The first thing I see in a man wearing a hat saying “fragil”; it’s only as we get closer that it is revealed as a hat cut from a cardboard box.
The brim is a large circle with the edges turned up. Atop the brim is a towering stove pipe of cardboard and below this unusual headwear the man’s face is obscured behind a roughly made mask; his nose is long and slightly curved, like a Pinocchio nose.
He is not alone, there are 12 to 15 similarly hatted and masked men dressed in long coats and carrying whips. They are dancing around a pile of brushwood to the sound of drums and pipes.
Around the edges of the dance arena colourfully dressed women sit watching , their wide multi layered skirts and ponchos are a riot of colour in the otherwise graying evening scene of the dancing men and the dusty ground.
In the lake communities of Lago Titicaca, families of high rank dedicate festivals to particular saints and subsidise a party for the locals. We have been invited to join in. First, at the house of the community president, we are dressed in gaily coloured local costumes; vivid azuls and fushias, vibrant red, cadmium yellows.
Then we follow his daughter, attired in the same costume, through fields and over dry rock walls like the Pied Piper, where llamas and sheep raise a curious eye and a stray dog keeps us company for our kilometre walk through the twilight to the beachfront of the lake.
The cloths are thick woven and intricately embroidered – thank goodness because the waning day is freezing cold even though we’ve on the water’s edge. But the beach is 3,600m above sea level on the edges of the world’s biggest navigable lake. Lake Titicaca is180km long and 70km wide and cross from Peru, where we are dressing in local costume to Bolivia.
The dancing has stopped now and the men are drinking beers. Every so often, one of the drinking dancers emits a villainous laugh. I’m told that it’s the dance of the bad men – the long noses represent lawyers – and others who take advantage.
What it has to do with celebrating St Peter’s Day is not clear.
The festival continues and the dancing men light the fire while we walk back through the fields in the fading twilight.
The festival continues and the dancing men light the fire while we walk back through the fields to our inner in the fast fading twilight.
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