Before coming to Peru, I’d always thought of Andean festival music involving lyrical tunes on flutes. El Condor Pasa, but less annoying.
How wrong I was. While pan flutes might play subtly in the background in backpacker reception areas or tourist restaurants, actually what every good Peruvian festival needs is a brass band. Or preferably two. And lots of explosions. Like fireworks, except much louder and during the daytime. Like a war zone – with brass bands.
And there are no shortage of festivals at which brass bands can show their prowess, and people can blow things up. Apparently there are more saints’ days than days in the year, and there are other festivals worth celebrating: the grape harvest, for example, a local horse race, or the national drink, Pisco Sour. (I kid you not, there is a national Pisco Sour festival day.)
Our first festival experience was the Labour Day/May Day festival (May 1), when we were in Cusco. There were parades and speeches in the square, and brass bands and explosions were much in evidence around the city. We were a bit worried about the explosions at first. But no, we were reassured that it wasn't the start of a civil war - just patriotic worker exuberance.
Labour Day was just a warm-up. Two days later, in Aguas Calientes, there was a much more elaborate festival, Fiesta de las Cruces (Festival of the Crosses), with heaps of performers, lots of explosions, several brass bands, and much consuming of beer. Celebrations went on for at least two days.
The performers paraded through the narrow streets, stopping at various points to play for crowds of locals and tourists. They wore wonderful costumes and some at least seemed to act out scenes. In one I watched, a group of teenage girls faced off against a group of youngish men. The girls ridiculed the men soundly when they attempted to cross the divide to get a dance out of a girl (or perhaps worse). At one stage, the girls set on one poor guy, pushing him to the ground and kicking him. Not sure what he’d done, but it all ended happily with lots of dancing. The Peruvian equivalent of a Shakespearean comedy, perhaps.