In Taray, Peru I had one of the most fabulous days on the entire Peru Through the Lens 2012 trip. It was not officially part of our itinerary, but they happened to be hosting a dance festival that our home stay community was taking part in. So, we were invited to join in and I am so glad that we did. This is not your typical tourist ‘tour’, instead, it was a very real, authentic experience with the locals, going about their day and seeing how they really live their lives!
Taray is a small community along the banks of the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley, close to Pisac. We were staying in the community of Ccaccaccollo up higher in the mountains and traveled down to the community, about a 30 minute car ride. Kristie and I traveled in a car with our home stay dad. Steve and Andres traveled by local ‘bus’, meaning a large open-backed truck with a tarp over it and I think Andrea & Edward walked down the mountain to the community with their home stay family.
We were all dressed up in traditional attire and each arrived at different times, creating a spectacle being white tourists all dressed up. Nothing like drawing attention our way! Kristie & I were the first to arrive. Our home stay Papi dropped us off with our Mami, Ruth and we started walking in a dirt / mud road to the main square. Not 15 feet down the road, three police officers made comments or cat calls (in Quechua – the local language), our Mami couldn’t really explain them to us though but it was obvious … and then they kept sneaking glances. Police officers in other countries are much different from here in Canada!
There were very few people in the community when we arrived, but within about 30 minutes, locals started strolling in and filling up the bleachers around the main dance area and stage. Next to arrive were Steve & Andres and then just before the competition started, Andrea & Ed joined us. By this time, the heat was so intense that it was almost unbearable, especially with our regular clothes plus traditional clothes on top.
Local vendors were selling snacks … pastries, homemade ice cream / popsicles. I knew that I shouldn’t be drinking local water, but the refreshing coldness of a popsicle beckoned me! I bought one and thoroughly enjoyed it. And, it didn’t make me sick!
After being there for about an hour, the bleachers were full, the sun was out and the emcees for the day took the stage. If I remember correctly, they spoke mostly in Quechua, but might have thrown a bit of Spanish in now and then. There was music, excitement and an insult competition! Yup, you read that right, an Insult Competition! This competition was a face off between a member from each community. The two would take the stage and each say something and then retort. The competition was in Quechua, so of course, none of us understood, but our guide Andres explained that is was similar to using ‘Yo momma’s so fat’ jokes. Regardless of the fact that we couldn’t understand, it was still quite entertaining and laughter amongst the crowd was contagious!
Once the dance competition started, I bought another popsicle to cool me down and then the rain came … fast and furious and chilly. Just after figuring out how to cover up to stay dry with plastic, the sun would shine and we were all sweltering hot all over again. It was an impossible mixture of overheating, then being chilly, then getting wet and staying chilly.
Between being too hot to move and the rain that arrived so randomly, I decided to only use my little point and shoot Canon Lumix camera instead of my professional Canon 5D MK II. It was also a good choice as I could take video of some of the dancing but also meant that the photos I have to show for my really interesting day are mostly point and shoot and not many super fantastic ones. There were also regular random water balloons being thrown into the crowd and silly string or shaving cream being sprayed everywhere as part of carnival celebrations.
There were about 10 different communities participating in the dance competition. Each troupe composed of boys and girls or men and women adorning traditional attire, but with distinguishing decorations. Some had plants, yarn or other materials as props, or additions to their costumes. Others had large feather wings or flowers in their hair / hats. Each of the communities told a story with their combination of dance performance, music and song. I have to say, the singing was shrill. I am completely open-minded and thoroughly enjoyed the entire day and experience, but the singing, was loud, screaming, high-pitched … much like nails on a chalk board. Now, obviously this is the traditional type of music and locals are used to it, but as foreigners, it was literally hard on the ears. Often we winced, covered our ears or put our hoods up to block even just a little bit of the shrillness.
We watched six or eight communities compete and then our own community of Ccaccaccollo was up and we cheered them on. Each dance was about 10 minutes long and consisted of some kind of story where the men were trying to woo and capture the women. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t and sometimes, the tables turned and the women ended up capturing the men! This was particularly funny to the crowds.
Once Ccaccaccollo had finished, the group of us and our home stay families made our way out of the bleachers and to the square where we had a seat on the cement area in front of the church and waited for our Mami’s to unpack and serve our traditional lunch. While we were waiting a musician with his guitar stopped by our group and asked if he could sing for us. This made some of the locals uncomfortable as they seemed to feel his intentions weren’t genuine, but I thoroughly enjoyed his little show and he spoke a combination of Spanish and English.
Once lunch was ready, the ladies of the community piled our plates high with mixed vegetables, potatoes, quinoa (all locally grown and farmed by the community), as well as meat which was the Peruvian delicacy of Cuy (guinea pig). I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my favourite meat to eat, but I did try it and it wasn’t bad. It was small and bony, but the meat was similar to chicken and didn’t have a strong flavour. The turn off for me was that there were still a few hairs on the skin and I just couldn’t get past that.
After lunch, we helped clean up, watched a dance parade in the streets of Taray and then Andres led us out-of-town for a walk across a foot bridge and in to the town of Pisac before bartering for a taxi for six of us up the mountain to return to Ccaccaccollo.