Now That’s a Party – Fiesta de Senor de Choquekillka

I thought I had been to some pretty great parties in my lifetime. I mean against my principals..yeah right…I attended a few (many) underage drinking parties in High School. Plus, let’s be honest, I was part of the Toronto Slovak Dancers so we did your fair share of drinking and dancing. I even attended the occasional frat party in University. Not to mention salsa and peunting in Jalcomulco Mexico. But nothing, I mean nothing compares to the sheer craziness and joy I experienced during these 4 days in Ollantaytambo. I may even venture to say that I will never have another event like this. Even my wedding (if it happens) will not have the same freewill and fancy free feeling this had. But enough of the preamble I’m sure you want to hear all the gruesome I mean fun details.

Although this four day festival is supposedly a celebration of a vision of Senor de Choquekillka, a.k.a. Jesus look-a-like, that occurred by Rio Urubamba who knows when. And paired with Pentecostes. Besides the masses that occur whenever Senor is moved from one chapel to the other I, and I’m sure others, didn’ t really experience any religious epiphanies during this time. Unless you can call dancing and drinking yourself into a fit of giggles and epiphany.

Although each day consists of dancing, parades and transfers of Senor from one chapel to the other they all of there central focus.

Day 1 was the introduction of all the dances. Seventeen in total, all wearing masks. The in lovely porcelain doll type mask, while the men had big lipped, big nosed, some black faced, really ugly looking masks. With only one stand set up for people to sit out, the majority crowded around trying to get a glimpse of the dances that took well over 3 hours to perform. However, some kids risks their safety and sat on top of a huge burning tree stump. I suppose since it was burning from the bottom, they figured it would take some time before it began to warm their backsides. By the third it had burnt through and there was no sitting on it. I stood near it for warmth that night watching all the dances. My legs and back killed by the end of it, but I was determined to see them all. From the devils, to the dolls, the drunks (representing the foreign hostel and restaurant owners) to the mockery made of the lawyers, doctors and teachers. Not to be forgotten are the wool makers carrier their (fake) dead llamas, the bread makers and the completely inexplicable.

The first round of dancing finished about half passed midnight, and although they started all over again most off us headed off to bed.

Day 2 starts with a huge possession, talking Senor from one chapel to the other chapel across the plaza and then the dancing starts again. Before this the volunteers decided since all the dancers had been drinking all night and not sleeping we needed to catch up. So a mimosa (Champagne and pineapple juice in my case) was called at 9:30a.m. By 10:30a.m. I was very…joyful and not wanting to feel left out from the dancers I put a mask on that i had bought in Bolivia and joined the procession. It was a big it. At least I thought so.

After which I joined the Q’pac Negros dance group for lunch and some whipping. Seeing I was living in Ollantay for awhile I got to know a lot of locals and many of them danced in this group and one even works with Awamaki, so we invited to hang out with them. Which for hte entire festival. I believe this is the best way to really experience the festival.

The corporal carries and whip and if any of the guys do something wrong they would get whipped. I was told that is more ceremonial and doesn’t hurt. Due to my love of whips, Wanda’s Whip Emporium and all I really wanted to get whipped. So someone must have told the corporal, next thing I know the corporal comes up to me and says, “I hear you have been a very bad girl.” And I’m pulled up off my sit, my legs and arms are taken and I am stretched out like an airplane and whipped hard to the laughter of the room and the yelling by some of, “Mas fuerte (harder).” I yelled and laughed. It stung like no whip I have ever felt. Ouch!!!!

The rest of the afternoon most watched the bull fights. Which, although I watched. I can’t get into here. It was so depressing. I couldn’t understand how people could laugh, kick and through beer at these poor animals.

In the evening the performances were over and the plaza des armas was turned into a dance floor. We danced all night, passed the communal one litre beers. I passed my Inca’s Best Pisco and ran off at midnight to bring one of the mountain bikers leftover birthday cake to pass around the plaza. Great snack to sooth the munchies.

The dancers went off to resume their vigil of Senor while the rest of us slept.

Day 3 is probably one of the best days if you join a dance group. Actually it is the only way to enjoy anything that day, unless you just want a day of rest. Which, fairly you may need. But if you can stand one more day of debauchery then pick and dance group and follow them around. this day is dedicated to the cargos. Cargos are the tents or houses that host the dance group with food and drink throughout the festival. This third day all the dances group go to each cargo, dancing for them in return for drink (many beer) and food. The food usually being a communal bowl of corn kernels, the largest ever seen, and another communal bowl of grub. The communal bowl is a large plastic basin, one often seen used for laundry. In this case filled with lomo soltado (cubes of beef, onions, tomatoes and fried potatoes) or spaghetti, equipped with forks. Each dancer was lucky if they got two fork fulls before the next guy yanked the bowl and fork out their hand and mouth. Not really enough to sustain you through 12 plus hours of dancing and just as many beers. Hence by the 12 cargo, the dirty jokes started to come out. I really wished my Spanish was better, since I have some good ones. Probably for the best though I may have gotten whipped again and I’m sure Senor de Choquekillka would not approve.

At time the leader did not seem to know where to go. It kind of reminded my of an adventure race. Where walking and dancing replaced the hiking, mountain biking and paddling. Powerbars and hydration drinks were replaced with beer and corn. Checkpoints were replaced with cargos and a cemetery. Yup, they have to make one stop to the cemetery with 2 cases of beer. To sing, pray and honour those that have passed away.

Q’pac Negros were on the 1-3a.m. dance and vigil shift. Despite the fact that I would be pretty badly reprimanded the next day for not staying and watching I went to bed and left the four remaining guys dance while, the rest too drunk, I mean tired, slept on the church steps.

Day 4 is the pinnacle of this festival. This is where ever one lets loose and the small population of Ollantay suddenly grows to double and triple its size. When people from neighbouring villages, towns and even cities come to watch and some to make money off the event.

After a traditional lunch of cuy (guinea pig), rice, potatoes, salad and vegetable fritters served at each of the cargos, everyone piles into cars, trunks, pick-ups, collectivos with the rest of the food and drive down to the river. To the where the siting of Senor de Choquekillka occurs and where in his honour a new chapel has been built.

It is like a carnival, filled with candy apples, cotton candy, popcorn, churros, horses races and dancing and drinking, of course.

All the dances happen again. Surprisingly shorter than the last few days. After all they are getting tired. Followed by a fireworks display. These fireworks were nothing I had ever seen before. A large bamboo collapsible structure, 3 stories tall, with Catherine wheels all around to let off the firecrackers. It started slow, with a couple of pinwheels along the bottom. As the fireworks worked their way up it got more elaborate and bright. At one point it looked like a massive sparkler. Then two long rows, from ground to top, of fireworks went off, ending in an arch of lights lighting up the face of Senor de Choquekillka. The vision duplicated again for all of us to witness. Amazing!

A final somber song sung to Senor by the Q’pac Negros and the blessing of Senor de Choquekillka to all us. Then a festive, raucous, dance filled procession back up to the plaza. Most of the volunteers had left, but since I was carrying all the guys coats and masks I had to stay and make the slow procession up with them. It turned out the best way to do it though. As they took turned carrying the Senor others turns dancing with me. Apparently leaving me empty handed was just as much of a sin as leaving Senor de Choquekillka unattended.

Danced our way through the streets to the plaza, as others joined and heavy, highly ordained hats were placed on our heads. The hat kept fall forward and stopping painfully on the bridge of my nose, but I couldn’t adjust it as I was sandwiched between two Peruvian dancers, being pull forward, backwards and side to side. I occasional managed to pry one hand away to adjust the hat just in time for PeruTV or BoliviaTV to plunge their camera into my face. Ahhhh, the fame of a foreigner.

As we neared the plaza the guy to my right began to shout, “We are going to have to dance really hard when we reach the plaza. Be ready.” Well he was also saying other things, like having a date with me in Cuzco. But I was faking hearing impairment at those questions.

He wasn’t kidding about dancing hard when we entered the plaza everyone went nuts. Legs, arms, heads just flapped, jumped, skipped sometimes even toppled all over. Yelling, shouting and laughter followed. In the excitement I couldn’t contain myself I even did a couple of Slovak tradition yelps. This later became a signature many asked me to replicate through out the evening, along with my Shakira hips. For the days following the festival I would respond to guys in the plaza yelling Wanda, Shakira (which would have to be followed by me shaking my hips, like I was Pavlov’s dog) or You are delicious (a line Ray taught the boys).

Once all the dance groups had passed through another fireworks display went off. This time we were directly under it, causing the jacket of the beer lady beside me to smoke when ask hit it. No safely violations though and luckily since none of us you product no repeats of the Michael Jackson coke commercial hair incident.

The rest of the night consisted of traditional wino music and then Peruvian and salsa music. It was a blast. But first we had to bring the leftover beer cases up to the plaza. I think I scared and maybe turned on a few guys when most guys were taking one 12, 1 litre bottle case between the two of them and I just grabbed one, hoisted to my shoulder and traipsed up the hill to the plaza. Granted, half way there I was thinking “that was stupid” but I wasn’t going to let that show.

As we all happily danced the night away I felt something was missing so off to the stage I went. After all no night is complete unless I dance on the bar or the stage. What I hadn’t expected was a dance off. Once they allowed me and Kyle (a male 6 foot 6 inch volunteer)on stage, the lady started to dance with Kyle and the guy with me. The guy kept doing these moves so I just copied. As I was keeping up, he kept making them more and more complex. It was really funny. Feeling a bit like Zoolander I managed to survive without flipping on a stereo cord, and must not have done too bad because while Kyle was left off the stage with a CD I was kept on a plied with beer, handshakes and hugs. Finally I glanced at the police officer that got the guys off and escorted me down the steps.

I worked the room until 3:30a.m. dancing with several different locals, my host families nephew and a guy from Lima (the full story on that to follow in another blog), at which point I looked around to find that I was the only gringa or gringo left in the square. I couldn’t even see 6″6′ Kyle anywhere. Although, it is safe in Ollantay there were a lot of intoxicated people and a lot of none locals. So I decided to call it a night. Still high from my stage experience I had one last dance with my host nephew and went to my hostel. Of course on the way I was accompanied by a Peruvian admire. A single girl in Peru never walks alone.

The follow days…

….regardless of now being the dry season it rained for the next two days. I believe it was the universes way of cleaning the sin and debauchery and garbage that covered the town. As I walked the streets, people looked like zombies. I am sure part of it was from being hungover. Moreover, I felt they didn’t know what to do with themselves now that the festival was over.

By Friday everyone seemed back to normal. The usually smiling faces were out and they were all ready for the final two days of the festival to start again tomorrow.  But I was headiang home.

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