Qoyllorit’i 2014 -Pilgrimage and cultural festival of dance and religion – where the mountains meet the people of Peru!
All our treks aim to immerse the active hiker into the Andean culture and way of life, offering something a little bit more special than just stroll up a mountain. One of the Peruvian Andes traditional and authentic cultural events that most definitely achieves this is the annual Pilgrimage to Qollor’iti near to the mighty Apu Ausangate. This trek combines hiking with something in the realm of a spiritual experience.
I knew as much about this trip as it said on our web page, http://www.apus-peru.com/treks/qolloritty_pilgrimage_trek.html which enticed me to want to know more. I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about.
Background: The Qoyllor Rit’i (Quechua for ‘Lord of the Star Snow’) Festival is a Peruvian indigenous spiritual / religious gathering held annually just before the Catholic festival of Corpus Christi. It takes place at an altitude of about 4,700m in the Sinakara Valley, 3 hours drive south of Cusco.
The beginnings of Qoyllorit’i have been suggested as pre-Incan or at least pre-date the arrival of the conquistadores. It is said to celebrate the stars and specifically the mid-winter disappearance of the Pleiades Constellation and then its reappearance in the southern skies. This marks the transition from old to new and is largely associated with the forthcoming harvest. The arrival of Christianity brought with it its own adaptation for the worship of the Lord Qoullorit’i, with an appearance of the image of Christ.
Many people making the Pilgrimage bring offerings in the form of toy houses, cars, or money with the hope that on their fourth visit El Señor Qoyllorit’i will make their wishes will come true.
It’s hard to believe so many Peruvians from all across Peru come to this event and yet so few tourists find their way. This is a huge and extremely important event for those that attend.
The route: Starting from the town of Mahuayani we make our way over 8km of trail to the Qoyllorit’i Sanctuary ana a large campsite that grows to house between 70 – 80,000 other Pilgrims.
Qoyllorit’i (spelt a dozen different ways) is definitely not a display for the benefit of tourists. As part of a group of ‘gringos’ we somehow spectated and settled into being part of the whole event without anyone taking a real interest in us. For anyone considering attending, they must be prepared for a degree of physical hardship, bitter cold during the night as well as a profound experience of cultural disorientation.
The choice of food on offer ranged from Chicharrónes (fried pork) and Lomo Saltado (sautéed beef) to a donkey head stew, with the latter on display as its big selling point and I was told, although I never saw it, that at various locations you could find the frog smoothie!!!
There are nine crosses on the pilgrimage route between Mahuayani and the sanctuary, each marking a kilometer of the route. Many Pilgrims stop to light candles, pray and the band ensembles arrive to perform dances and musical tributes too!
For the last of the crosses each group must await their inauguration ceremony and pass through onto a circuit of various sacred sites, including the sanctuary itself and perform their dances lasting many hours.
The Ukukus bears (dressed so) are the guardians or law keepers of Qoyllorit’i. If anyone is caught not respecting the rules, by drinking alcohol or by not removing hats in the presence of prayers, they shall have stern words or in the worst case they are allowed to whip the offender’!
The show goes on and on be it 3am or 8pm. Simply put this was one of the most surreal, profound and emotional experiences I have encountered in my lifetime!
By Matt Waugh, June 2014