On Oct. 9, citizens throughout Peru turned out to choose their local and provincial officials (in other words, mayors, aldermen, and state governors). And, lucky for us, Oct. 9 was also the day we arrived in the Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo — to hordes of Andean folks who had come in from their mountain villages to cast their ballots.
Also known as Quechuas, the Andean people trace their roots to the original Inca empire. Their brilliant clothing signifies the village they’re from and the position they hold in their local society, including marital status. Quechua is their first language, but many also speak Spanish.
As fate would have it, our hotel was situated on the same cobblestone street as the school that was doubling as the polling place. Normally open to car traffic, the street was closed and a party atmosphere had taken over, with stands serving food and drink and hordes of folks out enjoying their day in town and each other’s company. Since our taxi couldn’t come up the street, we schlepped our bags halfway up the block through the throngs of people. The two gringos and all their luggage must have looked pretty odd to the local folks!
Here are a few fun facts about the Peruvian election process:
* Voting is mandatory. People who don’t vote are subject to a fine (on a sliding scale), which is collected whenever the citizen applies for or takes advantage of social services.
* Election Day is always held on a Sunday, to make it as easy as possible for people to vote. It’s doubly convenient for the Quechua people, since Sunday is their typical day to come to town.
* There’s a huge plethora of political parties from which to choose, unlike the two-party system we’re used to in the states. How do they ever decide?
* It’s illegal for bars, restaurants and shops to sell alcohol beginning at noon on the Saturday before, and continuing until the polls close on Sunday. One taxi driver told us they want to make sure folks make the most informed decisions. We found this out the hard way on Saturday in Cusco, when the tapas restaurant we’d been looking forward to wouldn’t sell us a glass of wine. (Tapas without wine? So sad. But somehow we survived on delicious mint-infused lemonade!)
* Each polling place is secured by a sizable contingent of armed police. We’re not sure of the reason for this. To keep order? Prevent election interference or fraud? Quell demonstrations or campaigning?
* Garishly painted campaign signs touting parties and candidates are everywhere – on the sides of buildings, on walls and fences. Do they ask the property owners first? Do they pay the owners for the use of their buildings? Who cleans it up when the election is all over? Another Peruvian mystery!
Here are a few more pics, because we simply couldn’t stop taking them of these proud and lovely people. And speaking of elections – U.S. peeps, don’t forget to vote!!!