Food Culture

The Game of the Gods

Sapo, a Traditional Game of Cusco's Chicherias (Walter Coraza Morveli)

El Sapo, the Toad, is a special game played afternoons in the traditional chicherías and picanterías of Cuzco while enjoying a foamy and refreshing chicha of jora, or corn chicha, called “sumaq aqha” in Quechua.

The enjoyable game is about getting coins of bronze into the mouth of the toad from a distance of six meters away. The toad is on a wooden box with four legs where, on its surface there are also other slots. Each of these and the toad’s mouth carry points which are counted in order to name a winner.

Counting the Score They Did (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Counting the Score (Walter Coraza Morveli)

To play the game you need two or more players or groups where everyone plays in order to win the top prize which is chicha. Almost always those who lose must invite the winners to a round of drinks.

This game has been played from time immemorial in the Andes. Today you will find it from three to four in the afternoon. While people are enjoying chicha the stage teams or just competitions between individuals and in this way they have lots of fun while trying to get a coin in the bronze toad’s mouth.

The Coins to Throw Into the Sapo (Walter Coraza Morveli)
The Coins to Throw into the Sapo (Walter Coraza Morveli)

For those who are new to the game it is highly unlikely they will have the aim and skill to toss the coin into the mouth, which is called “hacer un sapo” or get a toad. However, for those who come to the chicherías every day, who you could almost call professionals, it is much easier. They can do many toads in a single game. The points for getting the coin in the sapo’s mouth are 5000. The value goes down from their depending on the difficulty of getting a score. All the point values are written on a small blackboard nearby so that they don’t lose count.

Each person or team has twelve coins, called fiches, with which to make tosses. When they have thrown all 12 their turn is over.

Let's Play Sapo in the Chicherias (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Let’s Play Sapo in the Chicherias (Walter Coraza Morveli)

If you lose the game you pay for the entire round of chichas for all the players. Then people continue playing until they leave drunk and the chichería comes out winning.

On the other hand the sap is an animal that has lots of meaning in our culture. It signifies life. The ancients would tell us that when the toads disappear then so too will life.

When I have had chances to play sapo, I was lucky to make several toads. It feels fantastic. In Cuzco all neighborhoods have a local chichería and almost all of them have a sap game. If you travel to Cuzco and want to try the game, you might want to go to the neighborhood of San Blas where there are several. Just ask around. I dare you to make a sapo.

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