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.
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 “Grand Parade” takes place on the 9th February & is the height of the festivities. The groups, which paraded in the stadium, the bands, together with many more groups from the neighborhoods, all return for a street procession infront of the Virgin, who will watch over them from a small tent erected especially for her, on the main street.
The entire city turns out, either taking part in, or watching over the 5 kilometre parade through the city, starting from the shores of Titicaca & ending at the cities cemetery.
This takes between 4-6 hours depending on the crowd. Groups tiring and not putting in 100% are jeered, while those doing well receive food, beer & home made beer called Chicha, passed out from the crowd. That usually gets an extra special show, until one of the officials tries to get them moving down the street again.
This year there was a noticeable lack of foreign tourists, as the floods of Cusco & closure of Machu Picchu had obviously affected many people’s plans. In the two weeks I only saw about 25-35 foreigners, which is a huge shame, as this is such a huge & colourful event, & so well worth visiting.
The final event of Candelaria, is a music parade with some 1,500 musicians & dancers, consisting of 15 sicuris groups, consisting of about 100 people in each band. The sicuris is a type of traditional panpipe, consisting of two rows of reed tubes 8 in the front row & 7 in the lower second row.
“Most of the sicuris groups come from the city of Puno, with only a few from different regions, & together contribute to the enlargement of this art, & promoting the native culture more & more” reported Yenny Silva Quispe, the event organizer and president of the Regional Federation of Folklore and Culture of Puno.
Although the Virgen de la Candelaria festival officially ended on Wednesday 10th with the sicuris parade, there are always groups that can been seen & heard in the main streets during the following weekend.
This year too, with carnival being on the following weekend, the celebrations simply continues into one huge three week party – Massive!