Experiencing el Señor de Huanca in Peru
Sunday morning 5 o’clock, way too early, but time to get up. The 14th of September for many Peruvians is a special day. En masse, people from Cusco and surroundings visit El Senor (the Lord) of Huanca. Huanca is a small town close to Cusco. Here, high up in the mountains, an apparition of Christ happened. Every year thousands participate in a pilgrimage to visit the sacred place. The hike starts Saturday night, takes 6 hours and ends up at the exact spot Christ appeared. I decided, just like many others, to not hike the whole night, but to go by bus.
Arriving to the bus station in Cusco I was amazed by the amount of buses lined up to bring us to Huanca. Even this early in the morning there was a small crowd of people getting ready to depart. As soon as one bus filled up, people moved to the next one in line. Bus by bus left Cusco. Now, the ride on itself was quite an experience. The first half hour was okay, but coming closer to Huanca it felt as if we were part of a parade.
Traffic jammed, cars decorated as if it was carnival, not going faster than walking pace, minutes of standing still, then continuing to drive for a few seconds, I decided to get off the bus and walk the last bit to Huanca. The ayudante told me that the day before it took them 5 hours to get out of the crowd. A lot of people joined and continued on foot. On our way we met a lot of locals trying to make some money out of the event. Vendors selling candles, images of Jesus, rosaries and other religious items. Walking past the stuck traffic, I noticed even very old people that couldn’t walk well, were climbing up the steep road. Maybe they saw this suffering as an ode to Jesus, I thought.
Zigzagging past all the very colorfully decorated cars, we entered a mountain path. Ahead of us we saw a line of people ascending the mountain. To me joining this line of people felt as if we were participating in the pilgrimage, even though I cheated and came by bus. After walking for more or less an hour through a beautiful and sun filled landscape we reached the sacred place. Now, this is where it gets crazy. The amount of people was incredible, trying to get inside the church, almost impossible. Once inside, it was hard to stay on my feet due to all the incoming and outgoing people.
After attending a mass and struggling to get out of the church I went further uphill. Here I found people bathing in water. Also there was an incredibly long line of people waiting to collect some of the Holy water. Most of them were not humbly filling up just a little bottle of water. No, huge jerry cans were brought to the spot. For me, as a non-religious person, it seemed a bit like mass hysteria yet very interesting and an amazing cultural experience in Peru.
Descending again, I walked past a huge number of parked cars. Apparently it is a tradition to have your car blessed while here. For the people that weren’t able to bring their car up to Huanca there were miniature toy cars to buy and have blessed. Also along the way there were spots to light candles. Here again, no humility. People drew images of cars and houses with the wax of the candles. Items they desired to have.
Heading back to the road, If found many food stalls. A great part of this visit. Delicious snacks and meals to choose from. Ice-cream, cuy (guinea pig), rice with egg or chicken, palm tree water, chicha morada (a local, non-alcoholic drink), a whole range of options Peruvian street food. After enjoying a nice hamburger I strolled along the souvenir stalls and headed back to the buses. Exhausted from getting up early and quite a bit of walking I was happy to immediately find a bus back to Cusco.