Semana Santa en Ayacucho

Easter has always been a big deal in my family, full of masses and celebrations and late nights. Nonetheless, nothing in my Catholic upbringing quite prepared me for Semana Santa, Ayacucho style.

Ayacucho is nine to thirteen hours east of Lima, depending on which bus company you choose to take. Rachel, her parents, and I learned this the hard way, on a cold, rickety, bathroom-less bus that crept up and over the Andes over the course of a very long night. We had arrived for the Grand Finale of Holy Week: the Saturday Night Vigil on the night before Easter. In the States, this is generally a solemn (but celebratory) night. In Ayacucho, it's a bigger party than Mardi Gras.

There were parades, often converging on the central square from several directions. See the photo above; please also note the small explosion in the background-- someone setting off some fireworks. We danced to these awesome brass bands, ate some delicious pork sandwiches on the street (on a Saturday in Lent-- offending both the Catholic and Jewish traditions in one fell swoop), admired rugs and other beautiful crafts, and went to the Vigil mass at 8 PM. And then, as soon as Mass ended, the party began.

This brass band played valiantly for hours to a crowd that grew more and more rowdy and drunk as we got closer to dawn. Rachel and I made a few friends with our sweet moves, and they decided to teach us how to perform acrobatics. "Toss the Gringa" may not be a long-standing tradition in Ayacucho- the celebration attracts mostly Peruvians- but everyone seemed to enjoy it nonetheless. Don't worry, Dad, my neck is still intact.

I was ready to sleep by 2 AM, but Rachel convinced me to stay in it for the long haul. So, we danced until three in the morning or so, pausing for snacks and coffee and lukewarm beers and fireworks displays. I had read that they would set off fireworks at midnight, but that doesn't quite do the displays justice: groups from all over the city had built about twenty enormous "castles" or towers of fireworks that they set off periodically throughout the night. Here's the last one, which they set off around 5 AM:

Rachel and I took a brief nap in front of the cathedral around 4 AM but were awoken by one of these fireworks displays. By then, the square was full of thousands of people, waiting expectantly in front of the cathedral. Finally, as the sky was just starting to brighten, a huge stream of confetti flew into the air, the Cathedral bells started tolling, and the Church doors were flung open to reveal perhaps a hundred men carrying an enormous float with an image of Jesus on top.

Here's a video the emergence of the float. It was pretty amazing, and the video doesn't really do it justice. But try to imagine that you're sleep deprived and a little drunk and surrounded by thousands of sleep deprived, drunk people who have been waiting for this moment for hours and hours.

This was Rachel's reaction to this deeply moving moment. Then everyone fell into a procession behind the float, and the band kept playing, and people cheered, and the sun came up, and Rachel and I walked back to our hotel to get some sleep. (Rachel's parents slept through the all-night party and were probably the better for it.) On our way back, I took a picture of this beautiful woman. I'd been trying not to take lots of pictures of the women in their lovely hats and skirts, because I didn't want to be one of those tourists, but I couldn't help taking just one picture.

After crashing for five or six hours, we got up and went on a drive with an awesome taxi driver named Nino. He took us out of the city and into the countryside; we got a tour of the Wari ruins from a really smart 12-year-old boy who is going to be an amazing archaeologist one day; we ate some tunas fresh from the cactus; and we learned about the Battle of Ayacucho from an amazing little boy who played a surprisingly convincing Peruvian general. Here's a picture of the hill where the Peruvians beat the Spanish in 1825 (and yet still had to pay taxes to the Spanish for decades to convince them to leave the country...) Yes, that's a rainbow. We'll just ignore a long and ugly history of colonialism for a moment so we can admire the scenery, yes?

Yesterday we took a much more comfortable bus ride through the Andes, admiring the little herds of llamas and alpacas and trying to ignore the Spanish-dubbed version of Iron Man.

That gives you an idea of this amazing weekend; I'll post more pictures on facebook sometime this week. There are lots of other things I'd like to discuss here, but I think this post is long enough.

COMING SOON: the post I promised on Yuyachkani's Open Lab a few weeks ago; some thoughts on tensions related to tourism, gender, and whiteness; my new Spanish class; More Reasons to Love my Roommates; What Ever Happened to Maletó and What Does This Have to Do with Gender Trouble?; Megan's artistic journey in Lima; and, What Exactly Are You Doing in Lima, Megan?

Love to all. Happy Easter, and Happy Pesach, too (I'm late on both counts, as per usual).


  1. Wow. AMAZING! Thank you so much for writing this!

  2. 1) You are an amazing writer. I just read all your posts and laughed my head off and absorbed a very clear and vivid picture of what life is like there for you.

    2) I miss you sooooo much!

    3) Thank you for sending me all the workshop and other arts e-mails! I'm doing the Heal the Healer workshop at the Brecht forum this weekend!

    4) I love you