June in Cusco is quite the whirlwind experience.
Every turn, every plaza is buzzing with life as colorful parades dance their way up and down the cobblestone streets. Aside from being the month of Cusco and the start of the men’s World Cup, the summer solstice or Inti Raymi is another large celebration in June that brings bright colors, drummers and flutes, and lots of dancing to the heart of the valley of the Incas.
Cusqueñans take great pride in their city’s culture. In addition to their school uniforms, all students are required to wear something Cusco-made to school each day of the holiday week. At Nogales, our kiddos wear rainbow-colored ponchos over their brown and gold busos to match the rainbow-striped flag (which is one blue stripe more than the Pride flag).
The Plaza de Armas fountain has been converted into a stone, Inca temple with stairs leading up to the Inca emperor who overlooks the grand cathedral. Here, Rachel and I join many tourists and locals to climb and snap photos on the small fortress. Every flag pole in the center features two Cusco city flags, and each day, a giant Cusco and Peru national flag wave from the tallest poles in the plaza.
In the mornings, the bleachers fill with people to support the dancers. In the evenings, they are loaded with more. Each day, a different group is assigned a spot to dance. The ladies who make all of the juices at the markets have their own day. The men who shine shoes along the streets have their own day. The people who run the newstands, the elementary schools, the high schools, the doctors, the guides, the military, and every other identifiable group in the region are assigned their very own time slot to close up shop and head down to the plaza to dance.
And the dances are beautiful. The groups show up in embellished fabrics, with whips in hand, llama fetuses on their backs, or scarves to be waved. They are sometimes four groups at a time around the plaza square, moving to the beats of their own drums. There are flutes whistling as they hop and turn and wave. They move in unison, with such evident pride on their faces.
Inti Raymi is a larger scene.
The procession begins at the Qorikancha, a few blocks from the plaza. From there they march into the plaza, groups of women and men preparing us with song and dance for the arrival of the Inca god of the sun. After the plaza, the procession, with every Cusqueñan in tow, makes their way up to Sacsayhuaman. Inside the ruins, they begin their performance. More dancing, but this time with more story telling. Front-row seats go for $100 each (that’s dollars, not soles). The rest of us stand on tip-toes among crowds all around the hillside looking down over the show.
After an hour or so, we couldn’t see much, but we could feel the rhythm of the drums and hear the singing of the flutes. We made our way back to town through the crowds after, queso helado in hand. It was neat to see nearly every family in Cusco outside, cooking together, playing fútbol in the fields, and enjoying this very beautiful summer solstice. Next time, I’ll work up the courage to buy my own cuy on a stick.