The first 2 weeks of February sees one of the largest fiestas in South America in Puno, next lake Titicaca - the spectacular Virgen de la Candelaria.
The event is really split into two parts, but as well as the organized events, spontaneous groups of musicians & dancers can & do spring up at any time & anywhere in the town.
The religious event dates back to 1700’s when the Spanish rulers were under attack from an Inca uprising lead by Tupac Amaru. The worried locals took the statue of the Virgin de la Candelaria out from the church for a long procession round the town, coupled with much dancing & lots of loud music, which lasted right into the night.
The story goes that this put off the immanent attack, as the rebels left worried & confused as to just how powerful & how many local people were actually in Puno. Of course in Puno, this was seen as a Miracle & now the Virgin is venerated & held high as the Patron of Puno & has bee celebrated ever since.
Today, the churches in Puno are decorated from ceiling to floor with huge cloth banners & thousands of flowers, & the centerpiece, the surprisingly small statue of the Virgin, receives rich & colourful new clothes for each year’s new fiesta.
On the 2nd of Februay, the Virgin is taken out again for a long procession round the town, as in the original legend, followed by a large band & a huge crowd. That morning, all the streets along the route are prepared for the event with huge colourfull images, constructed out of coloured wood & sawdust, or for greater respect & impact, completely out of flowers & chopped up plants.
It’s hugely disrespectful to walk on these images, as this is reserved for the virgin, who blesses each images with her touch, as she is carried over it.
Also as the virgin passes over each image, flower petals are thrown over the statue, as further blessings.
I estimated there were in the region of 5,000 people involved during the procession, but this really is small compared to the main event, the colourful folk festival, which completely takes over the town & is just incredible. This properly starts on the next Sunday following the procession, with a huge “Dance & Costume” competition in the city’s stadium Torres Belon.
The evening saw the first street parade with bands & dancers, passing the cathedral, followed by some amazing fireworks despite the rain.