I know worldwide when people think of Carnaval, Rio is the first city that comes to mind. The department of Cajamarca is the Rio of Peru. Every year hundreds of thousands of people flock to Cajamarca City for a weekend of singing, dancing, and parades!
Since I am lucky enough to live in this wonderful department, I was able to attend the festivities along with other volunteers. There are events the entire month of February, but there is one weekend in particular that is the culmination of Carnaval.
Throughout the weekend it was advised to walk with caution! Throwing water balloons, shooting random strangers with water guns, and even dumping buckets of water off balconies was a common occurrence. Death by water lurked around every corner… and at night in the cold was the worst.
Saturday during the day water turned into paint. Police set up a blockade around the main historic plaza, but the rest of the city was fair game! Everyone spent the morning mixing buckets of paint and by the afternoon the city was one giant paint war.
Cars driving by, got COVERED in paint. Everywhere you turned someone was waiting with a paint gun or bucket. Being that we were a group of gringas the target on our backs was even bigger, and people were brutal!
Allie, my sitemate, and I decided to walk around with a bucket of paint and cover our hands in it. When someone shot us or dumped paint on us we would run after them and smear paint all over their face. It worked well until we started getting a taste of our own medicine!
We were in battle for about 4 hours and by the end of it my hair was a mess of paint dreads, I couldn’t open one eye, and my entire body was covered in at least three layers of paint. As you can imagine, almost a week later I am still working to get paint off of my body!
Paint day was also Valentine’s Day and I had a nice surprise when I was walking down the street and ran into this guy!
The nights of Carnaval were spent on the streets. Groups of friends form music circles with a bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, and sometimes Andean flutes. The musicians play all night while friends dance Huayno (typical Sierra dance) in a circle. There is one song in particular that everyone plays and then people in the group sing coplas (two liner jokes) throughout the night. The night starts out with hundreds of these little groups all playing different things and by the end of the night only a few are left standing. From far away it sounds like a battle zone, because all you here is the rumble of drums all playing different tunes!
Sunday there was a 5-hour parade where every neighborhood and district of Cajamarca had a theme. The costumes ranged from burlesque Vegas show girls, to giant thumbs, to half cuy half rats. We were staying in a hostal with balconies on the plaza so we had the best seats in the house! During the parade people in our group were throwing water balloons across the parade into the crowd and the crowd was retaliating, so inevitably I got soaked.
The weekend was full of cultural experiences and if you are looking for a time of year to visit me, I definitely recommend coming for Carnaval! (Hint, Hint)