In Peru, big community fiestas celebrating patron saints usually involve castillones, tall pyrotechnic towers. Fireworks and sparks shoot out from these castillos (castles) in a series of spectacular shows as Peruvians often celebrate right underneath the extravaganza. I still have a tiny scar from a projectile firework that landed on my upper back as I danced under the castillon during my very first few days in Peru, celebrating the patron saint, Santiago, for Peru’s Fiestas Patrias (Independence Day).
The toro loco (crazy bull) is a variation of the pyrotechnic tradition. A person holds up or carries a bull-shaped structure on his head and runs around through the crowd as sparks and sometimes more propeller fireworks fly out from the “bull.”
There’s a reason the use of fireworks by the public is banned in various places around the world, including Davao City (where I was born in the Philippines), Ireland, Chile and Malaysia.
Get a feel for the grandness of these types of celebrations with castillones and toros locos in the following video.
What kinds of positive or negative memories do you have with fireworks? Are celebration and tradition worth the danger of fireworks?
Huancayo and its satellite cities in the Mantaro Valley (although only the fifth largest metropolitan area in Peru) are nationally renowned for their festivals and fiestas. There is always something going on and you always know someone who fills you in on what’s going on. Just this past week – my week of arrival – I already found myself busy with different events:
One of the projects of the organization I used to work for held an evening shindig to celebrate their anniversary.
A school hosted a competition for “Youth Day” – students sang, danced, and recited poetry.
A group of us planned a picnic outing to a nearby town famous for its fresh trout (where we met many other like-minded picnickers), and
One of the ladies I used to work with had her baby shower – she’s due in a week!
Let’s not forget the flag-raising ceremony and march of the army band held every Sunday, baptismal and confirmatory celebrations, other anniversaries (of schools, organizations, companies, and towns), and other “days” including “Ceviche Day” and “Pisco Day.”
It’s also worth mentioning Peru’s seven major national events:
They celebrate Carnaval all of February – it’s like the carnaval in Rio where people randomly water bomb you in the streets.
In April, there is Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrated around Easter.
Arguably the largest celebrations revolve around Fiestas Patrias – Peru’s Independence Day.
October is known as the Mes Morado (Purple Month) in honour of “El Señor de los Milagros” (The Lord of Miracles). Schools and companies get together to create elaborate images on the roads with coloured woodchips to be trampled by purple-clad followers parading through, carrying an image of Christ.
The first day of November is El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead or All Saints Day). In remembrance of ancestors long gone, families set the table with favourite foods of the deceased and/or share the food at the cemetery.
I was just a part of the biggest and craziest fiesta that I have ever been to in my life! Families and friends come together from all over Peru at this time of the year to Sicaya (a town just outside of Huancayo) to celebrate the pachamama (mother earth). There were hundreds of people, shoulder-to-shoulder packed, mostly dressed in traditional Peruvian garb, pouring beer for each other, and dancing away. Each family proudly wears scarves around their neck etched with their family name and have their own band with 12-15 saxophonists, clarinet players, a harpist, and drummers.
The tradition is to make your best offering to the pachamama first, whether it’s throwing coca leaves or pouring your beer on the ground before passing the cup around to everyone and anyone else. Afterwards, the family holds hands and dances in a circle or parades through the streets of Sicaya, but they’re never an exclusive bunch – Jaap, Dorien, Ruth, and I were recruited to join the dancing and the festivities over and over again as we walked through the plaza! And the party’s not over yet! It’s still going on right now and we may even hit up Sicaya again Monday evening for the castellones (fireworks). =)
Maria and I shared pachamanca for lunch – a traditional Peruvian dish and very fitting for the occasion. They throw layers and layers of food to be cooked in a hole in the ground. Our pachamanca had green beans, spiced pork, beef, and humita (a sweet corn tamale).
Later in the afternoon, we explored the farmlands in the outskirts of Sicaya. We chatted with a family in the midst of building their own home – they had found prime earth to mix with straw to make adobe bricks, the construction material of choice in this region. We then continued on into the currently abandoned farmlands and found ourselves truly aware of our presence in the Mantaro Valley surrounded by the Andes mountains every direction we turned. We trekked up and down dirt hills, leaped across little rivers, ran through rows and rows of tall dried grass, remembering pachamama.
Here, in Huancayo, I am La China (pronounced chee-na), the Chinese Girl. There is yet to be a day that I haven’t overheard others talking about me as China or Chinita. It is my new Peruvian identity. I later learn that this new recognition isn’t necessarily special treatment – any Peruvian with small eyes is called “chino” and for a relatively small city, they seem to have a lot of Chifas (Peruvian-style Chinese restaurants)! I’m kind of glad I’m not a novelty.
Maria and I have an apartment on the top floor of an office building in the middle of downtown – I like to think of it as a penthouse though it’s a little rough around the edges. It’s entirely furnished though the furniture is aging and mismatched, green carpet in one room, almost all of kitchen chairs have lost a spring, greasy gas stove. Every three showers (jumping in and out of scalding hot water) the fuse blows and it’s the old school kind of fuse that we have to screw in each time. My favourite part of the place is the huge terrace where we can soak up the sun, hang our laundry, and where I would do yoga if there weren’t school kids popping their heads out the windows in the building across the street. The place has character.
Huancayo is up in the Central Andes, over 3000m above sea level. I was expecting some altitude sickness, but had little difficulty adjusting – I feel winded every time I climb up the four flights of stairs to our penthouse, but that may be more a measure of my poor fitness. The air is polluted and the atmosphere is dry here – they don’t expect any rain until September at the earliest. It’s usually sunny and hot during the day and cold at night, but not much worse than fall in Vancouver. I can go out in shorts and a jacket, but people find that weird because they consider this their “winter.” There is real poverty everywhere I turn. Huancayo opened its first supermarket (e.g. a Walmart-like everything store) just last week; otherwise, the streets are mostly filled with little family-owned shops or street vendors on the sidewalks. I’ve been practicing my skill of dodging cars, people, and dogs as the sidewalks are small or non-existent and there is no such thing as a pedestrian crossing.
It’s day 3 in Huancayo and we already have practically a weeklong vacation. It’s Fiestas Patrias on Monday and the city basically shuts down for at least a week to celebrate Peru’s largest national holiday, its independence day. Viva el Peru!