Reading English, Hearing Spanish 17

Inti Raymi Winter Soltice Festival of the Sun, Saqsayhuaman, Cusco

Chapter 17:  Inti Raymi Winter Solstice Fesitival of the Sun

Monday, June 21

Since Cameron’s departure, my hospital stay and the end of my FairPlay classes, I felt a little lonely, with a few pangs for home.  My stomach still wasn’t quite right.  I bought a religious tour ticket for 65 soles at the Iglesia de San Blas, an adobe church with a slope up to the altar.  With the guide headphones I studied the 22 carat gold cedar leaf altar and the remarkable carvings of the wooden pulpit with a skull, apparently the pulpit’s creator, nestled on top.  At the impressive Museo de Arte Religiso there were lots of 1950 earthquake damage pictures.  Cusco had suffered its fair share of the shakes over the years.  At lunchtime I walked down to the Alfa Omega restaurant expecting to meet up with Lourdes.  Instead, Ana appeared with the latest from FairPlay.  Ten out of the 15 teachers would be kept on following a compromise with the Ministry of Works.  Ana kept her job but Lourdes lost hers.  We had a really good chat.  Ana was such a lovely lady.  Her son was now teaching mathematics for two hours every afternoon.  I wondered about Ana’s own life.  Had she not met anybody else since her marriage ended?  Her life had turned around for sure, surely it wouldn’t be too long.  I promised to keep in touch.  In the afternoon I watched football on the television at the hostel with a couple of new guests.  Sergio from Barcelona and Arnold from Lima shared some drinks as Spain won 2-0 in the World Cup.  Later in the afternoon I visited the Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus, the best yet, with its awesome interior, a 69 feet high altar and 73 Marcos Zapata paintings adorning the high walls.  I climbed the stairs to afford myself a cracking view looking out west over the Plaza de Armas and beyond.  I returned to Jack’s for dinner and then checked my emails.  Joanna confirmed Mam had obtained a doctor’s report.

Tuesday, June 22

For most of the morning I wandered around Cusco Cathedral, the Basilica, Sagrada Familia and Triunfo, engrossed by their splendour and reflecting on a South American depiction of Christianity through art.  I remembered reading Paul Theroux’s recollection of the cathedral’s first Mass of the day, always in Quechuan.  It was the most popularly attended service and the most fulfilling.  I then discovered the famous Last Supper painting by Marcos Zapata depicted not a guinea pig but possibly something else.  More earthquake paintings drew me further in, and I found the Inca Warrior ashes at the back of the cathedral which Rosa told me to look out for.  The coexistence between sun worship and Christian beliefs was so evident.  The headphones guide helped me enormously.  I returned to the Alfa Omega restaurant.  A regular old lady made her daily call and greeted all the diners with a warm smile and kind words.  She waved and smiled when I later left.  After lunch I joined Sergio to watch Argentina beat the Greeks 2-0.  The Recoleta was closed so I took a short walk around the delightfully peaceful Plazoleta de Las Nazarenas.  I returned up Calle Triunfo where I stopped to have a chat with Sabrina for the first time in days.  She giggled when I asked her to come away with me!  I stayed in the hostel during the evening, finishing my Bacilor tablets and reading till bedtime.

Wednesday, June 23

I started reading The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene.  After another Alfa Omega lunch and a chat with the dear old lady I spent the rest of the afternoon at Quorikancha, the Santo Domingo Church and Convent.  It turned into a time of deep study as I approached the Temple of the Sun.  There were even more Cusco School of Anonymous Artists’ paintings to view.  I left my camera in the hostel, feeling this was more of a time to lodge images into my memory.  There were huge crowds milling about the place and many guides with large groups.  It was a day before the Winter Solstice Festival and the town was heaving.  Cusco looked resplendent.  There were lots of ladies in typical costumes on the streets where lots of cheery noise added to the warm sunshine feel of the day.  I retired to the peace and quiet of Monasterio de Santa Catalina de Sena (Catherine of Siena) where an enormous art collection and many statues grabbed my attention in the old living quarters and workshops.  Strangely, there were quite a few paintings with cuts and slits on their canvasses.  I liked the Tito paintings, with similarly bold blue and reds like Zapata’s.  Quorikancha’s English information boards helped my understandings about the 42 spiritual lines to 42 different parts of Cusco, legendary symbols on a huge gold plate and stuff about the readings of the Milky Way.  I stood awhile to admire the main picture, a stunning painting of the first meeting between the Inca leaders and the Spanish military rulers and Catholic missionaries.  I was reaching the climax of my Cusco adventure.

Thursday, June 24

This was the day, a real justification for staying in Cusco while I awaited the return of my passport.   Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) is Cusco’s premier festival.  It attracts thousands of visitors to witness a re-enactment of the Inca Winter Solstice ceremony up in Saqsaywaman.  It promised to be a long but ultimately memorable day.  Unfortunately, acute stomach pains curbed my initial enthusiasm.  Henri, who worked at the hostel and had just returned following the sad death of his father, kindly suggested I rest rather than go up too early.  I made my way up Arco Iris to the hill top location.  The ceremony didn’t start until 2pm but to avoid the crowds and find a good viewing spot I arrived at the fort by 8am.  I asked if there was a nearby toilet.  There was but the plumbing was disconnected.  The men at the entrance asked if I was okay when I returned from the toilet a quarter of an hour later.  I wasn’t feeling well at all.  I had plenty of water in my rucksack but little energy.  However, I found a place some distance from the other early arrivals.  We were all sat on the steep banked hill overlooking the flat ceremonial ground.  I found a programme seller.  The ceremony’s official script was included and I read through it as the hillside filled up with lots of backpackers and South Americans.  Further down and circling the centre were temporarily erected stands with about 3,000 seats costing $90 each, whilst up on the hill it remained free of charge.  Each year Inti Raymi began with an opening ceremony down at Qorikancha and the Temple of the Sun.  A large procession, led by the Inca ruler, then made its way up to Intipampa, the Plaza de Armas, through to Plazoleta de Las Nazarenas and on up to Saqsayhuaman.  I continued reading The Honorary Consul, and then chatted with a local lad who had been helping out with the stewarding as people were arriving from all directions.  Dozens of buses were ferrying people up and the noise levels of the swelling crowds raised the anticipation.  An hour before the ceremony was due to start I found a decent view further up the bank, where people were resting on the ground.  There were many groups of gringos taking the best spots.  Food and drink sellers trampled in between the sitting bodies calling out for custom.  Some impatience mixed with frustration.  A lack of communication caused a bit of a commotion as more of the spectators near the front began standing up.  It resulted in a food and plastic throwing frenzy to get them to sit down so everybody could see the ceremonial ground from this high vantage point.  The atmosphere simmered and then relaxed as everyone became resigned to standing up.  I remained in this great viewing spot as the Inca procession appeared on the brow of the hill to the south east.  The crowd immediately roared with excitement as the culmination of a long wait neared.  Then the Inca ruler made his grand entrance.  Men, women and children followed, dancing along to conch-shell sounds, and chanting marchers, all in their traditional costumes with distinct colours representing the four regions of the Inca Empire/Tawantinsuyu, the largest in pre-Columbian America.  I slowly moved down to the right where I’d been earlier on.  From the edges were clearer glimpses of the ceremony but stewards stood guard at the taped off areas.  So, I moved further down to ground level and found a raised verge with lots of space affording a clear view.  An impressive spectacle and sound continued for two hours.  The dancers immediately crouched down when the Inca ruler cried out in the direction of the sun with his hands held out in offering.  Then all the musicians started playing and mixing their sound with drumming, horn blowing and loud Quechua chanting, before the Inca ruler once again implored different regional leaders to read out the happenings in their part of the world over the past year.  Despite a rather weak sound system throughout the show, the whole Quechua script was carried out to the letter.  My English programme detailed all the key moments of the ceremony.  After the dances and proclamations came the fire and sun rituals, including a rather gory sacrifice of a young llama, the removal of its vital organs and the drinking of the blood.  It certainly wasn’t a scene for the squeamish as a young llama was led out of a corner pen and then carried onto the central platform where an obscured and muffled sounding ritual was carried out.  The next thing I saw was an Inca warrior holding up the poor llama’s heart and other insides above the cauldron of fire as the ruler cried out to the western sun.  The unnerving spectacle made many tourists turn away in revulsion.  I heard one American guy claiming the animal was already dead before the ritual began and we weren’t actually seeing a sacrifice.  Following the sacrifice, the dancers and singers broke out into a celebration and a festive scene spread out.  The Inti Raymi drew to a close with the participants doing a glorious lap of honour.  There must have been about 25,000 spectators attending.  I made my way towards the left as the huge crowd slowly dispersed and filed out of Saqsayhuman.  The streets back down to Cusco were packed with people.  It all resembled a departure from a big football match.  Back at the hostel Rosa presented me with a large chicken and egg bap.  I later rested a while before an early evening ramble down to have dinner at Alfa Omega.  I felt more relaxed.  The streets were without the usual cacophony of traffic and exhaust fumes as Cusquenans enjoyed the last few hours of their public holiday.  The pavements on Avenida El Sol were full of clothes, food and craft sellers.  I stopped to take some photographs of a musical company leading a procession down Tucuman into the Plaza de Armas.  A lad offered me some marijuana, two grams for 50 soles.  It would have been ideal for taking a step back and surveying such a wondrous evening of lovely sound and spectacle filling the town centre, but I declined.  Beautiful folklorica tunes floated out into the chilled air from Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus.  As the full moon shone over the town I reflected on the lovely music and stunningly attractive people of Cusco.  How fortunate I was to be there on the town’s most celebrated day.  My stay in Cusco had reached its crescendo with the Inti Raymi Winter Solstice Fesitival of the Sun, the most important date in the Inca calendar.

Friday, June 25

After a sound sleep my stomach felt a lot better.  Coca tea certainly helped at Cusco’s high altitude.  I drank it every morning and subsequently experienced very few headaches, dizziness or nausea.  Poor Kitty, the hostel cat, was a lost, desolate mummy as her kittens were found new homes.  Kitty’s crying floated around the hostel.  There was an email confirmation of a Guarantee of Payment from Columbus Direct Insurance.  I’d have my passport back by Monday.  An interesting character called Sam from Sligo, Ireland arrived at the hostel.  He’d been travelling for 11 months, making his way from Asia to South America after years of living and working in England. And now he was onto his final month before returning to Ireland to attend his sister’s wedding.  There were lots more tourists about after Inti Raymi.  Before departing from Cusco I wanted to carry out a busking tribute with my faithful guitar in the Plazoleta de Las Nazarenas, a low key tribute admittedly but importantly, a proper nod to the late, great John Peel.  Glastonbury was about to start back at home and the radio broadcasting stalwart, so long associated with the rise of the festival’s popularity, would forever be linked with Cusco.  In a tranquil half hour I tuned up and played some songs with people sitting down on nearby benches, listening and appreciating with friendly smiles and acknowledgements.  Even the neighbourhood policeman approved and the local painters came to join me.

Saturday, June 26

In the strong sunshine I visited Wanchaq Market to enjoy a mixed fruit juice.  An impulse then led me to San Jose Clinic.  They phoned Columbus and a fax from Britain slowly emerged.  It took half an hour for the machine to churn out the confirmation letter, then the lady handed over my passport.  An enormous relief took hold of me as I lunched at Alfa Omega.  Another impulse then led me to checking out some more churches I hadn’t yet seen.  It was fast approaching the evening Mass as I entered the awesome interior of the Merced, the bold Santo Francis and Santa Teresa, before I returned to Iglesia de San Pedro for a final time.  I tried out a different vegetarian restaurant, on Avenida Tullumayo.  The food was good and cost just seven soles.  I checked out some Lima hostels and chatted with Rosa for much of the evening.  She lent me an adaptor for my mobile and it started charging up for the first time in months!

Sunday, June 27

It was a day of anticipation with the World Cup second round tie between England and Germany kicking off at 9am.  A crowd of guests gathered around the hostel television to watch the game.  Germany won 4-1.  I felt deflated because I always liked to see England do well, if the Welsh weren’t in the tournament.  At least the sun was shining, so I took a stroll down Avenida Tullumayo to the juice stalls in Wanchaq Market.  I’d checked Cruz del Sur’s bus prices to Lima but Rosa told me to check out Cromotex, who her friend worked for, in the Terminal Terrestre.  Cromotex were charging 75 soles for a semi cama seat, about 40 soles cheaper than Cruz.  I was excited to be moving on, but where would I stay in Lima?  Eventually I remembered Lauren Flores’s recommendation about Miraflores, a seaside suburb away from the craziness of central Lima.  So, I booked a reservation at the Condor House.  My bus would be leaving Cusco at 5pm on Tuesday with a Wednesday afternoon arrival in Lima.  Just when I thought my health was improving my stomach pains flared up again.  Sam and some of the others were in the courtyard and wondered what was happening to me as I remained on the loo for so long.  I described my experiences and hospital visit to gasps of astonishment.  I just hoped my stomach would settle at the lower altitudes of Lima and the Pacific coast.

Monday, June 28

The low cloud made Cusco look awfully gloomy and I experienced a slow sort of day.  Rosa said I looked triste (sad) and asked why?  I opened my heart, fearing I might have to return to hospital if my stomach kept playing up.  I’d been in Cusco for exactly two months and experienced a great time.  But now my condition was grinding me down on what was meant to be a trip of a lifetime.  Rosa assured me it would work out for the best and urged me to stay calm and carry on with the deep breathing exercises.  I really liked Rosa and her sisterly ways.  Her friends were very fond of her.  She had a wonderful nature about her.  The rain continued falling until midday.  In the afternoon I visited the very interesting Museo Inka.  It had the most comprehensive display of historical artefacts, tools, pots and pictures out of all of the Cusco museums.  For a while though I felt rather confused with the Inca Empire/Tawantinsuyu superimposed onto a map of Western Europe.  “What is this?” asked a German lady beside me.  Had we both missed something big in European history?  It actually demonstrated the geographical size of the Empire in comparison.  I later enjoyed a light dinner back at the vegetarian restaurant on Avenida Tullumayo where a couple of guitarists called in to entertain the guests.  I really enjoyed the first guitarist’s style, watching his finger movements on the fret board and his variable strumming technique.  At first I couldn’t tell what make of guitar it was, and then I remembered the instrument makers housed in a workshop on Calle Maruri.  Cusco still had lots of lovely secrets to seek out.  I felt inspired to play guitar in my room for the rest of the evening, my last in Cusco.  It became a very peaceful night as the cold but dry darkness replaced the daytime cloud and rain.

Tuesday, June 29

Moving on was always difficult.  I remembered the dilemmas of moving away from home in North Wales for the first time in 1998.  At the beginning, I longed to return to its idyllic ways and comforts.  But such comforts could often breed complacency, disconnection and an ignorance for what was happening in the wider world.  Ruthin, especially Llanbedr, in the Vale of Clwyd will always be my home though.  The philosophical reaction of my former boss at Denbighshire County Council, when I handed in my notice to leave and try out something different back then, has stuck with me.  I’d never been out of the vale, pondered Nigel after a moment or two.  Perhaps the intention was to jolt me into the realisation of what I was doing.  But, I took my guitar and wandered off to the west coast of Southern Ireland in the middle of winter.  Was I taking leave of my senses?  No, I was just taking leave of Ruthin for a short time to take stock.  I was brought up on a council estate in a predominantly middle class and wealthy area of North Wales.  Compared to the working class living in the cities, opportunities are thin on the ground in the countryside for the less affluent who are also in the minority.  In school and the workplace you are either ignored or vulnerable to being exploited.  It can become overwhelming, but then at the same time, with no great expectations heaped on my shoulders I was sort of left to my own devices.  However, my confidence and self-esteem took a battering.  I was so sensitive.  It’s difficult but you have to overcome any of these negative feelings and conditions, both internal and external.  None of us choose what we’re born into.  I had a happy childhood, lots of friends and neighbours.  But the community changed a lot in the Eighties.  I was in my teens and those changes affected my outlook.  I sensed a less compassionate world out there, and my father was really struggling with ill health.  Our family remained strong though.  I left school with some qualifications and found work, yet I remained a shy, rather awkward character.  I had to find something, to know one’s worth and broaden my outlook.  I was moving in a positive direction but then my life profoundly changed in 1989.  In April I witnessed the horrors of Hillsborough and a few months later my father died at the age of just 52.  My home life in North Wales provided a refuge and recovery though.  I suppose I matured and gained a perspective.  I even fell in love.  It wasn’t to last, but I’d always recover!  I was taking more interest in music, learning to play the guitar, like my father always wanted me to.  He could see something in me, I’ll always remember that.  I was finding my own way and developing a healthy dose of class consciousness.  It helped me to gain strength and throw off those shackles.  I certainly never wanted to feel trapped again. And that’s it really, I found some drive and determination.  I came to believe in who I am, where I am and in what I do, knowing full well that nobody is better than anybody else.  I was able to follow my dreams when I became strong enough to do so.  That’s all I’ve ever tried to do, follow my dreams, but it could be a lonely experience at times.                                At the Pirwa Hostel, I packed up and left my solitary room in a very reflective mood.  I took some sunny morning pictures of Cusco.  I’d seen enough museums and artwork so I declined the 20 soles entrance to the Museo de Arte Precolombino and chose instead to have my final Cusco meal in Jack’s Cafe.  There was a mixture of persistent, resourceful and melancholic character in Cusco, as a lunch guest from Oregon, sharing my table, quite rightly observed.  From beginning to end there was inspiration and emotion.  The artists, especially, displayed a warmth, which no doubt soothed the differences between the colonialists and indigenous people all those years ago.  Life is for living and there are many different ways.  There are thousands of different varieties of potato in the Sacred Valley, where the seed was first domesticated.  Fresh ideas are still being planted in Cusco to this very day.  Back at the hostel Rosa and Yonni joined me to watch some of the World Cup.  I passed on some Salkantay trekking tips to a really pleasant German couple.  A light breeze rustled the trees around Plaza San Blas as the sun broke through the clouds.  I reflected on one of my warmest memories of Cusco, the morning sun on my back as I turned the corner off Avenida El Sol to go to my Spanish classes with Ana.  I still had a big journey ahead of me, and hopefully enough money to last.  My taxi arrived and, following a big hug from Rosa and a long wave goodbye, I was on my way to the bus station.  The sun sank lower in the western sky behind the Cusco hills as the bus later chugged its way through the early evening traffic and up along the winding pass heading out of town into the dusky hills.


About Ronnie Parry

I am a singer-songwriter and community learning tutor. This blog features the story of my 2010 travels in South America and some of the songs inspired by the trip.
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