The Fiesta de San Juan, or St. John the Baptist, is a huge deal in Shilla. For the community, it is a time not only of celebration but of harvest and prosperity. Those who work their fingers to the bone throughout the year are able to cut loose on one day only: the Fiesta. Shilla is about a half hour car ride from Carhuaz, where I’m stationed, so we put our names in at the local “taxi” rental. It’s this giant garage where car drivers will pull in, fit as many people as they can into the car, and head out again. You pay in cash wherever and whenever you get off. Today, it’s a full car–and by full, I mean full. There aren’t really laws about car capacity like there are in the US. So there is one person in the passenger seat, four in the backseat, and me, Grace, Isabella (the phD student helping with our program), and Isabella’s friend are in the trunk. It is a small trunk. This trunk should, ideally, fit two suitcases stacked on top of one another.
The road up to Shilla is narrow, dusty, and winding along the mountain, so we get to enjoy pleasantly dangerous and mildly nauseating lurching for the whole ride. Luckily, because we are so cramped, we can’t pitch around too much. It ended up being good practice for the scene we arrived at, which was, if possible, more crowded. Everyone was roaring drunk, and two complete brass bands were in a play-off while women in puyenderras danced vino with their partners on the streets. The entire town was out on the main plaza, passing around huge bottles to everyone in sight. A couple brave souls were trying to sell street nuts and popcorn, and a few carts made, I’m sure, a killing on shaved ice.
We are wearing skirts, so we get asked to dance. Vino is strange, a kind of rhythmic, energetic hopping. You aren’t supposed to meet your partner’s eyes–you look past them or at the ground at their feet. It’s very bizarre, and hard, too, since I want to catch his eye and grin, but he won’t look at me. I suppose it’s to put the emphasis of the gaze on people’s feet–but I’m not sure I want his focus on my awkward stumbling.
After the bands finish, we all dance up the road–it is a long road–to the maiordomo’s house–the host of the fiesta, where we will be fed. It is exhausting. Even walking up this road, with the altitude, would leave me out of breath. But this is dancing, hopping, parading, spinning dancing, and the Quechua woman who grabs me likes to show me off to everyone, so she keeps dancing me in large, sweeping circles: up the hill, spin down the hill, up the hill again. It’s two steps forward, one step back the whole way up, and we are both exhausted and sweaty when we finally reach the house. I learn her name–it’s Patricia–and meet her husband. We start exchanging vocabulary in Quechua and English, and I’m fed a delicious vegetable and potato soup. When they bring out the cuy–guinea pigs–I slip mine to Patricia.
When Grace and I need to use the bathroom, we find a dark corner of the street and squat, using our skirts as cover. We dance, drink, and socialize late into the night. It’s probably one of the most unique and invigorating things I’ve ever done.