I know I haven't updated what I have done for a few weeks, but I have to update you on my most recent experience in South America... “Tinkuy Ritual Fighting”
In Machu, which is north of Potosi, they carry out annually the “Festival of the Cross”, whose origins date back to the pre-Inca times. In this festival they give thanks to the Cross and Christ, as well as Andean Gods and Mother Earth to celebrate the annual harvest.
The Festival is the coming together of 6000 camesinos from various communities, whose way of giving thanks is with war dances, original music – panpipes and charangos and traditional dances all the while demonstrating their traditional dress. The most important cultural expression is the Tinkuy or fight between people and communities, a way of blessing the earth with human blood. Alcohol and chica (local drink) are said to be an essential part of the rituals because the give the participants more energy and valour to be able to enter the ritual fighting.
I was in Potosi, and had no idea of the Tinkuy festival.. in fact I only came to Potosi to visit and active mineral mine (which I will tell you about later). However, on the bus to Potosi got chatting to a few other gringos about the festival. We couldn’t believe our luck that we were in Potosi at the time of the festival and decided to go to it. We organised the trip ourselves as oppose to paying big bucks and so hired a 4x4 and a driver for 20% of the tour costs! We drove in to Machu, the night before the other villages arrive and we had to find place to stay.. very difficult, as its not catered for tourists and what there was available had been booked by the tour companies in Potosi. We ended up staying in some locals house, and she offered us two rooms – one for the boys, and one for the girls! The boys room, had two straw mattresses and a lama skin, covered with a plastic sheet.. so that was my bed for the evening! Not much to write about for the rest of the evening, but the following day is when it got going! The other villagers arrive from 3am onwards, to the main square in Machu and start the singing, dancing and drinking. Villagers continue to arrive to midday.. all the time, they are all drinking and dancing around the square. The dance around in communities (numbers of small villages), round the square, in and out of the streets. As the day goes on, the friction between the communities grows, eventually leading to blows. The fighting starts of quite timid, pushing and kicking… but soon grows to full on fists, whips and eventually stone throwing.. and no prisoners are taken (that goes for innocent watchers too). With the stone throwing scenes, you see people getting hit in the head and falling down like they have been shot , trust me a nice sight.. while we were there, we saw people lying on the floor like they were dead (and I am not exaggerating) .. blood pouring our of different places in the head etc.. The whole festival has only one doctor on site, and with all that carnage going on he’s a busy man! There are only 16 police on hand to control the crowds, and the only weapon they have is tear gas to disperse the fighting communities and during the day they are forced to use this measure. Apart from seeing the horrific, barbaric violence, I had one other awful experience- at one stage when the fighting was out of control, tear gas was fired in to the crowd. What would happen is that one community, would pick up the gas and throw it towards the fighting rival to cause them more harm.. but in this case, the tear gas actually hit me! No damages was being hit by the canister. My initial reaction was to pick this canister up and get it as far as possible from me.. not wanting to pick which community to throw it towards, I just threw it as far as I could.. as I turned around to make a run for cover, another canister lands at my feet.. this time all I could do was to kick it as far as possible.. which unfortunately for me wasn’t that far. By this time, by eyes for red and steaming with pain and was coughing my lungs out. I ran in to a shop with some other tourists, and some how made it to the back where I could wash my eyes out, and try and catch my breath.. I can honestly say I have never experienced anything like that before, and can say that nor do I, was awful! Having got back to my feet, and back to the square me and the other 2 that I was with had decided we had seen enough, and go back to the house and make a quick exit. To get to the house, meant going along two sides of the square, and one alley where a lot of the dancing and subsequent fighting takes place.. we had no choice, but luckily for us there was a lull in the dancing and we made it back. Because, our driver was worried about the jeep, he moved it which meant we had to grab our rucksacks and run the gauntlet of drunks, bodies on the floor and leg it to safety.. At the time, I can honestly say I was quite scared but looking back on it I can honestly say it was a unique one off experience which I am happy not go through again! On a lighter note, there was some humour in my day (at the expense of someone else).. I got chatting to a freelance photographer, who was out there to take pics.. and one thing the locals don’t like is having gringos take pictures. When there was a fracas, this guy would be in the middle of it to take the best shots he could.. one time, all I remember is seeing him being chased down the street by an old man whipping him..