Celebrating the Sun

2 Jul

First view of Cusco

And out of Lima, on a 22 hour bus to Cusco, to discover that all my fears were ungrounded: I still feel very much the same about it. It is still my home. Seeing the Plaza Mayor still feels like someone welcoming me home. Walking up its slippery cobblestones to San Blas still feels like one of the most exciting things I could do. Still breathless at an altitude of 3,300 meters – so Almuth claims that it is the lack of oxygen that makes me feel a lightheaded love for Cusco. Perhaps, perhaps.

the view onto the San Blas Plaza

This is my second time in Cusco this year. I lived here for a month in January 2012, working at the NGO Helping Hands Cusco. Here is what happened in Jan: To Build a Home

When I returned to Europe in February 2012, I made a promise to return to Cusco as quickly as possible (preferably within the same year) because I discovered this place was a perfect place to let it all go and finish my novel Munay. Four months later and here I am, working again for Helping Hands Cusco and taking time out to write.

I returned to Cusco in time for my 28th birthday. I didn’t know who I’d meet here or if I would even have anyone to celebrate with – it just felt important to be in Cusco. As life would have it, my old friend Kwinten returned to Perú to take on the post of project coordinator at Helping Hands. Combined with the delight of seeing all my students again, and my god-daughter, it was a beautiful birthday.

birthday picture

reunion with some of my students

Walking around Los Nogales with my students, we told the others that I was throwing a birthday party. I bought a cake and took it to Vicky’s shop, who kindly gave us a table and lit my two candles. My students came round and by the light of Vicky’s shop, we celebrated.

birthday party

It was beautiful because it was simple, free of any birthday pretences, and it was with the people – the children – who I loved and whose love had ultimately been my inspiration to return.

The weekend of my birthday coincided with one of the largest Andean festivities: Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun – and Cusco was in a state of uproar. All weekend fireworks, masses of people, Peruvian music competitions, dances… It was all of Peru coming together to Cusco to celebrate what it means to be Peruvian. It was a beautiful state to explore Cusco in – again.

dancers on the Plaza Mayor

… With Peru’s unexpected sense of humour …

cuyes float

a lady selling Inca flags

Colours. Music. Dancers everywhere. During Inti Raymi all four corners of Tahuantinsuyo, the Inca Empire, come together in Cusco to worship the sun and thank Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) for everything. From Puno and Bolivia, from the coast, from Ecuador and Colombia, from the heart of the Amazon.

We bumped into a man selling food from the Amazon:

On the 24th June, the Inti Raymi Festival was officially opened at the Plaza Mayor, after which (someone dressed up as) the Inca was carried up to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, where the heart of Inti Raymi takes place.

In a pilgrimage, we followed the Inca up.

the procession up

Reaching the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, the site of the last powerful Inca rebellion against the Spaniards – now ruins because when they won, the Spanish dismantled it to build their cathedrals in the Plaza Mayor – but still of impressive magnitude and aura, against a backdrop of the Andes – a perfect theater for the kingdom.

on one of two mountains, the audience gathers

From the cheap seats on a mountain, squashed between groggy Peruvians who had defended their place for hours, we watched Inti Raymi unfold. An elderly gentleman was kind enough to tell us what was happening, and so we saw Mama Ocllo being carried in, we saw the Inca walk up to the ceremonial platform. We saw the four corners of Tahuantinsuyu enter dancing and form a star. Faintly, we made out the sacrifice of the llama at the end.

I stood up to take this picture and the crowd gave me a tolerance of five seconds, after which they began shouting: “Hey! Skinny girl! Sit down!” I dared to defy them by taking one more picture, at which point I felt sharp objects fly against my back. They were throwing things! I turned in surprise, unsure of how to react. Hundreds of faces stared up at me, laughing. Time to sit down.

One night in March, I dreamt of Cusco, and groggily, I found the kitchen table and wrote for Munay.

Last night, I dreamt the caravans were moving again. I dreamt I looked out of my window and could see colourful landscapes roll by, tropical valleys with holy white rivers and stark mountain passes with low clouds reflected in the snow. Rough grass stalks as tall as a man that made Ti walking through them looking a dark crouching tiger. Lain quietly into the jagged landscape, a puna lake as brown as the world, with specks of pink flamingoes in its center; flamingoes that look like us; like us who love the altitude and will never trade it for the ocean shores or the knowledge of the earth. I saw the flamingoes walk amongst each other in their long-legged prance, and at the sound of something only they heard, they opened their wings and I watched them fill the sky with their pink.

To stare at a white sheet of paper and digest the colours. To eat but not be able to write about food until hungry. I wrote the above in England when it was, by all terms of definition, still winter. I longed for the colours and the movement of Anahata’s caravans came to me at night. Now I’m back and I feel I need a quiet corner to digest it all.

Despite the beauty, there’s a quiet loneliness in being back on the road. I have to remind myself that I’m here to finish Munay. Being an artist is a strange thing. In the midst of a project, we are fruit ready to burst, and when we’re successful many people seem to enjoy how our work tastes. After a project, we become the flies that bother the rotting fruit, creeping into dark holes, feeling without purpose or horizon. The end of a project is the end of an identity. Who are we when we’re not working?

I have to remind myself that I am working. I am here to write. The Helping Hands apartment is sometimes very loud and very full, dedicated one hundred percent to voluntary work. I love voluntary work but I also need to finish Munay. I may rent out a room in central Cusco for a few days. I need some quiet; to walk carefully over the slippery cobblestones and to sit on the Plaza Mayor for hours and watch the tourists.

This is just me thinking out loud. There’s more to say, but for now, I’ll leave it at this.

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2 Responses to “Celebrating the Sun”

  1. Najeeb July 2, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    Loving the pictures, not sure about the kid holding the gun in his mouth (forshadow?) The birthday with the students looks amazing!

  2. Jane July 2, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    Such a beautiful piece of writing. I’m glad you had a good birthday.I’m sending you lots of love!

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