Festival del Señor de Qoyllority (1)

Sunday 27/05

Today, we leave Cuzco for 2 days, to attend the Festival del Señor de Qoyllority:

This festival is a fascinating indigenous pilgrimage to the holy mountain of Ausangate, known by few outsiders (it was hence difficult to organize this visit / trek). Rivers and mountains are apus (sacred deities) for the Andean people. At 6,384m, Ausangate is the Cuzco department’s highest mountain and the most important apu in the area.

Ausangate is the site of this traditional festival of Qoyllority, held between the Christian feasts of the Ascension and Corpus Christi. Despite its overtly Catholic aspect, the festival remains primarily and obviously a celebration and appeasement of the apu, consisting of one month of literally nonstop music and dance, incredibly elaborate costumes and dances – featuring, at the more extreme end, llama fetuses and mutual whipping – repetitive brass-band music, fireworks and sprinklings of holy water all contribute to a dizzy, delirious spectacle. I’m looking forward to this colourful and very local festival; I hope Isabelle and the kids will like it…

Wake up at 6:30am. Breakfast in hotel, like yesterday.

We leave at 7:45am with Omar, our guide for this trek. We first drive for 2.5 hours (in the minibus of Marcos, as usual). We (mainly Florence and Jules) watch Coco.

After Urcos, we take left, the road to Puerto Maldonado.

We stop in the way in Tinke; Omar wants to buy coca leaves. It’s the Sunday market; beautiful, very colourful. I love it!

We start walking in Mahuayani (4,100m), around noon. There are huge traffic jams. We already see many pilgrims. Our expedition is quite impressive: 5 people (including Omar) and 9 mules! A bit “over the top”, as often with Amazonas Explorer.

We start walking up with the pilgrims. The whole path up to the sanctuary is full of people; there are as many people going down (if not more) than going up. The sight of this solid, endless line of people quietly wending their way up and down the track and disappearing around a bend in the mountain is extraordinary. The path is only uphill; it is very dusty (mainly because of the horses).

This pilgrimage attracts tens of thousands of Peruvians who travel from all over the country; it’s the largest festival of its kind. Each year, whole families journey together, from old men to young mothers carrying babies tied in bundles on their backs, their horses laden with blankets, costumes, cooking utensils and the occasional weary passenger.

We stop around 1:30pm to have lunch. As usual with Amazonas Explorer, the service is great. We have the same cook as last time. Nice chicken.

We continue. It’s getting colder and colder. Not many tourists attend Qoyllority in part because of the high altitude and freezing temperatures.

There are many “shops” where worshipers can symbolically buy their dreams. On sale are piles of miniature houses, tiny cars and tableaux depicting marriage and children — all representations of the pilgrims’ desires. If they come to this place and make the wishes, like how they have these things for sale, they will come true because you believe.

We reach the campsite (at 4,600m!), which is close to the main action, around 5pm. It’s amazing to see the number of vendors so high up in the mountains! It’s a total anarchy… We walked about 10km.

Discomfort is another aspect of the pilgrimage. Qoyllority takes place at an altitude of 4,750m. It’s brutally cold, and there’s no infrastructure, no town, just one big elaborate church built to house the image of El Señor de Qoyllority. We are lucky to be already accustomed to altitude.

We set up our stuff for the night in the tents and we go to the church. We queue to see the sacred stone. We also light up the candles that we bought on the way. The rooms with all the candles are impressive. We can feel the fervour and devotion of the pilgrims but as the same time it looks like a festival with the different nations (pilgrims divide themselves into nations, which are groups with distinct traditions) wearing their distinctive costumes and dancing on the rhythm of their music. There are also fireworks.

We go back around 7pm to the campsite where we have dinner. This time, we even have a heather for the dining tent (and warm water to wash our hands)! The dinner is very good with trout (nicely presented as usual). The dessert is excellent; they make the mangoes flambéed in front of us.

Kids are super tired.

We are in bed at 8:30pm. It’s cold! I think it’s the highest altitude (4600m) we’ve ever slept.

Isabelle and I write / read in our tent until 9pm.

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