Inti Raymi – Cuzco, Peru

Inti Raymi – a Celebration By, Of, but Hopelessly Not For the People (Only For the Moneyed Few Who Can Afford)
Cuzco, Peru

Globe Trekker, the travel show, listed Cuzco, Peru’s Winter Solstice Festival as the number 2 party event in the world next to Rio, Brazil’s “Samba Carnival” and ahead of Pamplona, Spain’s “Running of the Bulls”.

I was curios how this festival in this ancient and archaic South American city 3,300 meters above sea level can capture the hearts of modern partygoers.

After spending a two-week expense budget amounting to US$3,000 traveling to Peru and observing the event, I now vehemently declare that this show’s credibility is tarnished beyond repair, pretending to be spontaneously unscripted, and entertainingly real.

Obviously, it exhibited signs of being in the promo payroll of tourism agencies and event organizers of places it featured. But of course, how can they gain access to this exclusive event if they didn’t massage the ratings, choreograph, polish, and edit scenes in ways to attract gullible tourists that guaranteed agreeable results to the host.

I’m figuring out how these presenters can get close to the event, even touch and play goofy with the actors, when in fact, the Peruvian police has sealed tight the celebration venue as distantly as possible from the spectators that it seemed both the Pope and the President of the United States are the guests of honor.

Call it conspiracy theory; my conviction is strong that the Peruvian police were deployed in such boosted numbers not for crowd control but to spoil non-spending spree tourist’s photo-op enjoyment, block all free viewing space. They’re all over the place patching-up with their corporeal presence any slit, opening, and hole, making sure one had a miserable time.

This elitist event is one big time disappointment!!!

If it’s not conspiracy theory what is this?

The staff where I stayed (the quite high-end and far-end Pan-American Hotel), does not speak English at all to answer my queries save for the very basics. I’m just armed with basic Spanish too, having taken four semesters of Spanish during my college days, eons of years ago plus a refresher course before I embarked on this trip, and about 40% of words in Tagalog language, my mother tongue, is related to Spanish; the Philippines – a once-colony of Spain. English, my second language, shares more with Spanish as well.

Wondering how to get through, the best way is to find an English-speaking local. On the eve of the celebration, I pestered not one, but two branches of the government tourist information agency on the schedule and route of the big event where I can strategically position myself.

Both of them have nothing to dispense, however.

Peru’s biggest event of the year has nothing to do with this agency tasked to inform tourists – 99% of which are here for the spectacle – even more for far-flung tourists who have just landed in this city for the first time.

It was the city’s top-most secret piece of information. The orchestrated policy is to confuse and create a sense of panic and helplessness for the do-it-yourself free-range tourists who have not availed the pay-per-view access services of tour guide companies with their myriad network of tourist-dollar sucking traps.

If the hotel staff, travel agencies, police, and hopelessly, tourist information aides can’t, who is going to help? There’s no literature, schedule and route map available, I then asked these clerks, having local advantage based on their experience about the details of the celebration.

Suddenly, their English grasp became limited. They became dumb that they couldn’t comprehend my question. It looked likely they were briefed to answer only a certain set of questions. Their only objective is – one question, one short answer, and gather autograph on the tourist log with remarks – Fantastic Service! Great Job! Very Helpful!, Heaven-Sent Angels of Cuzco! For them, tourists are not souls; they are statistics.

I left empty-handed.

Disappointed for not having gathered crucial information at all, I followed my instincts, more importantly the crowd, and the trail of cordon being installed in the early morning.

I saw the main plaza’s surrounding portals being wrapped with four rails of raffia cords, from the chest level down to fence off the crowd. The viewing grandstand was erected in front of the Cathedral’s main doors.

I had ample information to work around, having done my homework before I arrived in Cuzco. This is surely one venue.

Another is Coricancha where the present Santo Domingo Convent is, situated about a short 100 meters southeast of the plaza where the ceremony will kick-start.

The last ceremony will be uphill in Sacsayhuaman, almost two kilometer northeast of the plaza, but a steep oxygen-depleting climb. It’s easy for Cuzcquenians who have unusually super-sized hearts but not for lowland tourists like me.

The whole set-up actually looks decipherable, no need bitching about the uselessness of these tourist information offices. That was my assumption to dampen the futility of the situation. But it was just an initial salvo of the roadblock. I was fantasizing that I could view the participants and wave at the Inca, his queen, and his vestal virgins along the processional route. I hoped, but that proved to be a very tall order.

The first part of the ceremony was at Coricancha. My driver-guide yesterday briefed me that the ceremony will start here promptly at 7:00 a.m., not realizing Peruvian-time is much worse than Philippine-time. The ceremony started 10:00 am.

The site has been tightly surrounded by thick crowds of tall Caucasian and Mestizo tourists – affluent Europeans, Americans, as well as super rich Colombians, Brazilians, Bolivians, Argentineans, and of course Peruvians, each with his own state-of-the-art camera and videocam, standing even much taller on paid portable bleachers provided by enterprising locals. Coach and bus roofs were converted to viewing decks and filled with camera bugs with their projectile telephoto lens mounted on tripods.

All of a sudden, flute music sounded-off and the participants marched down from the convent and fanned out into the open space in formation ending into a soft stationary continuous jogging.

The tribal leader or the priest came out in his litter, then went up the highest part of the stage at the northeast corner, faced the morning sun and made a deeply personal son-to-heavenly father invocation. He then tossed-out some corn kernels (I guess) several times interrupted by a minute of prayer. This must be the highlight. At this point, I proceeded to exit my way out to Avenida del Sol where I thought the procession would pass through. Thank goodness, I was ahead with all the others rushing to the next venue at the Plaza.

I was starting to have some doubts about the information my driver-guide provided me the day before, that the procession will use Avenida del Sol. There was no cordon here, only a gushing crowd of humans invading the entire carriageway, thicker than a herd of wildebeests, outmaneuvering each other to get to the Plaza. It was chaotic and the Peruvian police were unperturbed. I can read their mind, beneath those veneer of poker faces, they were laughing at these silly crazy people much ado over nothing.

I headed towards the cathedral; its front faces the plaza to the southwest, away from the mid-morning sun. I knew exactly where to place myself, stand with the sun against my back. My camera hates facing it.

That’s the perfect place. But where should I go? Access to the cathedral side is blocked heavily by the police and the crowd is already thick and solid. Nobody wants to give way. Everybody was nasty.

The current just swept me to the western side I most disdained. I will be facing the sun and the backs of the participants. It was a token space within the portals, so distant, separated from the staging area by the street, blocked by more trees, the portal column, and the back of a sadistic female police officer – added distance, added obstruction, and added difficulties.

Then the messengers arrived, and little by little, the entourage made an appearance.

They didn’t use the much wider Avenida del Sol.

I knew it all along my guide-driver was bluffing me. This was his second lie.

The first secret was finally revealed.

The procession passed through a block or two north of Avenida del Sol possibly into the narrow Loreto Street barricaded by the claustrophobic walls of the Acclahuasi (House of the Chosen Women) or the present Santa Catalina Convent. The choice of this very narrow path, where only two wheelchairs can pass through at the same time confirms my conspiracy theory that this is a very exclusive party.

Why did they choose this tight lane instead of the much wider Avenida? How much more sadistic they can be?

The participants were so minute.

Here at the plaza is where the Inca chief will make a State-of-the-Nation address in Quechuan. He raised a quipo, last year’s economic report in strings and knots. It was a bountiful year, I presumed. He presented them to the Mayor of Cuzco, which was accepted.

Then aspiring Josephine Baker wannabies wearing loincloths teasingly covering only a portion of their crotch and rear did a heavy tribal wiggly and bending dance for entertainment. They represent a certain primitive tribe in the Amazon conquered by the Incas. A little touch of Las Vegas sex show style in front of the cathedral will do no harm to boost up the ratings.

The dance finished, crowd started moving. Then it’s on to the next venue I supposed? The entourage was making a move out to the western corner. I connected the dots. That’s exactly where I’m heading. We shall meet. I stopped, transgressed through the raffia cords and took a nice deep breath of freedom, a sigh of relief, my back leaning against the portal post. Finally, nobody is front of me!

I decided to change my lens, one devastating move I regret. On a free and safer place, my wide-angle lens needed to change. It has been whining all the time, a recess is imperative. This is a job for a far-zoomed lens. It shall take over.

On the right spot, but not the right timing, I saw the queen approaching me in her sedan chair, and waving at me. But what can I do? I’m stuck. People rushed and deluded my front view. I was faced with leg pits as I squat and fixed my camera. I was overwhelmed that I’m afraid people might stampede, trampling me while taking advantage of this one rare photo-op free-for-all.

The big opportunity just slipped by. By the time I finished mounting my lens, the tail end of the entourage just passed by.

I tried to follow them, against a tide of steely bodies. It was a Herculean task. Then I found one opening and dashed through, who cares if I stepped on somebody? I ran and rammed like a bull trying to catch the sleek queen but where is she? Where are her palanquin bearers? And where’s the rest of the entourage?

Buses lined up the street end to end from the corner where the cast exited the plaza. The participants disappeared behind these buses. To my horrendous shock, they’re not heading to Sacsayhuaman � not by foot, but by BUS! And not certainly now, they will take their lunch break first. I looked at my watch. It’s noontime.

The second secret was finally revealed.

What cheats! These locals shortchanged me. Is there any more respect to Cuzco’s dearly beloved motto – “Ama suwa, ama qella, ama lulla” – “Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t be lazy”? Isn’t cheating also lying? Isn’t taking the bus, utter laziness?

Atahualpa must be flipping over his grave. It’s his people’s revenge. Now it’s time to get even over these foreign intruders as what the double-crosser Spaniards did to him 400 plus years ago.

Frazzled but more determined, I bumped into one Italian family. We can understand only so much. But they accommodated me to go with them on taxi to Sacsayhuaman – after they found their 14-year old nephew separated by the frenzied crowd! I said Ciao.

This time I must not fail. I haven’t gotten any souvenir shots yet to show to my friends back home, only pictures of crowds and chaos.

The road to Sacsayhuaman is very demanding. It was tough, unpaved, rocky sharp, and dusty. Most of all, it’s steep.

My conspiracy theory is almost finally complete.

For the locals and penny pincher tourist revelers, they made it hard. For the tourists on package tours, they have the comforts of being hauled on air-conditioned coaches and on a well-paved road.

I was exhausted with my 8-kilogram knapsack.

What an ordeal! I searched the horizon. All I saw were tons of massive stones. It was another cardiac uphill climb. I keep my sagging spirits and breathless lungs perked up. I will soon find that pot of gold.

There it was a wide-open space where almost 10 giant football fields can fit in, as I scan the panoramic valley down below. There I spotted the three tiers of zigzagged stones of Sacsayhuaman and a makeshift enclosure of seats around an empty space.

I hurried down, passing over hawkers’ wares laid on the ground. I shoved, tackled, slid, skipped, and tiptoed.

Behold, a formidable fortress of bleachers confronted me. It was like a corral, a rodeo camp with blue tarps wrapped around so high about 10 meters up, no giant can peep through. A three-sided spectator arena and the zigzag stones serving as the stage backdrop on the other side, it can accommodate 20,000 spectators, I guess.

On each four corners is an entrance. Ticket booths strategically placed nearby sell tickets at cutthroat price. The touts were outsmarted.

I asked every policeman-bouncer where the party would be coming in. They gestured on the other side. I went to the other side and asked if this is where the party will make an entrance. The policeman-bouncer stationed gestured on another side. OK, this is too much confusing; I’m going to ask one last time. The response was near the stones.

That was one information that proved to be true, now mired in a sea of lies. I made a blunder not to regurgitate that information. Now, its time to decide by luck, I picked one entrance near the zigzag stones. I waited patiently for the kill.

I tried to make the dead time worthwhile wondering at those famous engineering marvels, joints where teeth floss can’t even pass through.

My conspiracy theory was finally complete.

Policemen-bouncers are stationed everywhere where it means off-limits to spectators. They declared the zigzag stones no-access zone.

One police officer derided me why I keep on asking questions and not buy the ticket instead. I told him, I’m not interested in the ceremony, I need to go after 2:00 pm and I just need to take close-up pictures of them in passing.

Then I asked what time will they be coming? One policeman-bouncer said its 12:30 pm, then its 1:00 pm. It was already 1:00 pm, I asked again. The response was moved to 1:30 pm.

I asked a local teenaged girl and she said, they were waiting for the VIP officials to arrive. Well, I couldn’t say more. Peruvian culture is no different from Philippine or Mexican. But it is surely more Spanish than Spain. They might still be having their siesta!

The final secret is at last revealed.

At 2:00 p.m., the ceremony resumed. The entourage entered the enclosure not through the four corners but through the zigzagged stones that served as the stage backdrop. They were as if ant trails overflowing from the rim of a coffee cup in all directions. While this is happening, the policemen-bouncers made a tight curtain formation barricading the entrance view.

I give up.

I’m tired of this run-around chasing the rainbow. I shall go meet my guide-driver for I set an appointment with him at the foot of Christ’s Statue to take me to Andahuaylillas. He set the date at 2:00 p.m., exactly the time the ceremony started and just the time he bluffly said the ceremony will end.

He’s the most knowledgeable and reliable Cuzquenian I ever met, just like all the rest.

At the site, they were selling $60 a seat. No local can ever afford it. It was a little cheaper if it were bought at the local travel agencies for as low as $50. The best seats were at $100 up.

Tens of thousands of local revelers outside the enclosure up the hills watch precariously, clinging to the rocks. That too, has a price. My driver-guide said it’s worth $20.

Other tens of thousands more litter the place and amuse themselves. They are the vast majority lowlife-can’t-afford-outsider-locals uninterested in what’s going on inside. For all they care, they must have seen it on TV thousands of times. But why they are here to add more chaos and confusion is a 64 million dollar question, aggravating and compounding others and their own miseries.

That crowd was estimated to be 180,000.

My guide-driver blamed me, why I didn’t call him up in the morning so that he can reserve one of the windows in the buildings surrounding the Coricancha. His sister also owns a coffee shop by the Plaza. All I have to do is drop his name, sip a coffee, and the view is free. Or he can call his friend that sells those $20 sharp and prickly “rockseats” up the hills in Sacsayhuaman. He has connections all over, except reliable information. Every time he opens his mouth, my wallet shivers.

The preparation was meticulous, from the security down to the invitation cards. I saw spectators who might be very privileged acquiring these and presenting them at the entry checkpoint. It was printed with embossed gold. I wonder how much would that special treatment is.

A few days later, I met a German tourist. He read in the newspapers that the event generated 300,000 soles or 100,000 plus US$ in net profit. That’s a lot of money to spare for the publication of the map and program for next year’s but that will not be possible.

This German tourist must have paid a Cuzquenian’s fortune when he bought the ticket in his hometown. It comes with DVD footages and a 60-page souvenir book.

No wonder, they organized it so well, including the crowd control and information deprivation department. They did a great job generating money. Next year it will be more difficult and the profit target is expected to rise.

I should’ve gone to Vegas and watched Circ D’Soleil instead.

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