A Bittersweet Final Day in Cusco

My adventures in Cusco truly did not end until I boarded my plane to New York.  My final day in the city commenced with 7am mass at the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas.  The beautiful cathedral is the focal point of the city center and I had admired it throughout my trip.  It took until my final hours in the city for me to finally experience Sunday mass in the cathedral.  The breathtaking mass was of course led in Spanish, the first Spanish mass I had ever attended, and I was excited to realize I could follow along and fully understand the priest’s homily.  Sometimes I struggle to focus and fully understand during English masses so this was a really exciting feat.

My last day in Cusco also happened to be the day of Inti Raymi, a city-wide celebration of the Incan sun god (Inti).  The celebration commenced at Qorikancha where hundreds of performers danced in worship of the sun god.  I was amazed by the volume of people and the coordination of this performance.  Even after consulting my host family, we still couldn’t figure out how all of the performers learned their routines and formations without being able to rehearse at Qorikancha beforehand.

The Inca making his way from Qorikancha to the Plaza de Armas during Inti Raymi

From there, the performers proceeded to the Plaza de Armas, followed closely by all of the spectators.  The entire city center was shut down for this celebration and the waves of people trailing the progression dominated the streets.  The celebration in the Plaza de Armas was followed by another movement of all the performers and spectators to Sacsayhuaman.  During Incan times, the culmination of the festival at Sacsayhuaman included human and animal sacrifices to worship the sun god.  The modern continuation of Inti Raymi has of course done away with the human sacrifice component.  However, the reenactment of an animal sacrifice is one of the central aspects of the celebration.

The excitement that permeated the city leading up to and during Inti Raymi was infectious.  Everyone from Gabi to Abuela waited in anticipation for the celebration; on my way to mass at 7am that morning, the streets were already lined with people waiting for the 9am start.  It was amazing to see how strong the influence of Incan culture still is on the city and people of Cusco.  Their connection with traditions of the past was inspiring, and unlike anything I’d seen in the US.  Looking back, this was one of my favorite aspects of life in Cusco.  The city is now heavily Catholic, but the strong influence of Incan culture and religion is undeniable.

My view of Qorikancha at the start of Inti Raymi.  Look at the crowds!

I am thankful that I got to spend my final day in Cusco as I did.  My early start to the day helped me make the most of my final hours in such an amazing city.  The ability to see Inti Raymi firsthand was the best concluding experience I could have imagined.  It really helped solidify my understanding of the historical significance of the city I had spent the last 6 weeks in.  The goodbyes with my host family were the hardest part of my final day, but I’m still holding out hope that I’ll be able to visit Cusco in the future and see them again.  I am blown away by how fast my time in Cusco went but am thankful for all of the experiences I had and people I met.  In terms of my language acquisition process, I know undoubtedly that this trip was a pivotal moment for me in terms of my conversational abilities and confidence in the language.