During Corpus Christi, the 15 saints from the 15 different districts of Cusco are brought down to the main plaza and paraded around. For many this is a highly important religious tradition and so the mostly Catholic population fills into the main plaza to watch as it is also a day of from work, school, and university. And not only are the saints paraded around, but behind or in front of each follows or leads musicians and dancers of that district dressed in their dresses and playing their music from their various districts - It is rather a mesh of Catholicism with Incan and Cusquenan cultures and traditions.
So of course the main plaza becomes packed with both locals and tourists - and I mean packed - for someone who is a bit anxious in massive crowds, I think I did pretty well. Just as a comparison, compared with the Calgary Stampede parade or grounds for example, this is like 10 times that - just being pushed and pulled along - and understanding for the first time - a "true crowd" mentality, and how it is that people can get fully trampled in a crowd.
So if I get anxious in crowds, why then did I head down into the thicket of the festival? - Well, they serve a dish that day - a special festive dish called Chiriuchu, it is a cold dish filled with Cusco traditions - of which my various colleagues and students had been talking about for weeks at the university, and quite frankly with my love of new foods and cuisines, I just had to try this dish.
As we made our way through the overwhelming crowd, we slowly passed many street vendors selling sweets, ice creams, churros and the likes and made our way 2 blocks up to the Plaza San Francisco - where lunch - this dish was being served by literally hundreds of Andean women - hacking away at cooked guinea-pigs and tearing away at pieces of salted meat and toreja to put these complex dishes together.
The dish is meant to be eaten in small bites of the various components rather than finishing one component at a time - I honestly don't know why this is - but am assuming because it tastes better this way.
In this dish is found a hill of various foods that come together, like the saints, but instead of from various districts, that come together from various parts of the Andes and Peru - like cuy coming from the Sacred Valley and seaweed coming from Lake Titicaca. So what exactly comprises this dish? - Guinea Pig, Toreja (which is a very greasy and delicious corn bread), 2 types of sausage including blood sausage (this I didn't eat), salted very tough beef jerky (delicious), dried and salted Andean corn, fresh Andean cheese, seaweed and fish roe, roasted rooster, freeze dry potato, camote (sweet potato), and a very spicy rocoto pepper. It was amazing - I honestly wasn't sure if I would like it - but oh, yes I did - very much. My roommate - not so much. Did we finish - yes. And afterwards, my body just wanted to rest and digest this very heavy meal, so we trekked back through the immense crowd.