Carnival is here. Today is the Sunday of Carnival and Latin America, including Cuzco, breaks into joyful celebrations. The season begins in February with the Day of St. Valentine, the day of friendship and lovers as we call it. Around the twentieth people began celebrating Carnival and it will end around mid March. Despite the Catholic Calendar which is supposed to govern all this with the beginning of lent on Wednesday this week, the days are approximate. Carnival always exceeds its boundaries.
On February 14th the Imperial City appeared decked with red balloons in the form of hearts. The water balloons appear along with water pistols and machine guns, as well as the cruel buckets of cold waters. For this game there is no age. Not even the youngest or the oldest escape the unexpected blast of cold water.
Just as the sky opens and water pours down these months, so in Carnival youths and others try to wet everyone. It is as if their play were what made the rains form and fall from the sky to plunge everyone into a chill bath. In playfulness and much laughter people have fun. After all, in Quechua the name of this time is puqllay, which simply means to play. It all continues until the main day of Carnival, today. This day always falls on a Sunday and then will come to an end, as well, on a Sunday.
Our main dish for this celebration is the puchero. Just as people get wet, all the ingredients for this festive stew that includes all the different divisions of the food Kingdom are cooked in water. To accompany the puchero, you will find buckets and large containers of chicha and especially frutillada (chicha blended with fresh strawberries, as well as lots of cases of beer.
The main day has arrived. Under a brilliant sun with threatening clouds, it begins. Each neighborhood organizes feasts. The streets are filled with people in playing the classic game of the season: men and women trying to wet each other and laughing all the way.
Remate, the final celebration of Carnival, is a week later when the festivities are closed for the year. People celebrate the yunza tree. This feasts consists in first planting a eucalyptus tree and then chopping it down. It is decorated with plastic washbasins, bottles, and baskets, as well as balloons and cloth of multiple colors all tied to the branches of the tree.
After having enjoyed the delicious puchero, the feast begins. All the couples get ready and start the feast by dancing in a circle around the tree and striking it with a machete. The couple who brings it down gets to keep the machete and then provide it to the couples the following year.
They dance to the rounds of traditional music and circle the tree, passing the machete like a Baton from couple to couple. When the tree falls, every one all around, spectators and dancers run to get a gift from its branches. The couple who actually delivered the final blow will have the responsibility of organizing and carrying out the feast the following year.
People say goodbye to carnival by drinking and dancing to the rhythm of live music. They also paint each other’s faces with colored flour.