One of the defining characteristics of Peru is the energy (and frequency) with which the people celebrate. The celebrations could be for the Inca festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi on 24th of June), for a Catholic festival like Corpus Christi (last Thursday), or for any of the countless local festivals which seem to combine Catholicism with local beliefs.
One of these is the Señor de Torrechayoc, which was celebrated in Urubamba on the 30th and 31st of May. There were, as always, beautiful folkloric costumes, church services and a whole lot of dancing. Yet the entire point of this festival was to ask Jesus to give the people of Urubamba material wealth....better harvests, greater fortune. As far as I see Christianity, I had thought that material gain was not meant to be that important. In reality, the people are asking these things from the Earth (Pachamama) and the Sun (Inti). In a strange way, Jesus becomes a legitimising channel for these requests.
Corpus Christi, on the other hand, was unmistakeably Catholic. A crowd of thousands packed in Cusco's main square to watch a mass presided by the Papal Nuncio, and then a procession of huge statues of saints. It was an impressive sight, even for someone like me who had begun to question the value of all this celebration. I even ate the traditional dish of the day, chiriuchu, a plate piled with chicken, beef, liver (I think), and of course guinea pig.
The most inspiring thing about these festivals is always the dancing. The commitment with which people just "go for it" is amazing. In fact, in Cusco last night I saw crowds of teenagers dressed in jeans practicing a dance. It is clearly a very important part of the culture, and one which is not ignored by the youth.
Plans for this week - two days of teaching, then leaving on Wednesday morning to do the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. Very exciting.