Carnival in Cajamarca
Bring out the paint, costumes, and beer. Carnival is here! As one of the most freeing holidays, Carnival brings cheer to all those who participate. Whether you’re celebrating in Rio, Venice, New Orleans, or Peru, this is a time to wear masks and dance in the street to celebrate life. Some girlfriends and I decided to tag along with another group on the 6-hour journey to Cajamarca for the biggest Carnival celebration in Peru. We were told that a friend of our Peruvian friend would provide the accommodation, but everyone had their legitimate doubts. In Peru, anything is possible …anything…and nothing is certain. Most of the hostels had booked up already, so our group of twenty had to stay pretty open to whatever we came across. Thanks to our pro-expat friend, this time we used Transportes Chiclayo and it was definitely the BEST night bus service I’ve had so far. Snacks and blankets provided. I love snacks and blankets! On the downside, some food poisoning kicked in half way through the bus ride, making it (and the following 24 hours) quite unpleasant, to say the least. We rolled in to Cajamarca at around 4am and to our surprise (not really), our host backed out. Apparently he was drunk AND forgot to tell his wife that 20 foreigner friends were coming over. We wandered from hostel to hostel down a dark street asking if anyone had room for 20 people. Most people turned us down at the immediate sight of 20 tired foreigners outside the door at 4am. We probably looked like an angry mob of hitchhikers or something. At one point, another friend of our Peruvian friend politely offered to take us in knowing full well that we wouldn’t be able to fit in her room, even standing up. This sort of thing makes me marvel at the politeness of cultures like Peru. It was sweet, just very impossible. We continued down the road a little further before just throwing our bags down and lying on the street. I started to feel increasingly sicker. If
there was ever a bad time to get food poisoning, this is was it. It wasn’t that cold but I had chills through my body. My bags weren’t that heavy but I felt so achy and tired. Normally I would be keen on the adventure of camping out with 20 people on the streets of Cajamarca. But this time, I just wanted a bed and a bathroom. Lea, Bea and myself broke off from the group in an attempt to find a hostel on our own. We figured that everyone just turned us down because there were so many of us. We returned to one hostel and the lady immediately let us in and showed us to her last available room that perfectly fit 3. I knew it! It was tiny, it had a bathroom, it was perfect. It was a long night, and Bea started feeling sick as well, but we rested up and felt okay-ish by noon. Carnival celebrations differ all over the world, but in Cajamarca, Peru, on this particular Saturday, people celebrate by throwing paint and water at each other. I put my phone in its waterproof case, dressed in an old sweatshirt and shorts and we made our way outside. The street seemed quiet.. too quiet. Until splash! The first bucket of water from the balcony above came pouring down on us. We aimlessly ran into the street only to be greeted by little boys with water guns, water balloons, and the occasional splash of paint. Neighbors gathered on the balconies and aimed at their targets below. We scrambled to find a taxi and heading to Armas Square, where the main festival would be taking place. Upon arrival, we ran into some friends who told us the festival was pretty much over, but we decided to grab a quick bite and venture out anyway. It was definitely not over. The streets were full of people drenched in color, banging drums, and singing traditional Peruvian Carnival songs. It was beautiful.
The further we went the crazier it got. More people with buckets of ice water on balconies, more kids with water balloons, and way more buckets of paint. Let the paint wars begin! Completely defenseless, we ran through the streets being attacked us from every angle with paint and cold water. We joined a parade of drunken dudes who offered us beer and paint to throw. We sang along with them joyfully and at times were unknowingly the subject of the song itself. We joined a few more parades of people and danced to the sound of live trumpets, drums, and voices completely covered in paint. Day two started early with tourists and locals gathering the Armas square to see the parade. Colorful costumes, masks, and the pleasing aroma of street food filled the square alongside the beautiful and historic Spanish architecture. We saw bits and pieces of the parade in the rain
and eventually decided upon enjoying a gourmet meal. It was definitely rewarding after running from children amped up on the rush of water fights from the day before. More water balloons? Come on bro, that was so yesterday. Our meal was amazing. Real coffee!! Real cheese! Fresh juice and gourmet chocolate! Besides the ultra-spirited festivals, this is what Cajamarca is known for. We were in Peruvian heaven… After the meal, we decided on checking out the Incan bathhouses. Basically a natural hotspring with private rooms for soaking up the naturally hot waters said to heal any illness. Woohoo! After that we rushed to join our tour bus just about to depart for Cumbre Mayo, the village in the mountains that overlooks Cajamarca. There were not enough seats on the bus so I got VIP seating via stool in the middle of the aisle. The hour-long bumpy road took us up to a beautiful village surrounded by enormous rocks jutting out of the earth. Reminded me of a dry, green version of Halong Bay in Vietnam. The quiet peacefulness
of this place allowed the sensation of awe settle in. We explored the green rolling mountains, dark caves, and streams that crossed the continent: joining the Pacific and Atlantic rivers. I can’t help but compare something as scenic as this to a movie or piece of cinematography that I’ve seen in the past. Maybe in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. It was stunning. After a few hours of exploring the hills, the sun started setting and the tour brought us back to a lookout of the city lights below in Cajamarca. It was the perfect end to great weekend.