Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bringing in the Year

It’s the first day of the year and the folks are gathering in the Ollantaytambo Plaza in the highlands of Peru. There’s a stage, 50 red chairs below it and the loudspeakers with the over-amped mikes. Out from the church come the colorfully-clad conch-shell-blowing Quechua-speaking folks with confetti-size yellow flower petals in their hair. Kids and adults, men and women blow on the shells in random rhythms as they approach the chairs in the plaza. The Municipal Representatives sit on stage and shout into the microphones. Through the distortion I can pick up the platitudes of “God, Country and Community.” They all rise for the recorded national anthem and off they go again: “”Dios! La Patria! La Comunidad de Ollantaytambo!” The whole show is a reaffirmation of commitment, with the usual promises of reward and threats of punishment.

What seemed promising as a colorful, horn-blowing Festival is reduced to a dull Chamber of Commerce Ceremony. I think of Brain Rule No. 5—“we don’t pay attention to boring things” and find my gaze lifted to the green mountains cradling the town, who look down unimpressed by the New Year fal-de-ral, taking their breaths in thousand-year gulps. The sun blazes down through the thin air, a light breeze brings some relief, the loudspeaker blares on without a moment’s pause. A little girl in a pink dress and a yellow balloon skips past two soldiers with submachine guns, the conch horns blow again and the deed is done. All have reaffirmed their commitment to walk through the remaining 364 days with God, Country and Community foremost in their hearts. Or at least until tomorrow.

The tourists disperse as well as the locals and we climb up to some more Inca ruins, the town receding with each step. After all the rainy views in the Machu Picchu trek, it’s a nice contrast to see the village lit in sun. The usual photo ops (see above) and down to a three hour lunch— good food, slow service. Then back to the room, where I worked a bit on my new book and changed (after almost two years!) the cover photo of my blog.

It’s an auspicious beginning to the year, but now dinner calls and we’re all in that travel-weary sense of being somewhat tired of sitting in restaurants. Hoping for faster service, we set off into town, soon to close out the first day of the journey through the year.

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