Well that caught us by surprise! At 5 minutes to midnight on xmas eve, Cusco exploded with a cacophany of noise. Bangers & chinese crackers echoed in the narrow streets whilst larger fireworks exploded high in the sky providing an array of colours. This was no organised city centre state display, but a self-organised custom that happened across all the districts of Cusco, from the valley floor to the mountainsides overlooking the city, and lasted until at least 20 minutes past midnight. This video (on utube) from 2012 gives you a flavour of what it is like.
It was in fact a relief as we’d found xmas eve a bit of a let down to be honest. The much vaunted Santurantikay 2016 in the Plaza Mayor (or Plaza De Armas to give it it’s colonial name), basically a xmas market or fayre (‘feria’ in Spanish) that dates back to the 16th century (history in Spanish), had not really impressed us that much. Whilst religion played its part with stalls selling religious figures, nativity scenes and other forms of idolatry, the majority of it was just another market selling everything from household goods, artisan made clothes & accessories, cuddly toys, candles, food and all sorts of tat. It was busy, but it wasn’t as ram-packed & boisterous as we’d expected. We didn’t buy anything – we don’t need anything.
Perhaps the best thing about it was that it was strictly cash only. Whilst the use of card machines & credit cards is proliferating in Peru (Visa are most prevalent), not least for the ‘benefit’ of tourists, for the majority of Peruvians it’s a day to day cash existence.
However we were quite disturbed by the plight of the indigenous campesinos who come into the city – to sell their artisan wares, handmade cribs and plants/herbs that city dwellers buy to decorate the nativity scenes in their homes – but also to receive ‘charity’ in the form of food, drink, sweets & toys for kids. As the market closed down between 8-10pm, many of the campesinos retreated under the arched colonnades around the Plaza, to sleep under their blankets & wares and the rubbish from the day, in some cases for the 2nd & 3rd night running. Most of them were women with tired & dirty kids of all ages. We guess they didn’t enjoy the fireworks too much. This video (utube again) from 2008 gives an indication of their plight at night.
Still at least it barely rained on xmas eve, and despite dark skies most of xmas day was dry too, with just one afternoon thunderstorm. Xmas day here was pretty quiet as many locals enjoyed a day off, although a lot of the city centre shops & eateries reliant on tourists were open. Also, as we discovered on our wanderings, was the main San Pedro market, and the streets around teemed as usual with many stalls and local indegenous people buying & selling. All in all, for us, a quite different xmas to the entirely predictable experience back in the UK, with nothing like the catholic fervour we’d feared may occur. And there’s no ‘boxing day’ here either. Bring on Cusco’s NYE!