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Corongo, northwest in the Callejon de Conchucos valley, is about 6 hours by bus from Huaraz and a most charming town. Unharmed by the 1970 earthquake it has an impressive church whose saint San Pedro would be the center of the yearly festival in June 28 if the beautifully dressed female dancers with large flower crowns called "pallas" wouldn't be steeling the show.

"We are a poor town, but perhaps with a big heart", shyly mumbles waiter Alejandro Mesa while serving us caldo de gallina in a friendly restaurant in the Plaza de Armas.

Castellano

Corongo is also big in rustic colonial architecture and in traditional tales. The now 92 years old painter writer and former professor Julio Collazos Romero welcomes us in the garden patio of his mansion just one block from the central plaza. The walls of the living room are filled with paintings of him and his son, most of them images of the streets Corongo and daily scenes from the nearby countryside. Ever since don Julio moved from Huaraz to Corongo in the 1940's he collected the stories he heared from old Coronginos and published them in the 1980's in his Cuentas, Leyendas y Tradicones de Corongo. It is a well written booklet full with traditional tales which show that the beauty of Corongo has always attracted poetic minds. >>>>>


Don Julio lectures with youthful enthusiasm: "The origin of the "pallas" dancers dates back to the times of the Incas that threatened to massacre Corongo about 500 years ago. But the inhabitants of the region knew that the Incas were easily impressed by female beauty so they sent a group of young women beautifully dressed with a chest full of colorful stones. This delegation was to announce that Corongo was willing to accept the power of the Incas and worship the inti sun as their new god. The Incas then announced that the Coronginos would be spared and that the women would be respected and granted the high palla class position. The design of the dress worn at festivals today is derived from the original dress of the girls that went to face the Inca troops".


The only palla that welcomes us today is a large white statue of that tradtionally dressed woman in the plaza de armas: We are not in Corongo during it's big festival on June 28. But we are being treated very welcoming by almost everybody else we meet in the small streets that are covered with the same white and black stone patterns that are depicted on a painting in the living room of don Julio painted decades ago. Corongo's colonial buildings and classical Spanish town grid is declared cultural heritage and the town has so far been successful in protecting it's ancient feel. We can only hope that it will be able to continue protecting it as we found a few illegal construction sites in progress where the adobe and woodwork tradition is being violated. >>>>>


The local highschool also tries hard to teach students respect for the local customs. We watched a couple of traditional dance performances when we coincidentally passed by the modern school built just outside town. The San Pedro high school is also trying to teach students local crafts. We found one classroom converted into a breeding lab for guinea pigs. Corongino teacher Laurencio Nilo Lezama is teaching his pupils traditional pottery skills using millenium old models. In a way the current inhabitants of Corongo can be seen as guardsmen of old Corongo. Although it seems surprising considering the size of the town the population size is only about one thousand. The majority of the houses are empty and preserved by families living in Lima that only return for the yearly festival.


No wonder that everbody keeps reminding us to return to Corongo on June 28. The pictures they show us from this year's celebrating crowd indeed look attractive. But one Corongino working for the municipality has a critical note for those who only return once a year; "During the festival we often hear complaints about the poverty of Corongo and the lack of facilities. We would hope that instead of complaining some of the old Corongo families would return to help us improve the conditions and let the town again bloom to it's potential."
Some people already do. The restaurant in the Plaza de Armas where waiter Alejandro works is run by Nelly, a Corongina who lives in Lima only during it's 3 sunny months, enjoying the hot springs and the nice climate in Corongo during the rest of the year.>>>>>



Maybe some families that moved away to Lima could convert their beautiful homes into hostels to let the Coronginos that stayed behind benefit during the rest of the year from their luxury position. Although the municipality has almost finished the construction of a small rustic hotel next to the church, the town could use some extra beds if travelers discover it's extraordinary charm.

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