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faith, fiesta and fairground attractions

PERÚ: HUANTA — LA FIESTA DEL SEÑOR DE MAYNAY

I arrive in Huanta with two things in mind: I need a shower and I need to wash my clothes. I have no reason to foresee any difficulties in finding a cheap place to stay where I can achieve these apparently modest goals. What I fail to take into account is that I have arrived on the eve of a major weekend festival and that every hotel is full to capacity.

Heavy black clouds gather in the sky as I circle the town  – turned away from one hospedaje after another – in a state of increasingly despondency. One thing leads to another and eventually I arrive, cold and wet, at the Sacred Heart parish in a torrential downpour just as it is getting dark and beg hospitality of the church. The parde who must be consulted on the matter is still finishing up Friday evening Mass and so it is after a lengthy wait – during which I contemplate cycling out of town into the darkness to pitch my tent in the rain – that I am ushered into a room off the inner courtyard of the parish buildings.

The room boasts its own bathroom and the bed is freshly made. Grateful doesn’t begin to describe my feelings and even though I don’t find the switch that activates the hot water until after I have washed I can’t remember a shower I appreciated as much.

Morning - after a shower, dinner, a frenzy of laundering in the hand basin, and a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed - brings a brighter outlook on life.

I love the architecture of monasteries: the rooms around the courtyard - simultaneously communal and private, the stone paving, the arches. I feel quite at home - in another life I might have been a monk, I think.

Padre parrot.

A group of nuns from Lima are visiting to take part in the festival, among them two Mexicans who rustle up quesadillos for breakfast...

... which is a relaxed communal affair. I had only intended to stay one night in Huanta and I don't want to presume too much of the padres' hospitality but in the course of a lengthy breakfast I am invited to observe the festivities which will take place today. It seems that this festival is a religious affair in which the padres and nuns of this particular order have the leading parts. Mass is at 11am at the chapel in the nearby Sanctuary of Señor Maynay.

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After Mass the images are bourne outside on their floats...

... to parade around...

... the fairground where festivities of a more prosaic sort continue in the background.

A lugubrious troupe of musicians is on hand to lend the procession solemnity.

They are accompanied by noisy fireworks, of course.

The faithful arrive bearing their household icons.

Eventually the procession returns to the chapel...

... where everything is liberally blessed with holy water. I leave at this point...

... to investigate the more secular attractions of the fair. Like any good country fair, local produce is on display: potatoes,...

...avocados,...

... and beans, all in bewildering variety.

Livestock is also represented. This smug prize guinea pig ...

... is oblivious to the fate of his fellows at the food stalls next door.

My gringa status makes me something of a celebrity here and wherever I go people invite me to join them. I don't see another gringo all day.

I learn my first word in Quechua in relation to this dish; spaghetti squash, served in an intensely sweet syrup. 'Misky' means delicious and/or sweet. The two are synonymous according to local tastes.

Alongside the produce, local handicrafts feature strongly.

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This woman's crippled hands don't seem to impede her ability to knit.

All in all, the fair is positively bustling with all kinds of activity. It looks to be an event that brings people from diverse communities together to share information, show off their goods, eat, drink and have a good time. I'm glad to be here. I arrive back at my lodgings at the church positively stuffed with food and absolutely exhausted to retire to my room and sleep.

In the morning, Father Carlos won't hear of me leaving until he has treated me, and all the visiting nuns, to a bowl of mondongo - a rich soup based around intestines - at a local restaurant.

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