Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ollantaytambo . . .

Most of us are two or three generations from farming (if not more). As Nicko, our taxi driver took us from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, past jagged mountains, snow at the vry top, past steep hillsides, several small towns, kids racing to school in navy blue sweaters, the road curving up and down into deep valleys, we saw farming country. The people, descendants of Incans, worked to dry corn or clear the fields of corn stalks, binding them into impossibly large bundles to be carried on the back to the roadside. We passed hand carts pushed by young men and old women, and so we came to Ollantaytambo, on our way to Macchu Picchu. Nicknamed Ollan, this fortress town was established to protect Cusco from tribes in the Amazon. Our taxi hit those narrow cobblestoned streets with a jolt, taking us down to the train station, where our next hotel, the El Alburgue, fronted the railroad tracks to Aguas Caliente and Macchu Picchu.

Surprisingly, we stepped in the door of our hotel and found a tranquil garden full of cannas, lilies, roses, and hummingbirds. Our room invited us in with cozy comforters, a mountain view, and lots of hot water for showers.

In the morning we planned to go climb about on the Ollantaytombo ruins, site of Manco Inca's defeat of the Spanish, when we were told to go up to the main plaza for the Festival of the Bulls. May 15 marked the first time the bulls were put into yokes for the next season's planting. The small plaza was crowded with pairs of bulls, their horns twined with fruits of the season, oranges and bananas and ribbons, each pair pulling a plow, the farmers coming behind to drive them around the plaza. The farmers scattered dried corn which children and old women dashed to pick up. Later we learned the corn was considered "plata," good fortune.

But the procession was dazzling. Three statues were carried on the backs of key community leaders, all heavily decorated with calla lillies and corn stalks. The largest, I learned, was St. Ysidro (Isadore, the patron saint of farmers), but the other two smaller statues shall remain mysterious and nameless. The procession, with those closest to the statues, masked young men dancing an energetic up and down dance, were followed by the young ladies with horned masks with snakes on the backs of their heads, who were followed by little children in fancifull dress, beautifully costumed in gold and velvet, dancing in baby steps, mothers hovering nearby. Drummers kept the procession moving to the church where they were met by elders with ceremonial candles. Each of the statues was carried forward to bow to the other and each then made a circular dance in front of the church. Then, the entire procession, bulls and all, went to the ruins of Ollantaytombo and then throughout the town, firecrackers and music sounding throughout the afternoon, as we climbed to the top of the ruins.

Ollantaytambo Inca Fortress
Photo courtesy of Webshots

I have had a hard time finding any information about this festival for it was a local celebration, not publicized, and, we later learned, not exactly for tourists, though a few of us were there. I only know I saw the young men dance, the gaurdians of three saints, carried on the backs of their elders, a joyous celebratory, unforgettable dance, the whole community participating, and somehow, in the shared smiles, we, outsiders, were included.

Photo courtesy of Webshots
Additional reading on Peruvian crafts.

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