By Isabel Strebe, Marketing and Communications Intern

On the final days of October, all of Ollantaytambo comes together for a weekend of music, dancing, and celebrating cultural pride in the town plaza. This year marked the 123rd anniversary of Ollanta’s official founding. As a unique town, both geographically and culturally, there is a lot of love for the ‘Last Living Inca City’. As a foreigner who has lived in a big U.S. city my whole life, it was interesting to observe how small town Peruvians celebrate.

Days before the festival, the preparations began. A big stage was set up in the main plaza and sound equipment was hauled in. You could feel the excitement mounting throughout the town as the festivities approached.

By the time the celebrations started, the plaza was transformed. Usually a gathering place for tourists, it was now packed tightly with locals. During the day on Saturday and Sunday, spectators watched traditional dances performed in the square. For example, in the days leading up to the festival I was in Patacancha, a community an hour up the mountain that is home to two of the women’s cooperatives we work with here at Awamaki. The children there were practicing dances for hours each day to perform in Ollanta during the weekend. Besides the dancing, townspeople also participated in celebrations by marching in a parade through the tiny square. It was really cool to see people dressed in different traditional clothing and was a reminder that even in a town as small as this one, there is a lot of diverse lifestyles and historical experiences.

As lively as the days were, the evenings were when the party really started. Bands played live in the plaza and people gathered for food, drink and dancing. It felt like the whole town was out celebrating which was a refreshing change of scenery for a place usually full of tourists. While Ollanta normally lacks nightlife, townspeople don’t hold back when it comes to festivals. The usual tranquil vibe of the town changed as people crowded on bleachers and gathered on the streets. Even on Sunday night, when I was safely tucked into my bed on the other side of town, I could hear the music still blasting in the plaza at three in the morning.

I am thankful I was able to share in this celebration. Small town pride is something very unfamiliar to me, especially in a country as foreign, to me, as Peru. I have a new appreciation for the close-knit, communal vibe of that lifestyle. I also liked how the anniversary was something everyone could take part in, despite existing cultural differences. I think festivals like Ollanta’s anniversary are part of what hold places like this together and preserve the uniqueness of the town’s history. Not only is it a chance for people to express appreciation for their home, but it also strengthens the local unity by bringing people together for a fun time. Plus, it’s a great excuse to indulge in a beer and a hot plate of rich food!