A day out in Unchus: The Yunza tradition - a tree full of presents!
As soon as we sat down, I knew wearing jeans was a bad idea. Even at 9.30am, the heat was already searing and it would only get hotter. That’s life living in the highlands - it’s a dry kind of heat that can be unforgiving.
That’s the cool thing about working as a TEFL teacher in Peru, I often get to see events that otherwise as a traveller who was just passing through may miss out on. Working for the language centre of Casa de Guías in Huaraz means I get to invited to events out in the community, like this one in Unchus. It was a chance to learn about the Yunza tradition in Peru.
Unchus is a small town about 15 minutes outside of Huaraz. It’s one of the small towns you’ll pass as you head to Pitek, the start of the Lake Churup and Shallap hikes. Catching a collectivo is the cheapest option.
What is the Yunza tradition? Think of it like a giant piñata, except it’s actually a tree. The tree is chopped and brought down from the mountains, which is then adorned with colourful ‘presents’ such like laundry baskets, baskets and tubs (for real!). Sometimes you get baskets, boots and even the odd fruit. Watching the tree get decorated can often be hilarious - as the tree gets fuller, it becomes top heavy and it’s a race against time (and the wind) to finish decorating before it topples over!
People take turns to chop down the tree, and as soon as the ‘presents’ hit the ground, it becomes a giant scramble to grab what you want. Need a new laundry basket? You better be quick! I’ve been told that the person who chops down the tree will be in charge of organising it for the following year.
The tradition is celebrated during carnaval - a two week of celebration that’s held towards the end of February and March. It’s a fusion of the Spanish colonial religious influence as well as traditional Incan beliefs.
A reflection of Peru’s largely Catholic identity and desire to hold steadfast to its indigenous culture.
Grassroots events like the one in Unchus is a great way to experience authentic Peruvian culture. Culture continually evolves, and it’s important as a traveller to honour indigenous traditions by not only observing, but to learn from and be actively a part of it.
Ronna la Exploradora is Ronna Grace Funtelar - a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and poet currently working and traveling in Peru.
A woman with a curious mind who lives for hiking mountains, outdoor adventures and eating pizza. She has a unique brand of optimism that
is a combination of her great enthusiasm for life and cups of coffee during