In Peru, big community fiestas celebrating patron saints usually involve castillones, tall pyrotechnic towers. Fireworks and sparks shoot out from these castillos (castles) in a series of spectacular shows as Peruvians often celebrate right underneath the extravaganza. I still have a tiny scar from a projectile firework that landed on my upper back as I danced under the castillon during my very first few days in Peru, celebrating the patron saint, Santiago, for Peru’s Fiestas Patrias (Independence Day).
You'll often find castillones at patron saints days all over Peru.
The toro loco (crazy bull) is a variation of the pyrotechnic tradition. A person holds up or carries a bull-shaped structure on his head and runs around through the crowd as sparks and sometimes more propeller fireworks fly out from the “bull.”
There’s a reason the use of fireworks by the public is banned in various places around the world, including Davao City (where I was born in the Philippines), Ireland, Chile and Malaysia.
Get a feel for the grandness of these types of celebrations with castillones and toros locos in the following video.
What kinds of positive or negative memories do you have with fireworks? Are celebration and tradition worth the danger of fireworks?
“El tiempo me ha enseñado que la felicidad sólo es verdadera cuando haces lo que quieres con la gente que quieres.” – Vania Masías Málaga [Time has taught me that happiness is only real when you do what you want with the people you love.]
Ventanilla is one of the poorest districts in Lima.
Vania Masías was named prima ballerina by the Municipal Ballet in Lima. From the ripe young age of 8, she built her dance career to worldwide superstardom, dancing in Cuba, Spain, Italy and Germany among many other countries. Her first principal role was in the Nutcracker and by age 23, she was hired as Senior Soloist with the Irish National Ballet. At the height of her career, she beat out 300 other international dancers after a gruelling three-day audition in London to reach one of two final spots in Cirque du Soleil’s production, “Love” in Las Vegas.
Ventanilla is the other face of Peru’s capital city — a district on a sandy hill, haphazardly established long ago by poor, squatting families who couldn’t afford living in the city center. The instability of the houses constructed on sand mirrors the unpredictability of lives in poverty. At least one advantage of living on a sandy hill is that the environment is favorable for practicing flips and acrobatic tricks. As such, a group of boys from the neighborhood banded together to form “The Sand Angels.”
Vania’s chance meeting with these angels changed the direction of her life.
Vania Masías left behind international opportunities to start a dance company with boys from Ventanilla.
On her way through the daily grind and the busy streets of Lima, Vania waited at a typical stoplight where she witnessed street kids flipping and leaping through the air. They were doing acrobatics to beg for change. It was this two-minute display of talent that inspired Vania to take action. She left behind her success and reputation in the international dance world and held auditions in Ventanilla to start the D1 dance company with many of “The Sand Angels” as part of her first group of students.
Her professional dance studio in a more wealthy part of town funds free classes for impoverished yet talented dancers. Now, one of her graduates is a professional dancer in Finland, several others are hired by her dance studio and still others have found employment across Peru through their experience with her dance company.
What is your true passion and how have you followed it to places you never imagined?
When I look at my schedule and think of all the occasions I attend, I feel a serious lack of special, formal, and large-scale events in Canada other than weddings. (Speaking of which, does that mean people who decide not to marry are just not special enough?) Here in Peru, above and beyond the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, many young ladies commemorate their coming-of-age when they turn 15 years old at a quinceañera. It’s a major affair almost at par with her wedding day in terms of unreserved attention to the celebrant, recognition from family and friends, and nostalgic moments.
Saturday’s quinceañera was as grand as I imagined them to be. The hall was decorated like a dream – the flowery adornments, entranceway, tables, and chairs were all decked out in the night’s theme colours of cream and purple. We arrive at the location at 10pm. The invitation says to arrive at 9:30pm, but nothing starts until midnight. (Have I ever mentioned that Peruvians are notorious for arriving late? The two-and-a-half hour timeframe is to make sure that everyone arrives on time). So, what do we do for two hours? Eat and drink. Waiters continuously pass by each table with different hors d’oeuvres. As for drinks, each guest has four different sizes of glasses for different types of liquor – pisco sour to start off the night, champagne for the toast, wine for the dinner, and then beer for the dancing. There is no water glass.
During this time, the special lady is spending special moments with her special chosen partner for the night – typically a boyfriend if she has one or at least someone she has a crush on. There’s also a photo session that almost always includes photos on a decorated swing to commemorate her childhood. At midnight, they finally make their way over to the hall.
Traditionally, the star of the show is in a white gown and tiara and at midnight, slowly walks down spiral stairs for all to see. This star is too cool for that. She arrives on the back of a motorbike in a deep purple dress and the night begins. She takes her father’s arm and he walks her down the aisle where 15 of her friends, including the crush, line the way armed with a candle and a rose each. The father leads her to each friend, where she blows out the candle signifying each year of her life that has passed and receives a rose. Afterwards, the father and godfather of the night give teary speeches about how much she has grown and matured, and then the mother gives a toast for her daughter’s future. We reminisce with the family as we watch a slideshow presentation of her life, are treated to a waltz-like choreography by the friends, and enjoy a presentation from the star herself with two masked dancers to accompany her. Then, the rest of the night is all about dancing – a private area is darkened and set up like a club for the young people while the rest of the hall is taken up by the older people, and everyone dances away until dawn.
Yesterday evening, I visited a small town outside of Huancayo called San Pedro de Saño. As a build-up to the town’s 56th anniversary, they hosted an informal competition of traditional Peruvian dances in their main plaza (that they had just finished constructing this year) of exclusively participants local to the area.
One of my favourite traditional dances is called the “Trilla” – the verb “trillar” means “to thresh” in English. In the dance, there is typically a group of men who go to work in the field, they thresh barley with their V-shaped threshing sticks, the women arrive and give them water for their hard work, and they dance together.
The story of yesterday’s “Trilla” was very different from what I was used to seeing. In the background, a friend of mine sings in Quechua to tell the story. The lyrics told a more serious tale, but there was an air of joy and fun in its presentation and within the crowd.
Below are the parts of the story I was able to extract (because some parts are in Spanish; modern Quechua includes Spanish words and phrases). See if you can pick out when they act/dance each part of the threshing song:
Making a baby
Lift up your child
Give him to his father
Give him to his grandmother
Caring for her grandson
Kill your child
Now cry for your son
Hit his father
Pull your hair
Bury your son
I spent my Christmas and New Year’s Huancaino-style with my Peruvian family and the rest of my vacation days travelling across the country from the beaches on the coast to jungle of the rainforest.
First stop before Christmas – Lima. As winter and the rainy season began in Huancayo (and the rest of the sierra), it was nice to escape to the summer that was starting in Lima and the coast of Peru. I managed to fit in all things tourist-y in Peru’s capital in a week:
We suntanned, climbed rock formations, hunted lizards, and jumped into the waves at a serene beach a few hours away from the big city – “The Sleeping Lion” they call it because of the shape of the rock castle that borders the sand.
We shopped in downtown Lima, walking up and down the famous street “Jirón de La Unión” that reaches from the main plaza to the government’s palace, drinking cremoladas (slushies you can’t find in Huancayo) and purchasing all the manta bags in sight – I think I have a collection of over 7 purses now, haha! On the last day we were in Lima, we even caught the beginning of Peru’s yearly telethon at the government’s palace with all the country’s famous celebrities performing to raise money for needy children at Christmastime.
I was denied at some hostels because I forgot my passport and they wouldn’t accept my BC driver’s license. =P
I finally had some really good snacks and meals – soft cinnamon buns with extra melting cream, real chunky cookies, Tony Roma’s ribs, and sushi (all also non-existent in Huancayo – been feeling deprived =P).
We visited Parque de Las Leyendas (Park of Legends), which was like a themed zoo. There were native animals from all corners of Peru and some not from here (my favourites were the sea lions =D).
We also visited La Casa de Papá Noel (Santa Claus’ house) at the Parque de La Reserva where there are light and water shows in the evenings. Actually, it was more like we saw Santa Claus’ house from the outside because the line-up was 3 hours long.
Christmastime was very family-oriented and although the holidays make me sentimental and a little homesick, my Peruvian family made me feel so at home here in Huancayo. My Peruvian mommy cooked a special dinner of pork chop and chorizo then we opened presents at midnight of Christmas Eve – all the presents were set up in a circle and we rolled the dice to choose which present would be opened next.
On Christmas day, we were off to the rainforest to the towns of La Merced and Pichanaki. Most days we visited different swimming pools, chicken-fighting, trying to teach myself how to dive headfirst (a failure), and playing water polo. There was one afternoon we visited a pair of famous waterfalls – Bayoz and Velo de Novia (bride’s veil) – swimming underneath the falls themselves. On the way back to Huancayo, we visited some other tourist sites in the sierra including Huagapo (apparently, one of the deepest caves in the world). We didn’t walk in very far because I had sandals on, but what we did walk into was in complete darkness. Our guide used his flashlight so we could find our way, all of us holding hands, and so that we could see the bats and all the stalagmites and stalactites that have naturally formed themselves into interesting shapes (like a seated horse and a roaring lion).
New Year’s Eve was a fiasco. A whole bunch of relatives came over for a huge dinner and nonstop dancing (mostly huayno – music native to the sierra). The theme is all yellow, which is supposed to bring good luck – yellow “2009” glasses, yellow “Feliz Año” hats, yellow clothes, yellow underwear. Come midnight, there are a series of rituals that I wouldn’t have remembered if they weren’t all telling me what to do – yellow confetti is thrown, we greet each person at the party with a hug and “Feliz Año,” we put lentils in our wallets for prosperity, we eat 12 grapes and make a wish on each one of them, then of course – more dancing. I went to bed at the late hour of 1:30am and when I woke up at 9:30am that morning, the music was still pounding downstairs and people were still dancing!
Note re: living fungal parasite. So they were mites that caused the little bug bites all over my body every evening – I just had to use an anti-scabies cream then wash my sheets and all was well. As for the rash – I had a biopsy and from the lab results it was diagnosed as chronic discoid lupus (which, to me, actually sounds sorta cool). I’m waiting for the pictures of the lab results so that I can bring them to Canada and get a second opinion. The cream he prescribed for lupus didn’t make the rash any better and he’s suggesting a corticoid injection, which I would rather have done in Canada. =P
"Así como la arquitectura corrige las incomodidades de la naturaleza, la literatura corrige las incomodidades de la realidad." -- Alfredo Bryce Echenique, Peruvian author
As architecture improves on the inconveniences of nature, literature improves on the inconveniences of reality.
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Thank you so much for stopping by and welcome to "What Little Things"! I'm a Canadian Internet marketing specialist, editor, and translator living in Peru. If you want to get in touch, leave a comment on one of my posts or head over to the Contact page. Talk soon! =) -- Samantha