In Huacho, a small town in Peru, El Festival del Cuy is celebrated every year in July. The streets get packed, the bands play music and locals come together with foreigners to pay homage to a local hero: the Guinea Pig.
The Andeans domesticated these cute rodents in pre-colonial times. Guinea pigs made good pets and, on special occasions, yummy dinners. They taste like a mix of a pig and a rabbit.
Today, Peruvians are estimated to eat about 65 million guinea pigs every year, usually roasted and served with potatoes and cassava. In order to meet demand, more and more farms in Huacho have started breeding this hairy, friendly-faced animal.
The Guinea Pig Festival was created in 2005 to encourage landowners and farmers to meet, to close agreements, and to boost the export of the animal to the rest of the country. As in any other Latin American festival, there is food, drink, traditional costumes and dance. Unlike other festivals, the Huacho festival features racing and weighing competitions to find the fastest and heaviest guinea pig of the year.
No matter who wins, most competitors eventually end up in a pot and then on a plate. A guinea pig at this hungry festival has only one chance for mercy. It has to win the most prestigious award: first place in the guinea pig fashion show.
Women in ponchos and hats style their guinea pigs with dresses and make up to prepare the animals for the catwalk. Each is given a name and a character: a miner, a peasant, a cholita or a folk singer.
This last was the stage persona of Yasmina del Amor, a chubby, white-and-brown guinea pig who participated in last year’s Huacho Guinea Pig Fashion Show. Hand-stitched by Yasmina’s owner, the winning pig’s dress was made of old skirts, specifically customized to fit her slender form. "She played a folk singer to perfection," her owner declared after being awarded the first prize.
While Yasmina’s career appears to be taking off, it may not last very long. Last year, a black-and-white competitor named Wendy who had gained notoriety for her interpretations of local Youtube sensation Wendy Sulca, went straight from the catwalk to a simmer. Fame is transient. And the calendar is full of family dinners before the next festival.