I have experienced my first Peruvian holiday. It is called Carnival. To paraphrase, it is basically a giant water balloon fight with the added bonus of Silly String, dancing, and colorful decorations for extra enjoyment. My host family had told me about this holiday right when I arrived, but I did not quite grasp what it entailed until the day of the celebration. In fact, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I left the house in the morning to visit a neighboring town, Pisac, to attend a large artisan market.
The beginning of the day was rather tame and I was quite distracted by the colorful balloons and various artisan stalls. When I finally sat down in the central square to observe some of the action, I saw that nearly every kid was equipped with either a can of Silly String or a water balloon. They were running around spraying each other and having a wonderful time. Some of the kids went a little overboard and sprayed their friends purposefully in the face. Others, threw water balloons directly into an unsuspecting crowd of people. All-in-all, they were just having a good time. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, my friend and I decided to buy a can of Silly String ourselves. This was probably the best idea we have ever had. It was hilarious to spray the children and have them come after us with their Silly String in retaliation. Several times we hid behind cars as they chased after us. They laughed, we laughed, and even bystanders thought it was hilarious.
The celebration did not stop on the way home. We learned quickly to shut the windows of the bus when we saw anyone standing on the side of the road because they were likely children waiting there to splash the buses with buckets of water. On the way home, we stopped in Urubamba for something to eat and found the children there were a bit more extreme with their celebration techniques. In Pisac, the children left you alone if you didn’t look like you were in the mood to be sprayed with Silly String. In Urabamba, this was not the case. In fact, most of the kids didn’t have Silly String. They had water balloons and buckets of water. Walking through the streets of Urubamba was basically like navigating an obstacle course. They didn’t care that we had just bought a snack from a street vendor and were simply trying to enjoy it. They ran after us anyway and pelted us with water balloons. A few times, they waited until we had passed and thought we were safe and then they chased us through the streets as we tried to get away. Even though their tactics were a bit cruel, it was a lot of fun and very amusing.
The best thing about Carnival is that it spans two weekends. Since I was gone during last weeks celebration, I missed out on throwing water balloons with my host family. Luckily, my eight year old host sister had no problem celebrating for a second weekend in a row. In fact, on Saturday, she began filling up water balloons promptly after breakfast. I was so excited when she asked me if I wanted to throw them from the roof with her. She explained the rules to me as we waited for the first person to pass by. She pointed out a few small children and told me they were too young and we wouldn’t be throwing any balloons at them. She also said we couldn’t throw balloons at any adults. I agreed that the rules sounded more than fair and we spent the next two and a half hours perched on the top of our home waiting for the perfect people to pass by the house. For the most part we didn’t actually hit anyone but we did cause a few confused looks and even more laughs.
On the final Sunday of Carnival, my host family walked me down the street to show me where the last Carnival celebration would be taking place. There was music, beer, and a tree decorated with everything from balloons to children’s clothes. My host family explained that eventually there would be dancing around the tree. What they didn’t tell me is that there would be several hours of beer drinking followed by a dance around the tree as town residents cut the tree down with an axe. For maybe an hour or so, I watched from afar and cringed as various people took rather uncoordinated swings at the tree while a crowd of people danced around them. Once the tree fell down, the entire crowed rushed at it trying to grab one of the items attached. My host sister had her eye on a pair of yellow pants but she came back empty handed. Though it seemed like the celebration was going to continue for a while, we decided to head home for dinner. I am going to miss this holiday when I am back in the United States.