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Festival of Virgen del Carmen in Paucartambo July 2014

05 June 2014

The original Andean patrimonial festival takes place in a picturesque white-washed town with blue doors and windows. In mid-July of every year campesinos from all over the Sacred Valley trek to the small mountain town to dance in the festival of the Virgen Del Carmen. Though many Andean towns have patrimonial festivals with traditional dances that mix indigenous beliefs, local legend, and Catholic worship, Paucartambo's is the great-granddaddy of them all.

Nowadays the festival is flooded with thousands of tourists, Peruvians and foreigners alike, who brave the lethal, winding mountain roads to binge on food and drink for five days straight. The spirit of debauchery is infectious. The crisp mountain air buzzes with the music of a dozen marching bands and the crack of incessant fireworks. 

Boarding room is scarce, so friends and families pack into windowless rooms occupied but once a year – and no one cares about the meager accommodations because the party in the street goes round the clock. You retreat to your cave only for some desperately needed sleep before you're roused by the fear of missing something great. (Of course, nicer rooms are possible to find, though costly.)

Over the course of the festival each of the dozen or so dance groups in full regalia enacts the story of its existence – one group represents the wealthy Spanish-blooded landowners with massive noses who strut side-to-side with jugs of beer and spurs on their boots. A group of devils, masked in Chinese dragon-style headdresses, scale the roofs of the town and entice the onlookers, tempting them to sin.

After a day of parading through the town, each dance retreats to a large house or meeting hall for a night of sumptuous Andean cuisine and endless beer and pisco. These beer halls are packed to the brim late into the night, with revelers spilling out their doors only at the point of exhaustion.

And for the truly brave of heart there is an early-morning excursion which is perhaps the greatest treat of all. After a sweaty climb through the fierce cold, clutching bottles of rum, the dauntless trekker finds himself at Tres Cruzes, the edge of the Andes, looking out at the sunrise exploding over thousands of miles of rainforest. The festival-induced stupor cannot help but be broken by this incomparable vista and the glory of the Amazon.

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