Ayacucho + Semana Santa

10259795_857627964252321_3337145153417698768_nWhoo, what a week! After hastily writing an exam on the gender spheres of the pre-Colombian Andean cultures (and, more interestingly, how the Incas ruthlessly manipulated gender perceptions in order to legitimize their conquest!) I packed up my stuff and travelled twelve hours to the lovely Ayacucho. Out of those twelve hours, the majority was spent driving up: as Ayacucho is in the Southern Sierra region, at an altitude of about 9,000ft, the going was slow, and the temperatures were low. Indeed, on our return journey, we were treated to thirty minutes of snow!

The running joke is that Ayacucho isn’t really a city—it’s more of a large town. The buildings weren’t very tall –the highest that we encountered were the thirty-three churches, which are what makes Ayacucho famous – and the streets were surprisingly quiet after dark…except for those closest to the Plaza itself, which is never silent during Semana Santa!

We toured the city and surrounding areas, and participated in the festivities: think roaming bands of musicians, water-spraying bomberos (of the non-stripping variety, sadly) and one very confusing bull run. I held my first baby llama and tried my first coca tea; I resisted the urge to kidnap the former, and thought the latter tasted like grass (before the sugar). I ate my first cuy and attended my first mass (the former was fried and wonderful; the latter’s grandeur was dampened by one enterprising camera-thief). Truly, considering I was only there for four days, I had more new experiences than I’d have thought possible!

All in all, it was fascinating to experience Easter in Perú. Here, there’s an interesting duality: one moment there’s a solemn procession in which statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary are slowly carried past larger-than-life images of the crucifixion; and the next, there’s high-spirited dancing in the streets amid tiny old ladies tottering about, shouting, “¿Cerveza?” Ayacucho has easily been the most interesting place I’ve visited (and her people the most curious), and I fully intend to return.

*Special thanks to Trotamundos, the excellent student group that organized our trip!*

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