry with dances and costumes. Then at night the dances go on inside the halls where each cojunto (ensemble) rehearses the dances and takes locals out to dance. I wandered from one cojunto to the other, charmed by the smiles on the girls’ faces and their lively costumes. From a bodega (dingy pub) in dimly lit streets, guitar tunes mixed with laughs and ringing of beer bottles on the table. I peeked in as if entering in a story. On another street, a big oven was being already stuffed with pigs that were going to cook for the whole night to be ready for the traditional breakfast at 6 o'clock in the morning. At night, the whole plaza was illuminated by fireworks, and it became an explosion of excitement. You could walk endlessly through the packed streets watching dancers come by, warm yourself with a cup of hot ponche (bean drink) or chicken soup.
The image of Virgen del Carmen is a site of pilgrimage. She is believed to perform miracles, to fulfill the wishes of the faithful ones that come to pray to her every year for at least three times. In the church people kneeled down in face of the image and prayed, their face bathed in tears of faith. It is a fun festival but also a profound one, filled with faith. Some people only come to pay their homage to the images and then they live the mad crowd of dancers. The little image is then taken out and walked on the streets with a convoy of people. The most attractive aspect of the festival is the display of masks. Masks expressing joy, sorrow. Yellow or black, with long noses and funny expressions. I would watch them endlessly as they paraded dancing on the streets night and day.