Tuesday, February 11, 2014

La Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria

The plan for today was to sleep in to our heart’s content, then walk through the streets and assume there would be something to see.  The party was technically in the stadium, but we didn’t want to pay the money to get in and we figured it would be more fun to mingle with the crowds outside anyway.  We should have known that sleeping in wouldn’t happen based on our experience the day before.  I didn’t get woken up until around 7, and most of them stayed asleep longer than I did.  That still wasn’t very much sleep, but adrenaline carried my through the day.  We looked out the window around 8:30 to see this:

Pretty cool sight to wake up to, right?  It will probably never happen to me again.  After taking care of some necessary logistics, we got ready and headed outside to enjoy our surroundings.  At this time a band had taken over the main street.  People lined the sides, packed so close together it was as if they were on one of the crowded buses I’ve described to you.  Movement was nearly impossible.  We found a stream through the madness and eventually found a bakery where we bought a very carb-heavy breakfast.  Bread it hand, we joined the people lining the street.  We managed to find a spot close to the road, so I was able to snap some decent pictures.  At one point I wandered into the street to take a picture in the middle of the parade, as was common, and one of the dancers came over and inserted herself in the picture.  That’s what this party is like; it will literally reach out and drag you in.  Everyone had no problem letting you wear their costumes (if convenient), their masks, take pictures of or with them, etc.  I took full advantage of this and got pictures with many groups of people.  I think I covered just about every genre of clothing; the older woman with large, flowing dresses, younger women with short dresses, guys with elaborate vests, and arguably the most impressive was men in tremendous, extravagant garb that only my pictures will adequately describe to you.  Occasionally we would be asked by dancers to take pictures with them (I have to cite my “beautiful eyes” on this one), but usually we were the ones to ask. 

Vanesa (lady from travel agency) described this day as “disorganized” when I asked her about it on the phone.  I was, by the way, our main spokesperson in Spanish with all the tour guides.  I’m pretty sure Michelle’s Spanish is better, but I’m the one who started talking so they just rolled with it.  Back to the story.  Disorganized is a tremendous understatement.  Absolute insanity in most parts of the city.  Movement anywhere was tremendously difficult.  People were everywhere, and random streets would be filled with parades.  You never knew which streets though.  A parade would pop up out of nowhere, then disband at a random time.  We spent the morning adventuring around, trying to stay in the middle of the action. 

Eventually we grabbed lunch, which we found at a local place off the beaten path.  It was nice to get out of the beating sun for a while.  And 5 soles for a full lunch was a great price.  I don’t think tourists usually find it; prices would be higher if they did.  My soup had what seemed to have pumpkins in it.  The trout was good too, although I’m sure it’s not as tremendous as an authentic Peruvian place. 

When we ventured outside after lunch, this previously empty street had been filled with bands and dancers.  Again, one can never predict where the parades will go.  Fortunately, the bystanders hadn’t yet discovered this place, so I was able to get some really cool pictures of everyone.  Some of them were starting to look a little tired , but they still weren’t about to stop.  I believe it was here that a random dancer stroked Michelle’s chin and then kept going.  I wish I had caught it on camera, it was priceless and completely unexpected. 

After walking through the markets and finding another round of churros, we were off to Lake Titicaca for a little bit of peace.  Getting there was far from peaceful, as the streets were all filled with dancers, bystanders, or markets.  Just before the lake we found some guys with cool hats to take pictures with.  They had been drinking for a while by then, so they were quite the personalities.  At the lake I offered to take a picture of a dressed up couple, then took one for myself.  It’s one of my favorite pictures of the trip, I was so happy I got it.  We also saw a group of cowboys lying near the water with their instruments, finally answering my question of when people sleep on this weekend. 

The beach area was more calm than the surrounding city.  We were able to relax a little bit, which was nice for our tired bodies.  The first highlight was a guy videotaping a horrific voice-over being done by 4 girls in absurdly short dresses.  Without the guy with the video camera it would have just been pitiful.  But this guy made the act.  I don’t think he had much zoom in his camera, so he was running all around to get different shots while simultaneously directing the 4 ladies.  The best part was when he ran right at them, and they got out of the way just in time for him to zoom past them for a shot of the lake.  He then ran backwards again to capture the very [un]skilled dancing of the women.  Priceless.  The second highlight was finally getting a picture of the red-billed duck that I kept seeing from the boat to Taquile.  My friends have learned that I enjoy the simple things in life.  Katherine commented that only I would get super stoked about getting to take a picture of that little bird.  I don’t know how many times I said the words “wow” or “spectacular” throughout this weekend, but I’m sure it was quite excessive compared to what was necessary J

Eventually we headed back and found a much needed watermelon stand.  Katherine and Michelle were becoming very picky about their watermelon because there were so many stands.  Rani and I found this hilarious.  The 2 dismissed the first stand because they didn’t think it matched their standards.  I commented that they looked perfectly red to me, so they went back and got some.  And, of course, I was correct that they were delicious J  As I deserved, a piece of my watermelon fell to the ground as I was commenting on how right I was about the flavor.  A dichotomy of heartbreak and triumph.

We headed back up to the action and found some good spots to watch.  Most people were pretty happy by now if you know what I mean.  I imagine the alcohol makes it easier to dance or play an instrument for 10 hours a day.  It was getting dark so I didn’t take many pictures, but I thoroughly enjoyed the shenanigans of the drunk people.  For example, crash cymbal players were emboldened to think that they would be able to pull off great tricks like throwing their cymbals into the air.  Of course this was incorrect, but their attempts were excellent show material.  We also became good friends with some jolly men dressed as gorillas, as you can see in the below picture.  The final highlights of this parade were finding a man with a mask that must have been a solid 7 feet tall along with another guy who had a toilet paper roll on one of the feathers of his mask.  Hey, it’s not available in public here so he was a smart man for coming prepared!

Around 7 PM it started raining.  Many of us rushed inside to restaurants.  We tried several places before finally finding one that had an open table by the smelly rest room.  Food was great though, I like the Peruvian version of stir-fry.  The bands pressed on despite the rain.  It was great, nothing could derail this South American party.  Finally, we headed back to the hotel to get out bags.  Vanesa met us there with our bus tickets, since she’d got them for us for a very minimal price.  We had some time to sit around and chat.  Rani, Katherine, Michelle, and myself definitely became closer this weekend.  We have so many memories to laugh about, even if some of them were quite unpleasant when they were happening.  It’s great to know I have a good group to hang out and travel with now, that was a concern I’d harbored for a while now. 

Finally, we went to the bus station.  It was honestly very sad to say goodbye to the kind hotel owner, Vanesa, and her partner from the agency whose role I never figured out.  They were all so good to us, I couldn’t imagine people who would be more kind, caring, and understanding with us as their customers.  Whatever they earned this weekend, they deserved more because they were so spectacular. 

The bus that met us was an international bus coming from Bolivia, so it didn’t actually come into the terminal.  No tax!  A man from the company assisted us in tracking it down.  When we stepped on, I thought we were in heaven.  Spacious seats, almost horizontal for sleeping.  So different than our first bus.  The price was very low for this busy day, I have no idea how Vanesa managed to get us this bus.  The 4 of us were so obviously elated that we didn’t stop talking about our joy for 5-10 minutes.  My eyes were teary at one point.  Finally, once we got away from the beating drums of the city, we slept.  The perfect way to end a tremendous weekend J

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