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The Rains of Spring Bring Toads, Even in the Chichería’s Patio

September, spring time, flowers bloom and the scenery changes to a landscape of many colors. The change of color, more than anything else, witnesses to the passing of August with its intense wind. A few showers have come. The arrival of rain-storms is a received as a good omen, a hint of a good future, according to the traditional predictions of the cabañuelas.

Spring is here, brought by light and sometimes-strong rains that wet the ground and make the land happy. It nourishes the ground, refreshes it, and gives it new scents. Fragrances of fresh flowers come to fill the air.

It is Spring, Honeybee on a Rue Flower (Photo: Walter Coraza)
It is Spring, Honeybee on a Rue Flower (Photo: Walter Coraza)

The fields fill with beauty from the flowers and from flying insects: butterflies, dragonflies, and wasps among other insects. These bring color and movement to the fields and gardens. Of course the landscape fills with flittering birds and amphibians.

On visiting our mountains we find ourselves before so much ephemeral beauty that leaves as time moves on, as other winds arrive. These same winds bring the sounds of frogs croaking by streams and ponds announcing the rains of spring that are coming. Just the sound of the frogs reminds us to seek cover.

In the Andes the song of frogs and toads toads is very important. We call the toads hampatu. They are part of our religiosity. We take the toads into account as much to predict weather as well as in superstition. People believe that if they see a golden toad in the countryside they should cover it with a cloth or their clothing and it will turn to gold.

In Pre-Hispanic Peru, toads and the frogs that are similar to them were a source of food. Even today you can find in the market the famous frog soup.

Flower Bloom in Cuzco (Photo: Walter Coraza)
Flower Bloom in Cuzco (Photo: Walter Coraza)

But these amphibians are also associated with magic, witchcraft, and curses. People say that if you find a toad that has some pins in it and the toad is touched by someone then that person will acquire the illnesses of the toad. This belief is strong and you can hear many testimonies of its reality.

Today when we looked for a refuge from the rains, we found ourselves in a chichería, a small restaurant that specializes in chicha, corn beer. It was almost outside the city of Cuzco. There we happened to find a toad, only this time it was the game “toad”.

This is an ancient game, so old that its origins have long been forgotten. Some people associate it with the Incas and their games, such as pishca or huayru. But we have no reference for that assertion. Whatever its origin the game is much loved and is part of our customs.

Many of the guests in the chichería, ask for tokens with which to play a contest of sapo, or toad. The game consists of throwing the tokens, which are like heavy coins. You toss them from some two or three meters away from the toad’s box. It is a box of wood that is elevated on wooden legs, about a meter high. The box has holes on top and on the sides. In the middle of the box sits a golden toad. It is the objective and the motive of the game.

Playing Sapo in a Chicheria (Photo: Walter Coraza)
Playing Sapo in a Chicheria (Photo: Walter Coraza)

Each player has a total of ten tokens and they begin tossing them. People count their points from the holes in which they fall on the box’s top once all ten have been thrown. Inside the box their are divisions which receive the tokens and thereby mark the points. The score is kept in chalk on a small blackboard which, generally, is on the wall to the side of the game.

The next player takes a turn, and then others. The game can consist on various players. Whoever gets the highest score is the winner.  Some skilled players manage to get the token into the mouth of the toad. This gives them an almost invincible advantage. If it happens there is a lot of excitement and shouting. The other players get very nervous since their effort may very well be frustrated causing them to lose.

Most people play because someone else challenges them. The prize for the winner tends to be pitchers of chicha that he has to share with those who lose the competition.

Sapo is a very fun game. In it you have to have good aim when tossing the tokens. It is very common to find it in chicherías. Maybe this is an attempt to remind us of our Andean religiosity. Unfortunately, the game is not found in all chicherías. Maybe it is slowly being forgotten and lost.

We invite you when in Cuzco to enjoy an fun challenge of a game of sapo.


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