Lose Yourself in Paucartambo

November 8th, 2010

For The Karikuy blog, Francis Sin describes his unforgettable experience at the annual Virgen del Carmen festival in Paucartambo.

Lose Yourself in PaucartamboI was completely lost. Not directionally lost (it would be an accomplishment for even me to lose my bearings in a three-street town), I was lost in the chaos, the madness, the anything-goes that is the Virgen del Carmen Festival. I dug into my homework research to make some sense out of it all, but nope, textbook knowledge doesn’t apply today in Paucartambo.So the feast day of the Virgen del Carmen is supposed to celebrate the apparition of the Virgin Mary to down-on-his luck Saint Simon Stock, way back on 16 July 1521. The townsfolk of Paucartambo, three hours outside of Cusco, have adopted her as their patron saint, and supposedly use the day to reflect upon the past, thank God and the Virgin Mary for their blessings, and to pave the way for a good and virtuous year ahead. That, however, does not explain the wooden stool flying at me.

Yes, a wooden stool headed towards my face. I cowered as screaming ladies and muscled men elbowed their way towards the spot I was standing, grabbing and tousling to get a piece of the prize. Four ornately masked men on a raised platform were ripping a random assortment of trinkets tied to their equally elaborate costumes and flinging them into the crowd; it was Mardi Gras: the “This is Serious” edition, and by “serious” they mean toys of hard plastic, crockery, and the occasional piece of furniture.

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