Each February, thousands of tourists from all over the world flock to Cajamarca, Peru to experience Carnaval. Cajamarca is known for their annual carnaval, one of the largest and most important festivals in the country, and one of the most famous carnivals in the world. To the people of Cajamarca, it’s the most important time of the year. It’s a time of song, dance, and water balloon fights.
Fortunately for me, I live in Cajamarca and I’m only about an hour and a half from the city where the main festivities take place. Wanting to experience Carnaval for myself, I spent the weekend in Cajamarca city where I was joined by several other Peace Corps volunteers.
Saturday morning thousands of people flooded the streets, each armed with buckets of different colored paint, water guns, and buckets of water. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, we put on some old clothes, filled some buckets and water guns up with paint and headed out to join the multitude.We left the main plaza where we were staying and into the “paint zone” where everyone around us was throwing paint and water at each other. I walked through the streets, armed with my own water gun filled with purple paint and sprayed anyone that came near me. This, however, did not keep me safe from people from attacking me with paint. Before long, I had paint in my ears, hair, everywhere. Some people were more aggressive than others. One guy got my in a headlock while his friends ripped off my hat and smeared green paint in my hair and all over my face. I was not pleased. Fortunately, one of the other volunteers was kind enough to use his water bottle to help me wash the paint out of my burning eyes. By the time we returned to the hotel there was not a single patch of skin or clothes that wasn’t covered in paint.
The rest of the weekend was full of parades and dancing that we watched from out hotel balcony, but for me the most memorable parade was on Monday. After the all day parade on Sunday, I was feeling a little paraded out so along with some other volunteers, I decided to skip the parade and head back to my community. Before heading back, however, we wanted to get coffee and somehow decided it was a good idea to go to Starbucks at the mall, in the exact location where the parade was happening. Since the roads near the mall were all blocked off, the taxi driver dropped us of several blocks away. As soon as we stepped foot out of the cab we were immediately attacked by a firing of water balloons. Trying to dodge them the best we could, we began to make our way towards the mall, all of our bags and luggage in hand. In order to get to the mall, however, we needed to cut through the parade.
We found a small opening in the crowd where we cut through into the street and ended up smack in the middle of the parade. Once in the middle of the parade, we became a prime water balloon target. “Get the gringos!” I heard someone shout. Seconds later, I was pelted with two water balloons in the back. We continued to walk through the parade, in the opposite direction, trying to stay out of everybody’s way as best we could. I somehow lost my friends along the way but continued anyway. Then from the crowd I heard someone shout “Sarita!!!” I turned to look to find my host family sitting up in the bleachers watching the parade. I smiled at them and before I could wave I was hit in the face with a water balloon. As I continued to make my way through the parade I heard someone else calling my name. I stopped to look and saw my host aunts from Chilete sitting in another section of the bleachers. I waved to them and then was pelted in the back of the head by another water balloon. I put my head down and continued to trudge on, weaving in and out of dancers and performers.
In what seemed like an eternity later I arrived at the mall, completely soaked from head to toe, eager to have some Starbucks and use the wifi. It looked like I had just gotten out of the shower and I was shivering from the cold. A hot coffee from Starbucks would’ve made it all worthwhile, but when I neared the entrance I found that not only was Starbucks closed, but so was everything else, as the entire mall was without electricity. Feeling defeated, I went upstairs to the food court area where I found the other volunteers venting at some tables. I sat down with them and together we plotted our next move.
Trying to figure out how to leave the mall without having to walk through the parade again, we had the brilliant idea of going out the back door of the mall, thinking that we could get to a side street and bypass the parade entirely. This, however, was not the case.
As we exited out the back door, it locked behind us and we found ourselves on a long unpaved road surrounded by farms and cows that had no end in site. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse it began to rain. At that point, however, all we could really do was laugh at the situation, so that’s what we did.
We walked around back to the front of mall and braced ourselves as we walked back through the parade where embraced the storm of water balloons that came our way.