Bolivian Wrestling

Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
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Trip End May 04, 2007


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, November 19, 2006

I'm back, and as promised I will attempt to make some sense out of these pictures and videos. I am convinced, however, that I will just sound insane and that nothing will seem very funny. Just try to believe that it was REALLY worth seeing.

Around 3:30 pm, we all got into our private mini-van with our self-described "part-time translator" Jessie and headed to El Alto where the show was held. Jessie was great--he spoke perfect English, was really fun, and also happened to be an international guide with GAP travel. Why he was leading a group of tourists to a really trashy and ridiculous wrestling match is beyond me. Whatever, I didn't ask questions. On the way up, we picked up beer and candy (fight essentials) and stopped at a great look out point to snap some pictures of La Paz. I had been wanting to check out this view but didn't feel like dealing with all the hassle (not to mention the fact that El Alto is really sketchy), so I was pretty psyched that it was included in our evening activity. The vista as you can see was really impressive!

We got to the auditorium around 4:45 pm. It was a mob scene near the doors, and I was relieved to see that we were definitely the only gringos there. Jessie and the others were giving me some more details on what we were going to see, and the idea of watching Bolivian women and midgets fighting for an audience of gringos really did not sit well with me. Okay, a local audience did not make it acceptable either and of course we were there, but still, the local crowd somehow made it slightly less offensive. I guess not too many tourists know about this--I certainly didn't see it advertised anywhere. The stadium seats cost 10 bol, and our front row seats (plastic chairs that we carried in to form a single row around the ring) were 40 bol so I suppose the extra 30 bol that I paid were for transport, snacks (water, popcorn), and the fact that we got "VIP" treatment and were immediately let in before the hordes of locals as soon as we arrived. I definitely would have been a bit intimidated had I just arrived and tried to get in on my own, so I think it was worth it. Here we are in our special front row seats. While we waited for the show to start, we jumped in the ring to take a group picture. Everyone started whistling and shouting at us--all in good fun though, no hostility.

The show lasted a LONG time and was basically like a Bolivian version of World Wrestling Federation or whatever it is called these days, but a lot more random and messed up. I was a bit concerned about the fact that there were TONS of kids in the audience, as the show was really violent and essentially promoted domestic violence, but what can you do. Definitely made American TV look tame! During the first half, all of these different guys dressed up in costumes (Batman, a ninja turtle etc) fought each other in the ring. Apparently they fight every Sunday, which I suppose is why the audience was familiar with each character and treated them like minor celebrities. Much of the fighting was pretty staged (although I am SURE they were still hurting each other), and for the most part was fun to watch. A guy dressed up as a ghost came out first, went around flipping the audience off, and then stole Frasier's drink (he was in our group) and repeatedly took huge sips and spewed it all over us and other audience members. Definitely set the tone for the evening, as it ended up being a bit treacherous, or at least messy, sitting in the front row! Here is a shot from the first fight, which we watched while "Ice, Ice Baby" blasted over the speakers on repeat. I particularly enjoyed watching the ninja turtle dance around to it. Here is another picture from the second fight. Apparently pantsing is fair game in Bolivian wrestling. I caught the action at the perfect moment and from a great angle as you can see...

Finally the first cholita came out around 6:30 pm, and that is when the real craziness began. She was in traditional dress, bowler hat and all, and was fighting a man dressed up as a cholita who was carrying this plastic baby. It was really weird. As they were beating each other with the baby, this mummy entered the ring to "Thriller." They were all fighting each other , at times the cholitas were against each other and at other times they were working together, and then they opened this package and a live chicken popped out. It was running around as they threw fireworks at it, until the poor thing eventually ran into the audience and disappeared. Here is a strange video (well, they are all strange) of the cholitas and the mummy. The grand finale of this fight essentially consisted of the mummy ripping the cholitas' clothes off.

There were little breaks in between each fight, during which we chatted with some of the local kids, many of whom kept trying to get money from us. One little girl stood completely shell-shocked in front of us for an hour, as she had apparently (according to Jessie) never seen gringos before. The children were pretty funny--constantly throwing things (food, drinks, anything they could get their hands on) at the fighters, at other audience members, and at each other. Here is a shot of one kid trying to beat the mummy with some sort of pole or crowbar. There was one particularly nasty fight between two little boys, and everyone including their parents were cheering them on. It was quite disturbing, as the smaller kid was getting the crap kicked out of him, but he was laughing so he seemed to be having fun nonetheless.

The next match was between two real women cholitas (not sure where transvestite cholita went off to). That was a nasty fight! Towards the end, they started beating each other outside of the ring and one of the cholitas flung the loser over the fence towards us. This picture shows the cholita at my feet. She had kicked Kevin in the face before she landed and practically broke his nose. It was quite amusing. Here is a video of the cholitas going at it.

The show kept getting weirder and weirder...especially once the midgets got into the ring. The first one to come out was this little guy dressed as a super hero, and shortly thereafter (sorry, no pun intended) a midget dressed as Chucky and then a woman midget dressed as a bride joined him. We all had stopped asking questions by this point. Here's a shot of the other two midgets chilling in the corner as the fight went on. They didn't really do all that much, other than occasionally jump in and, as Chucky did after his entrance, attack audience members. Chucky ran after Priscilla and kissed her, it was hilarious! Leon apparently has an intense phobia of midgets so we of course arranged for them to run after him as well.

I have no clue who the guy in the white tights was supposed to be (Elvis maybe?), but he entered the ring after the midgets. He fought with the midgets (unfair, clearly) when the midgets were not fighting each other . A military man was the next character added to the mix. So, 3 midgets, 2 big men in freaky outfits, and 2 cholitas all fighting. It was quite absurd. This video features the two cholitas tackling each other, Chucky doing his thing, and the military man beating the cholita's butt with a strap. Obviously, this was a wonderful education program for the children in the audience. However, the fight of course got worse. Are they biting each other's foreheads in this video? I can't even tell what's going on.

A few minutes later, the military guy thrust the cholita into our row again. That is fake blood of course, although I doubt that the fall hurt any less. The blood got all over our clothes--well not mine as I was able to jump out of my seat in time, but the others were not as fortunate. At least no one suffered any more facial injuries! Here is one last video, and if you are only going to watch one video, check out this one. This clip is the climax of the whole show and the epitome of its weirdness in my opinion. The dude in white tights, after slamming the cholita on the floor, smashed an entire cake onto her butt and then shoved the midget's face into the cake. And shoved another guy's face into the midget bride's butt (sorry, didn't capture that part). It was hilarious. And REALLY degrading. Just like everything else.

The cholita ended up being the champion, and while she strutted triumphantly the older cholita vomited off the side of the ring and this huge guy dressed as a wolf swinging a massive metal chain ran around the auditorium and terrorized the audience, smashing chairs and tearing the fences apart. Basically all hell broke loose and everyone started running around like maniacs, including us as we didn't feel like getting a chain slammed into our faces. Total chaos. We finally left around 8:15 pm, traumatized, confused, and convinced that what we had just seen was the best and worst thing ever. On the way back to La Paz we stopped at another look out point to admire all of the beautiful glittering lights. It reminded me of my first night in South America, as my plane descended into Quito.

After running back to my hotel briefly to shower and change, I met up with the whole group at Sol y Luna for dinner and drinks. I spent most of the night chatting with Leon, who is a nice guy from London who, like me, quit his job and is hanging out in SA for an extended period of time. We checked out Luna, which had live music, and then Mongo's, the main gringo club. It was Sunday, but there was still a fairly decent crowd. I ran into Christian, the guy who was in my Quito home stay for a week, and his Danish friends again, as well as a ton of other people I recognized from my travels. Around 2:30 am I couldn't take the cigarette smoke anymore and caught a cab home. All in all it was an awesome day. I got some great pictures, met some fun new people, and had some very interesting experiences.
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Comments

traveleeni
traveleeni on

Bolivian wrestlers
What an exciting and weird experience! Here's more about the cholitas in National Geographic:
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/wrestlers/guillermoprieto-text

TravelJunkie on

Great read!! Here is another great article discussing Bolivia's wrestling scene, http://www.bit.ly/dkFin2

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