“This is Cusco, there’s a parade every day somewhere in the city.” At least that was the claim of one of the many people selling tourist souvenirs in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas.
It’s an easy claim to make but try to find out when and where the action might be and chances are you’ll draw a blank. Cusco may be a city geared almost wholly towards tourism but the religious processions that are a regular feature of city life are largely for domestic consumption. Tourists just have to be content with chance encounters.
We were lucky enough to see several parades associated with the city’s many churches and their various saints, in particular St. Jeronimo who was having his own fiesta. We knew St. Jeronimo was having a fiesta because there was a poster in the tourist office to this effect, but the people working there knew nothing about it except that it wasn’t in the city centre…sorry not to be much help but wouldn’t you prefer to go to one of the song and dance shows for tourists instead? Hmmm!
On our first day in Cusco we bumped into a group of revellers/worshipers outside the Iglesia de San Pedro, opposite the city’s main market. They were dancing and singing outside the church before heading off to parade around the city streets. Many of the costumes and masks represent the Spanish – with their white faces and very long noses. Male performers all carried a bottle of unopened beer – if this had been Bolivia there is no way the beer would still have been unopened.
Returning to the main plaza we were greeted by wave after wave of school children protesting about the way cars were driven in the city, and demanding drivers respect pedestrian crossings and traffic lights. As a pedestrian on the receiving end of some pretty poor driving I couldn’t have agreed more…there are traffic police in Cusco who blow their whistles furiously every 3 or 4 seconds but drivers simply ignore them.
Some of the children were even parading on stilts – all in front of traffic police bigwigs sat in front of the cathedral.
That wasn’t to be the end of things though. As if two parades in one day weren’t enough there was a big military-religious parade with lots of very serious looking soldiers and solemn priests setting out from the Templo y Convento de La Merced. This was a much more upmarket and somber affair, without masks and bottles of beer, although a military band was pumping out some music.
Risking life and limb, this woman appeared on a balcony (without any safety features) about 20 feet above the entrance to the Templo y Convento de La Merced and began sprinkling petals over the Virgin as she emerged from the church.
Without any further fanfare, the gathered throng was off on a parade around the streets. The large carriage with the Virgin on top reminded me of the huge religious parades during Semana Santa (Easter Week) in Malaga, Spain. Cusco feels very Spanish and this is a very Spanish tradition, although the carriages in Spain are several times larger and require up to 100 people to carry them.
To round things off nicely, later that night after a couple of delicious Pisco Sours we found ourselves back in the Plaza de Armas only to be confronted by another religious parade. This time a number of young people and school children were parading the Virgin from the Jesuit Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus.
There was an unsavoury whiff of militarism about this parade as well, the school girls following the Virgin were carrying banners and marching in military time.
“This is Cusco, there’s a parade every day somewhere in the city.” Apparently this is true.