June in Cusco is a very exciting month! Although it can be a bit stressful to plan classes around multiple holidays and celebrations, the anticipation throughout the month is palpable and impossible to ignore. Over the course of the month we’d already had a lot of excitement with visits from my parents and Abel (our Dutch volunteer), as well as a very special performance we got to see on the 13th when many of our Santoni 6th graders were part of a school group that performed traditional dances in the Plaza de Armas. The second to last week of June, however, was definitely the most action-packed and exciting of them all.
To kick off the week, we had a field trip on Monday with our girls from Los Nogales to go and play lazer-tag at LaserGame Cusco. Like the time we went there last semester with Casa Mantay, our girls had no idea what the game was prior to arriving. We had a group of eleven including one six-year-old younger sister, and the girls could not stop grinning and giggling as we got suited up and listened to the rules. The first game was a little shaky with the girls kind of following each other around the maze-like area and not understanding the goal of playing in teams, but after we all got our scores they were energized and ready to play again and improve their ranking. With each of our three games they girls steadily improved. A few of them got really into it and really surprised me with their stealth. I’m a very competitive lazer-tagger, and by the third game I remained in the top three, but two of our girls took first and second place!
On Wednesday we had another fun field trip with our girls from Casa Mantay. Aside from Machu Picchu, there are quite a lot of Incan ruins in and around Cusco and the Sacred Valley and I had visited quite a few with my parents, but Larkin and I had yet to visit the Sacsayhuaman ruins which are nestled just above our neighborhood. Since they live on the other side of Cusco, many of our Mantay girls also had never visited these ruins and so we thought that it would make a nice field trip. We met them at 8am and the group of ten was ready to go with one baby in tow. It was a beautiful day and not too crowded up at the ruins which was lucky for us. We got a very nice woman named Celeste as our guide and she gave us an informative and fun tour which took us through the ruins, an ancient tunnel, natural rock slides, and ultimately to the open area where Friday’s Inti Raymi Winter Solstice Festival was to take place. We got to see a lot of the performers practicing for the celebration while also getting to walk around and take tons of pictures—the girls love to pose and seriously cannot get enough of pictures!
Thursday marked the arrival of one of our friends from college who we are very excited to have visiting, and she came at just the right time of year to see all the action because Friday was the Inti Raymi Winter Solstice Festival which is the most important day of the year in Cusco. The festival depicts the Incan celebration of the sun, and is marked by an elaborate parade which begins at the Qorikancha, winds it way to Plaza de Armas, and eventually goes up into the hills to finish at the Sacsayhuaman ruins. Knowing that this was probably the only time we’d ever see this festival, I got up at 6:30am to wait at the door of Norton’s, a local restaurant and bar, in order to get seats on the balcony which overlooks the Plaza de Armas. I was the first one in line when the doors opened at 7:30, and was able to secure three perfect balcony seats so that we would see all the performances when the parade made it’s way to the plaza at 10:30. It was freezing cold up there for a few hours, but nothing that a good English breakfast and a cup of coffee couldn’t fix. When it was finally time for the parade it was totally worth the wait, and we were so happy to have such an awesome view of all brightly colored and perfectly choreographed performances.
Overall it was a very exciting week here in Cusco! I now have just a month left before heading home, but am looking forward to the next few weeks which include my birthday, more visits from friends, and a few more weeks of teaching hockey to all our girls!