The marching dancers and musicians began to pass our campsite at 2am. We stayed in bed until 4am and then, after a quick breakfast, set off in pursuit. We soon caught up to the back of the marching column. We were instructed to switch off our torches, leaving us in near-darkness. We found ourselves walking along between two lines of ghostly figures (the dancers and musicians). The musicians had stopped playing and so the only sounds were those of marching feet and the bells on the costumes of the dancers. It was a strange ethereal experience.
As the sky began to lighten, we reached a great ridge upon which all of the dancers were arraying themselves. The musicians stood in groups on the far side of the ridge, where we joined them. The dancers formed a huge line down the ridgeway, grouped by their geographical origins. This gave us a great opportunity to see the full variety of dancer costumes. Some of the dancers carried woollen baby llamas strapped to their lower backs, signifying their responsibility to nurture their herds. Others carried mini-me’s, dolls wearing the same dancing costume as the owner. One of the dancers explained that his doll represented the unborn child his wife is carrying back home. In five years, the child will be joining him at the main festival campsite and watching his/her father dance to honour the stars.
Other dancers have an authority role and carry whips to keep everyone in line. Though these get vigorously used as part of some of the dances, they are not used with any great anger to keep people in line. As a westerner, you are, at worst, likely to get nudged in the ribs by one as a prompt that there is a ceremony going on which requires you to remove your hat.
Unfortunately after several days, which apart from the brief rainstorms, had been almost completely clear, the sky was now heavily overcast. It was still possible to determine when the sun rose behind the clouds. The hubbub of conversation stopped and the dancers and musicians knelt to hail the rising sun. With the sun in the sky, the dancing ideally would have started, but there was a desire to wait until the assembly could feel the warming rays of the sun on their skin. So there was a hiatus as we waited, hoping that the clouds would part and allow the sun to shine through. This they stubbornly refused to do. So after half an hour everyone finally lost patience, the musicians began to play and the dancing began!
This was on a completely different scale to anything we’d seen before. We had watched in delight as small regional groups did their individual dances, with a range of symbolisms. This time, everyone danced at once in a huge display which soon encompassed the entire valley. We followed them down through the valley and up to another ridge where everyone stopped to pray. Then down into the next valley and up another ridge for another prayer stop. It went on and on. Finally everyone made their way down to a huge garden party where the dancers could remove their heavy woollen costumes and consume hot food and fizzy drinks.
We left the performers at this point and set off across country to meet our bus. At journey's end, we had a final superb lunch courtesy of Mauro. We ran down to a local petrol station and bought beers for everyone, to reward our guides and our hard working support team. Before drinking, we each poured a little beer onto the ground for Pachamama (the Earth Mother). Apparently she was thirsty too!
Tired pilgrims continue their dancing in the early hours
Kicking off the Quyllur Rit'i 2015 Fashion Parade
The outfits are fantastic
Dancers following the ridge line curving away into the distance
Accompanied by a "mini-me" for his unborn child
Very tired now, waiting for sunrise
The music continues its relentless beat
The weave up the hills and down the valleys
Even taxi was enjoying the show
The final ridge
Kneeling for prayers as the sun begins to rise
And then back down the hill towards home for tea and medals
A well deserved rest at the end of the trail