Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun, was a celebration of the winter solstice and a way to greet the new year in the southern hemisphere. Dedicated to the sun god, Inti, the ceremony was the most important in the Incan calendar.
Over nine days participants dressed up, danced, took part in processions and sacrificed animals in the hope of encouraging a good crop in the coming year.
Though supressed and eventually banned as a pagan rite by the Catholic Church and Spanish colonial authorities, the festival was revived as a theatrical celebration in 1944 and held since every year on June 24. Though Cusco’s rich history means it is blessed with numerous festivals throughout the year, Inti Raymi is the highlight.
In 2002 I slept through it.
The problem with sun festivals is they take place during the day. My normal circadian rhythms are anything but to most people. I am better suited to full moon parties. Typically I go to bed sometime between six and 10am and wake eight hours later, sometimes in darkness. Every so often a night’s sleep is skipped to reset my body clock and catch some of the rays Inti benevolently sends down to Earth.
Early buses and the rigours of long travel days mean this is less necessary when we are on the road but though it was temporary and short term we had settled in Cusco and fallen into old habits. We are crap tourists at the best of times but by the time the Festival of the Sun came around we had fallen into the routine of living somewhere and no longer had the mind set of tourists.
Instead we danced on bar tops and played chess with friends, ignoring – as residents of a city are wont to do – the tourist sights around us. It took months before we set foot on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and until our last full day in the city we hadn’t even poked our heads inside the cathedral to think ‘Aah, that’s nice’ and tick it off the list.
Waking late on June 24th the effects of partying at 3,400 metres hits the body hard. I don’t tend to suffer from hangovers but do react poorly to altitude. Just crossing the apartment to the bathroom can leave those not used to it out of breath and though by then at altitude for a month we still weren’t. Despite taking place not too far away we loafed around in bed in the apartment and watched Inti Raymi on TV.
Bad tourist! Bad!
We did try and make it for the end and headed up the steep streets towards Sacsayhuaman where the festival is held. An old woman, annoyingly agile as a goat, laughed at me as we huffed and puffed our way against the foot travel coming down from the hills.