Cajamarca – Viva el Carnaval!

Cajamarca holds quite a remarkable spot in the Peruvian history, as it was here where the last Inca king was defeated by the lovely Spanish conquistadors.

The Inca king Huayna Capac decided to split the Inca empire after his death in two and give half to each of his sons. The north was for Atahualpa and the south went to Huascar. Neither of them were satisfied with the distribution, so soon enough a civil war broke for the control of the whole empire. Atahualpa’s troops won that war. He then started his way south to Cuzco, to proclaim his control over all the Inca territory, but before getting there, he decided to make a stop in Cajamarca. Bad luck wanted it, Mr. Manuel Pizarro arrived to Cajamarca at this very moment in time. He was joined by 168 men. Atahualpa was traveling with thousands of his troops. The Inca decided to enter the city temple with “only” 600 soldiers, nobles mainly. The Spaniards knew about this and decided to set up a trap inside the temple. Once the Inca was inside, friar Vicente de Valverde appeared and offered Atahualpa a bible. The Inca threw the book to the floor, and that was pretty much all it took for the Spaniards to start shooting every single one in that temple. Even though they were extremely outnumbered, the 600 men accompanying Atahualpa inside the temple were merely armed with axes, so pose no real threat to the Spanish weapons. The Incas, who had never heard the sound of a firing weapon nor did they see their power, were completely terrified. Every single Inca was massacred and Atahualpa was kept as a prisoner. As soon as he realized the appetite the Spaniards had for silver and gold, he offered them a deal. He’d give them as much gold as the size of the room he was kept in, and twice this amount in silver in exchange for his freedom. The conquistadors agreed, and the silver and gold started arriving from different parts of the empire. Amazing Inca handcrafts worth much more than their weight in the gold they were made were melted and converted into ingots. But soon enough the Spaniards realized that Atahualpa was sending messages to get his troops to rescue him, they decided to kill him. He was initially sentenced to burn in the cross, but at the last minute he agreed to convert to Christianity and then his sentence was changed to death by strangulation.

The Inca temples were then destroyed and the stones used to build churches. The only construction that remains from the Inca times is precisely the room where Atahualpa was kept, which is available for visitors  and it looks like this:

With the entry ticket you can also enter the archaeological and medicine museum. The first one is really nice and as per the medicine museum, well, we asked the guy at the entrance of the place where was it, and he told us to cross a little square and the corridor that started from one of the corners, that was the one. We told him that we’ve already been there and there were only empty exhibition windows. He nodded and told us that yes, there’s nothing in there. So I was like, why the heck didn’t you tell me before I entered then?

Back to our trip, we were really excited to visit Cajamarca, not only because the travelers we’d met told us it was really beautiful, but mainly because we’d be there during the time of the carnival, which is supposed to be the best in the country. Just walking around the place feels really good. The colonial streets are really amazing, the city is clean, safe and when the sun shines it’s a really amazing spot to walk around.

We arrived couple of days before the party started, to see the city and the surroundings before the crowds flooded the streets. In Cajamarca we managed to find a place to crash for free via couchsurfing, a great thing as during Carnival, lodging prices go up up up, and not just that, the main issue is that every single place gets fully booked.

Though what we got was not quite a couch, nor a bed, it did the deed. Cecilia let us sleep in her restaurant. Literally, in her restaurant, we camped right there in the floor.

Cecilia told us about the main spots to visit around Cajamarca: the Inca baths, Cumbe Mayo and Ventanillas de Otuzco.

Considering that there was no shower in the restaurant, our first pick were the Inca baths. It is very close from the funerary ruins of Ventanillas de Otuzco, and from there you can catch a colectivo that goes straight to the Inca baths, so we could visit both the same day without a problem.

Ventanillas de Otuzco is supposed to have been used as a funerary site, though no bones were found inside the little windows, only around the place. There’s not much information onsite about the purpose of the place that the ancient cultures gave to it, but it’s definitely nice and the views from there are also worth seeing.

We took then a colectivo and headed to the baths. There’s only one line that goes straight there, not going first to Cajamarca, I can’t remember the number, but everyone in there knows it, so it’s just a matter of asking.

The baths are pretty nice, though obviously there’s nothing left from the original place where the last Inca king took his baths.

I decided to go for a swim in the warm swimming pool and Kasia took one of the hot baths. We both were pretty satisfied with the place, definitely a nice spot to stop by if you are in the city.

The next day we went for a walk around the city as the colectivo that leaves to Cumbe Mayo departs at 13:30. Cecilia told us there’s only one per day, so we’d better be there earlier.

We arrived at 13h and the damn van was already full. I asked the driver if there was any other way to get to Cumbe Mayo that day, but he said no. Good luck wanted it, instead of coming back the same way we arrived, we decided to walk along the street where the colectivo was stopped, as that part of the city we hadn’t seen. I noticed many vans parked along the street, so started asking them if they were going direction Cumbe Mayo, and lucky us, one did go and had free seats. So for 7 soles each we were on our way.

The place has an entry fee of 8 soles per person, and there’s a nice path well marked. At the very beginning my claustrophobia was tested a bit, as the path goes between huge rocks and there’s not much room so to say.

It all went OK, and we moved on along the path. The views are really really nice, and a great thing was that we were alone in there.

After seeing the place we headed back to the road to catch a ride. There was an old man waiting for the same, who the very moment he saw us started screaming at me that if we were tourists we shouldn’t take a car back, that we should have our own car. He kept barking at me for a while till the first ride came along. There were 2 people in the back and one in the front, so I assumed there was only one free spot in the back, so I told the driver to take the old barking man. But I was wrong. Never underestimate how many people can fit in a colectivo. The copilot sat down the old man in the front seat with him, and we packed our asses in the back seat together with a couple that was already there. To our surprise, when taking a look at the trunk, we realized there was a sheep traveling with us too, simply amazing.

The next morning was Carnival time. We were told people get painted and wet pretty badly, so as we didn’t have any trousers that we could just throw we decided to buy some shorts for 6 soles. That morning arrived another couple, a German guy and a Nicaraguan girl, with whom we’d be sharing the restaurant floor for a couple of nights.As the deal here is to paint, get painted, wet and get wet, we decided we needed some ammunition to defend our self. So we decided to buy some water balloons. We went to Cecilia’s mum house to set up the whole thing and paint our faces. The German guy was the one that went to buy the balloons. He was out 5 minutes and came back covered with white paint. It was on. With a pretty amazing amount of balloons ready, it was game time.

Initially, we decided to only shoot the ones that would attack us first. But soon enough we realized that smashing balloons into little annoying kids with water guns was just too much fun to pass on, so basically anyone in the street was a potential victim of ours.

Everything gets painted, the street, the buildings, cars, motorbikes, anything that’s out there is going to get either wet or painted, and in most of the occasions, both.

It was really a lot of fun, though also some times a bit painful, cause receiving a balloon that’s thrown from a fifth floor straight into your neck kind of hurts a bit. But it’s part of the game. The streets are flooded with people, and when encountering another “group”, well, buckets of paint and water balloons started flying around like crazy.

The German guy was the one taking it to the next level. The guy had something, I mean, you could see death in his eyes, it was pretty scary. One time we were eating a little snack in a street post, and the daughter of the owner came out with a little water gun and shot a bit to the German guy. He immediately responded by shooting, with all his strength, a balloon straight into the girls face. Now I’d agree the girl deserved to get wet, but he almost blew his freaking head off. No body said a word.

We then went to the house of a guy that the Nicaraguan girl knew, who turned out to be a painter, and had plenty of paint ready to use, so we all got a new look.

Right in front of the house, some people started playing and singing, and invited us to join them. Free drinks are given all over the city, normally a bit of beer or shots of home made corn liquor (chicha).

There was a kid there who was killing it. He had this mean face on all the time, but looked so cute. He had a drum, bit didn’t give a crap about the rhythm, he played whenever he felt so. It was a lot of fun to watch.

With the evening, the temperatures started dropping, and soon enough we were kind of freezing, so we decided to call it for the day and get back to the restaurant.

We knew that the way back would be a bit of a pain, as when you are so damn cold, you don’t really take very well to get splashed with cold water. And well, bad luck wanted it, while on the way, a pretty drunk guy emptied his water gun on Kasia. She then suffered this unique transformation she undergoes every now and then when the anger accumulates in her overflows. I call the person that then appears Lieutenant Pikuta. Basically her eyes turned red, she looked at the guy and with a voice that could be heard hundreds of miles away she screamed: “!!!!!Hace frio idiota!!!!!!!” (It’s cold you idiot!!!!). The acoustic wave pushed the guy few steps back, who immediately put his gun down. Another guy came to take him away, and we kept moving, this time a bit faster.

Cecilia told us that in front of the restaurant there was a hostel that rented rooms per hours, so we could book one to take a shower and get cleaned up. What we forgot is that during carnival everything is fully booked, as that hostel was. So as plan B, we decided to buy some baby towels. Between that and some water that we boiled at the restaurant it took us almost 3 hours to get rid of the paint.

During the nights the party goes on, and as one guy told us, they basically don’t sleep for a week, fighting with paint during the day and with their alcohol tolerance during the nights. The main drink these days is one they call “calentito”. There are plenty of people selling it in plastic bottles of 1,5 liter for 5 soles. So it’s cheap and some of them pretty strong too, as they are to keep people warm during the cold nights. People bring their own instruments, make circles and start singing popular songs, it’s a pretty cool atmosphere.

The next day was the parade, where all the different neighborhoods present their dresses in an ever lasting show. This day nobody paints you, but water is still everywhere. Feeling a bit sick from the last night, we were really hoping and trying not to get wet, but it’s almost impossible. Specially for Kasia. A little blonde was too much of a price for the locals. This day is also the day for little perverts, as I noticed that most of the kids, not that small kids at all, just aimed at girls asses and boobs. And so did many adults, who would later laugh their asses out together. So yep, what any other day would get those guys to spend a night in jail probably, during carnival it’s just part of fun (for the guys, not the girls).

We watched the parade for like 4 hours, and a drunk guy that started talking to me in English, despite my efforts to explain him I was Spanish, he told me that we weren’t even at the half of the show. Now all of the costumes are really nice, but you can just watch so much of it, so we decided to head back and catch the bus that was leaving at 17h. We ran, zigzagging in the street to avoid getting wet, we did pretty good in that regard, took a taxi and said bye to Cajamarca, a beautiful colonial city worth visiting any time of the year.


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