Tag: party

Castillón in Huancayo

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?

Sweet Fifteen

When I look at my schedule and think of all the occasions I attend, I feel a serious lack of special, formal, and large-scale events in Canada other than weddings. (Speaking of which, does that mean people who decide not to marry are just not special enough?) Here in Peru, above and beyond the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, many young ladies commemorate their coming-of-age when they turn 15 years old at a quinceañera. It’s a major affair almost at par with her wedding day in terms of unreserved attention to the celebrant, recognition from family and friends, and nostalgic moments.

Saturday’s quinceañera was as grand as I imagined them to be. The hall was decorated like a dream – the flowery adornments, entranceway, tables, and chairs were all decked out in the night’s theme colours of cream and purple. We arrive at the location at 10pm. The invitation says to arrive at 9:30pm, but nothing starts until midnight. (Have I ever mentioned that Peruvians are notorious for arriving late? The two-and-a-half hour timeframe is to make sure that everyone arrives on time). So, what do we do for two hours? Eat and drink. Waiters continuously pass by each table with different hors d’oeuvres. As for drinks, each guest has four different sizes of glasses for different types of liquor – pisco sour to start off the night, champagne for the toast, wine for the dinner, and then beer for the dancing. There is no water glass.

During this time, the special lady is spending special moments with her special chosen partner for the night – typically a boyfriend if she has one or at least someone she has a crush on. There’s also a photo session that almost always includes photos on a decorated swing to commemorate her childhood. At midnight, they finally make their way over to the hall.

Traditionally, the star of the show is in a white gown and tiara and at midnight, slowly walks down spiral stairs for all to see. This star is too cool for that. She arrives on the back of a motorbike in a deep purple dress and the night begins. She takes her father’s arm and he walks her down the aisle where 15 of her friends, including the crush, line the way armed with a candle and a rose each. The father leads her to each friend, where she blows out the candle signifying each year of her life that has passed and receives a rose. Afterwards, the father and godfather of the night give teary speeches about how much she has grown and matured, and then the mother gives a toast for her daughter’s future. We reminisce with the family as we watch a slideshow presentation of her life, are treated to a waltz-like choreography by the friends, and enjoy a presentation from the star herself with two masked dancers to accompany her. Then, the rest of the night is all about dancing – a private area is darkened and set up like a club for the young people while the rest of the hall is taken up by the older people, and everyone dances away until dawn.

The Threshing Song

Yesterday evening, I visited a small town outside of Huancayo called San Pedro de Saño. As a build-up to the town’s 56th anniversary, they hosted an informal competition of traditional Peruvian dances in their main plaza (that they had just finished constructing this year) of exclusively participants local to the area.

One of my favourite traditional dances is called the “Trilla” – the verb “trillar” means “to thresh” in English. In the dance, there is typically a group of men who go to work in the field, they thresh barley with their V-shaped threshing sticks, the women arrive and give them water for their hard work, and they dance together.

The story of yesterday’s “Trilla” was very different from what I was used to seeing. In the background, a friend of mine sings in Quechua to tell the story. The lyrics told a more serious tale, but there was an air of joy and fun in its presentation and within the crowd.

Below are the parts of the story I was able to extract (because some parts are in Spanish; modern Quechua includes Spanish words and phrases). See if you can pick out when they act/dance each part of the threshing song:

Making a baby
Lift up your child
Give him to his father
Give him to his grandmother
Caring for her grandson
Wash diapers
Smelling, smelling
Kill your child
Stepping, stepping
Now cry for your son
Hit his father
Pull your hair
Bury your son
Crying, crying

Celebrate Good Times

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:

  1. One of the projects of the organization I used to work for held an evening shindig to celebrate their anniversary.
  2. A school hosted a competition for “Youth Day” – students sang, danced, and recited poetry.
  3. 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
  4. 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:

  1. They celebrate Carnaval all of February – it’s like the carnaval in Rio where people randomly water bomb you in the streets.
  2. In April, there is Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrated around Easter.
  3. Arguably the largest celebrations revolve around Fiestas Patrias – Peru’s Independence Day.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Navidad (Christmas).
  7. Año Nuevo (New Year’s).

It’s going to be a busy year!


I spent my Christmas and New Year’s Huancaino-style with my Peruvian family and the rest of my vacation days travelling across the country from the beaches on the coast to jungle of the rainforest.

First stop before Christmas – Lima. As winter and the rainy season began in Huancayo (and the rest of the sierra), it was nice to escape to the summer that was starting in Lima and the coast of Peru. I managed to fit in all things tourist-y in Peru’s capital in a week:

  1. We suntanned, climbed rock formations, hunted lizards, and jumped into the waves at a serene beach a few hours away from the big city – “The Sleeping Lion” they call it because of the shape of the rock castle that borders the sand.
  2. We shopped in downtown Lima, walking up and down the famous street “Jirón de La Unión” that reaches from the main plaza to the government’s palace, drinking cremoladas (slushies you can’t find in Huancayo) and purchasing all the manta bags in sight – I think I have a collection of over 7 purses now, haha! On the last day we were in Lima, we even caught the beginning of Peru’s yearly telethon at the government’s palace with all the country’s famous celebrities performing to raise money for needy children at Christmastime.
  3. I was denied at some hostels because I forgot my passport and they wouldn’t accept my BC driver’s license. =P
  4. I finally had some really good snacks and meals – soft cinnamon buns with extra melting cream, real chunky cookies, Tony Roma’s ribs, and sushi (all also non-existent in Huancayo – been feeling deprived =P).
  5. We visited Parque de Las Leyendas (Park of Legends), which was like a themed zoo. There were native animals from all corners of Peru and some not from here (my favourites were the sea lions =D).
  6. We also visited La Casa de Papá Noel (Santa Claus’ house) at the Parque de La Reserva where there are light and water shows in the evenings. Actually, it was more like we saw Santa Claus’ house from the outside because the line-up was 3 hours long.

Christmastime was very family-oriented and although the holidays make me sentimental and a little homesick, my Peruvian family made me feel so at home here in Huancayo. My Peruvian mommy cooked a special dinner of pork chop and chorizo then we opened presents at midnight of Christmas Eve – all the presents were set up in a circle and we rolled the dice to choose which present would be opened next.

On Christmas day, we were off to the rainforest to the towns of La Merced and Pichanaki. Most days we visited different swimming pools, chicken-fighting, trying to teach myself how to dive headfirst (a failure), and playing water polo. There was one afternoon we visited a pair of famous waterfalls – Bayoz and Velo de Novia (bride’s veil) – swimming underneath the falls themselves. On the way back to Huancayo, we visited some other tourist sites in the sierra including Huagapo (apparently, one of the deepest caves in the world). We didn’t walk in very far because I had sandals on, but what we did walk into was in complete darkness. Our guide used his flashlight so we could find our way, all of us holding hands, and so that we could see the bats and all the stalagmites and stalactites that have naturally formed themselves into interesting shapes (like a seated horse and a roaring lion).

New Year’s Eve was a fiasco. A whole bunch of relatives came over for a huge dinner and nonstop dancing (mostly huayno – music native to the sierra). The theme is all yellow, which is supposed to bring good luck – yellow “2009” glasses, yellow “Feliz Año” hats, yellow clothes, yellow underwear. Come midnight, there are a series of rituals that I wouldn’t have remembered if they weren’t all telling me what to do – yellow confetti is thrown, we greet each person at the party with a hug and “Feliz Año,” we put lentils in our wallets for prosperity, we eat 12 grapes and make a wish on each one of them, then of course – more dancing. I went to bed at the late hour of 1:30am and when I woke up at 9:30am that morning, the music was still pounding downstairs and people were still dancing!

Note re: living fungal parasite. So they were mites that caused the little bug bites all over my body every evening – I just had to use an anti-scabies cream then wash my sheets and all was well. As for the rash – I had a biopsy and from the lab results it was diagnosed as chronic discoid lupus (which, to me, actually sounds sorta cool). I’m waiting for the pictures of the lab results so that I can bring them to Canada and get a second opinion. The cream he prescribed for lupus didn’t make the rash any better and he’s suggesting a corticoid injection, which I would rather have done in Canada. =P

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.

Fiestas Patrias en Sicaya
These scarves distinguish different families, so you can find your family members within the chaos.
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.

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