MACHU PICCHU SACRED VALLEY CUSCO INTI RAYMI
Cusco--Inti Raymi Festival
This is the day of the Inti Raymi Festival, the recreation of the Inca ceremony welcoming the return of the sun each year on the day of
the winter solstice. The festival is a major event in Peru with thousands of people coming from around the country. Although many
tourists schedule trips to Machu Picchu to correspond with the event, it is clear that this is a festival of the people and that, though the
tourist is welcome to join the excitement and activities, we are merely spectators at an emotional, treasured celebration. Many of the
people of Cusco and environs are descendents of the Quechua people and retain remnants of their culture in the forms their religions
take, their dress, their foods, their traditions and generally in the ways they live. Interestingly, although today we refer to "Incas," this is
not accurate. In actuality there was just one inca, the ruler who was revered as the Son of the Sun. Surrounding the inca would be his
wife attributed to be related to the moon goddess, priests and members of the 10 royal panacas (families) of the inca. The people
themselves were and are called Quechuas. Cusco was the "sacred city" of the Inca civilization with magnificent temples, palaces,
squares, houses and other structures. The Cusco clan was the empire's most powerful and feared clan.
returning and blessing them. On the ground below were dancing groups of
"virgins" and warriors in magnificently colorful costumes, all carrying offerings
to the sun. The whole scene was quite spectacular. Complementing this were
the many women carrying childen wrapped in blankets on their backs, while
selling handmade craftworks. Some were leading llamas along the street.
Anyone of them would stop and pose with their children for one sole, about 28
cents. Dressed in their native costumes, they were postcard perfect for picture
After this ceremony was complete, the Inca, the Inca's wife, royal family
members, priests, virgins and warriors, came out of the Qoricancha, forming
a grand parade. Both the Inca and his wife were carried on gilded thrones
while subjects walked in front of them sweeping the way with tree fronds.
Following the Inca were the offering bearing contingents of women and men
in costumes representing each of the four cardinal directions of the Inca
Empire. The parade wended its way through the streets and alleys to the Plaza
The ceremony itself consists of many parts with each of the four corners bringing offerings to the Son of the Sun. The culmination is
the sacrifice of a llama to the sun. Although, today a sacrifice does not actually occur, a live, bound llama is taken to the stage. The Inca
and his priests surround the llama and simulate the killing. They then hold high a cow's heart and take it to one of the lit fires for a burnt
After this, the Inca enjoins all of his subjects to celebrate and enjoy themselves. They do so by exuberant dancing, playing games
and just generally rejoicing. It is a spectacularly colorful production which continues for quite a while. Eventually the Inca and his
wife return to their thrones and are carried around the field, waving and blessing everyone.
When the ceremony was over, Rosa moved us through the crowds in amazing fashion, getting us back to Miguel and the van before
anyone else was in the rather chaotically arranged parking area. Miguel, one of the great drivers of the world, had us on the road in
minutes then down the hill and back to our hotel so quickly that we were truly amazed. In truth though, only the tourists left. The
party had just begun for the Peruvians who would spend many more hours there. I envied their open joy.
The day began when we awoke at 6:30. We had asked for a quiet room and that request was honored, but it was so small that we were
constantly tripping over each other----it was not a relaxing place to be. I inquired at the reception desk about a larger room but was not
hopeful as the entire city was sold out with Peruvians and foreign tourists thronging the city. Amazingly, a room was found and we
were able to move to a delightful, large room with its own private balcony looking out at the towering mountains------and it was still
quiet. A good beginning for a day promising to be fulfilling in many ways.
After breakfast and settling into our new room, Ken and I wandered, observing the preparations underway and then went back to the
lobby to meet Rosa at 9 AM. Rosa walked us to what she said would be a perfect viewing spot but we were a little skeptical as it just
didn't seem right. Ken and Jon left us and found their own perches while Leah and I decided to trust Rosa. That was the right thing to
do because we ended up with a near perfect view of the primary scenes--close and upfront.
The opening ceremonies are held at the Coricancha, which was the primary
temple of the Inca civilization. Although the Spaniards virtually destroyed the
temple along with all of the other structures in Cusco and throughout the
empire, the walls still stand. A catholic church was built on top of the walls but
through the centuries earthquakes have severly damaged it while the Inca
structure's remains are totally intact.Â Today there is a Benedictine monastery
inside with several remnants of the incredible stone work (understatement) of
the Inca architecture.
Rosa immediately shephered us to the van where Miguel waited to drive us to
Sacsayhuaman, the site of the main celebration. What a scene awaited us
there!! Thousands of people sitting on the hillsides, a carnival with children
laughing and running around, people cooking over small fires and selling their
foods, dirt pits being dug to slowly cook animals (forget what kind) to be
eaten after the ceremonies, vendors selling jewelry, pictures, and a strange
assortment of other items. Other tourist had not yet arrived and so we were
privileged to absorb and enjoy a natural celebration of the people. We felt very
fortunate to have this time. We just wandered through the throngs, mixing
and mingling with no one taking notice of us. We were incidental and invisible
as far as the people were concerned.
Our seats were in a reserved area on the large field of the performance.
Although we were able to see well, take in everything and be comfortable, we
were well aware of the discrepancy between our wealth and that of the
people who owned the celebration as their heritage, sitting high on the
hillsides. Sometimes it is easy to understand why many people of this world
resent us, as simply through our prosperity, we must seem shallow and
The celebration took about two hours--all of which was extravagant pomp and ceremony. Sentries, waving standards and using
choregraphed movement, stood watch. The Inca and his wife were carried in on their gilded thrones accompanied by the same entourage
that appeared at Qoricancha. In the center was a large stone platform from the time that Sacsayhuaman was a major Inca fortress
complex. The ceremony took place on top of this with the Inca, priests and male members of the royal family enacting the events. The
field surrounding this massive rock was filled with the hundreds of dancing male and female subjects representing the four corners of the
Cusco was a city enjoying its biggest event of the year that night. We had a good time roaming the streets, observing people, stopping
to watch small performing groups and being a part of the crowds. It was a good end to a very special day.
The Inca and his
priests stood on top
of the wall, intoning
thanks to the sun for