A Castle made of Fireworks

Last week in Yuracoto, my local school estaba de fiesta (was in party mode). You see, the school’s  patron saint is la Virgen de Carmen, also known as the Virgin Mary, and apparently her day of celebration is the 16th of July. As I mentioned in one of my other posts, anniversaries are a BIG DEAL here in Perú, and so naturally the entire week of the 11th leading up to July 16th was filled with different religious and non-religious activities in the school.

One of said activities that I attended was the víspera, which literally means the “day before”. In this case, víspera means the night before the main day of celebration, or the evening of the 14th of July. So what happens at a víspera? Well first people from the community slowly trickled into the school, sitting and chatting while a student group performed a traditional dance from Áncash. Then, the altar containing the image of the saint was brought out, and everyone gather for a brief mass. A women, one of the madrinas (literally god-mother, but in this case sponsor) for the event, read from the Bible, led everyone in prayer, gave a brief sermon, and then led everyone in some Catholic hymns.

At the conclusion of the brief mass, speakers were rolled out and I, being the only one with a laptop, was put in charge of the music. I managed to play some Marc Anthony before students restricted me to just cumbia and huayno.

After a while, as it grew later in the evening and as the student groups continued to dance, we grew closer to one of the main attractions of the evening, the lighting of the firework castle. You see, I thought we had fireworks figured out pretty well in the U.S., but after attending a few events with fireworks here in Perú, I think they have us outclassed at least in terms of ingenuity. It is pretty standard here in Perú that for really big celebrations or anniversaries, you buy some fireworks. But Peruvian fireworks are not the tiny ones we buy for our homes around 4th of July, nor are they the giant fireworks displays we see way up in the sky. Here in Perú, they make structures out of bamboo, attach fireworks to them, and then set them off.

P1050655
A “palm tree” firework with its spinning parts.

Of the standard Peruvian firework regime, my favorite would have to be the Toro Loco (Crazy Bull), which is essentially a small bamboo frame reminiscent of a bull’s head to which many fireworks are attached. You then grab the Toro Loco, hold it over your head, and light up its fireworks as you run around at your fellow community members, shooting out sparks and smoke. Safe? Absolutely not. Fun? Absolutely.

So while this fiesta was unfortunately missing a Toro Loco, what it did have was a Castillo, or Castle, of which 1/6th was mine; the castle cost s/. 300, and I donated the missing s/. 50 to pay for it.

P1050664
The Castillo right after being lit.

Around 10:45pm (the víspera started at 7pm), we finally lit up the castillo and I managed to get everything on camera. Check out the video below and enjoy your first (probably) experience with Peruvian fireworks!

 

Until next time,

MGB

Advertisements

Sawdust Rugs: A surprise cultural event

This past Sunday as I was with my family in the Caraz market selling fruit, I decided to head down to the Plaza de Armas to try and get some money out of the bank. As I was walking down to the Plaza, I noticed that the streets to the plaza had been blocked off and that large masses of people had gathered. Curious, I walked closer and discovered that the main streets around the central plaza were covered with alfombras, or rugs. However, these were not typical rugs made out of fabric, but rather temporary “rugs” made out of dyed and dampened sawdust.

IMG_1546
A few of the rugs made by the student groups.

As I began to make my way around the various works of art, someone called out my name, and looking around I found a group of students from my local school in Yuracoto. Now, another school in town is in the midst of their 111th Anniversary celebrations, so I naturally assumed that the alfombra contest was just one of the many activities the school had organized. However, one of my students filled me in, telling me that the “competition” was in honor of a religious holiday during which they celebrate many Catholic Saints, and therefore independent of the school anniversary. Students from all over Caraz and the campiña organized into groups to design and create their alfombras.  I spent a while talking with my seniors from Yuracoto about their alfombra and the whole process they went through to make it. They explained to me how everyone chipped in for the materials (4 bags of sawdust at S/. 4 each, lots of dye, and transportation), and then how they all met up in Yuracoto on Saturday to dye the sawdust into the proper colors; many of them still had green and red hands come Sunday morning. On Sunday, they all met up in the Plaza at 6am to begin construction of their alfombra, which first involved drawing out the design with chalk, and then painstakingly placing the damp sawdust overtop. My student said it took about 3.5 hours to finish the whole thing; I was impressed with the commitment given there wasn’t even a prize or anything.

IMG_1544
Pre-procession rug (made by the seniors of Yuracoto)

So what is the point of making the alfombras? Well, the alfombras seemed to have served as a way to show of artistic talents, to contribute to the religious holiday, and to maybe show up your rival schools to some degree. However, like many things in life and nature, the alfombras were ephemeral, and after having been displayed for a mere 2 hours, the beautiful alfombras were quickly disfigured by a large procession of Saints who emerged from the church to continue with the religious celebration. At least the rugs wasted away doing what they were meant to do: getting walked on.

IMG_1560
Mid-procession rug.
IMG_1570
Post-procession rug.

And then, as soon as the procession had passed, what remained of the alfombras were swept up into colorful piles of sawdust, a poor vestige of what they had been only minutes before.

I am hoping that the students in Yuracoto will give me a heads up for next year’s celebration, so that I can get in on the Alfombra-making. I would love to get some experience making an alfombra here in Perú (maybe the Peace Corps logo???), because I think it would be a fun concept to bring back to the US.  It could also be a great Goal 3 project for those working in the World Wise Schools Program.

Well, what started off as a normal Sunday in the market turned into an awesome cultural surprise, and reminded me once more why I love my Peace Corps experience.

Until next time,

MGB