Two Sides of the Carnival

Trip Start May 30, 2005
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Trip End Sep 30, 2006


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, February 26, 2006

After spending so long in Sucre, it was time to move on. My Spanish teacher was taking a week`s holiday for the Carnival so I could either sit in Sucre twiddling my thumbs or head to one of the Carnival hot spots of South America, Oruro.

I managed to join a big group of people heading from Sucre that were mainly friends of my Spanish teacher and were mostly locals. The buses leave rather prompty round here, sometimes early! Iīd got to the bus station at 6:30am for my 7:00am, as strictly instructed by Sayda who bought the tickets. However no-one told Sayda and she arrived at 6:58 (with my ticket!) and jump on the bus. Since I now knew which bus to get I went to the luggage section to dump my big bag, the bus then started reversing out of the bay. Hold On! I managed to stop it long enough to give my bag to the luggage boy, but then as he was loading the bag the bus started to pull off, it was as if the driver was leaning out of the window shouting, "Iīve got a schedule to keep you know". The bag was finally loaded and the boot shut, I then just had to perform my Indiana Jones roll onto the bus and we were away. We picked up Farah in Potosí on the way as sheīd headed out that way a couple of days earlier and then onto Oruro.

The house that we stayed in was full to the brim, probably about 20 people in three rooms with one toilet. On countless occations Iīd try to get into the loo only to hear the immortal words from within "Occupado". What fun.

We had tickets for the best seats, in the main Plaza, at 15 pounds they represent quite an investment for Bolivia, thatīs the kind of money that could feed you for a week here. We arrived a little late for the start on Saturday, mainly due to the queue that developed outside the toilet. We found a huge scrum outside the entrance to the Plaza and were frustrated by the noise and the fun that everyone inside were having while we waited, squeezed up against numerous Bolivians trying to get inside as well. At least I could see the top of the dancers and bands, poor Farah had a great view of the back of Albert as sheīs just a touch smaller than the rest of us.

I have to say that the wait was well worth it. The parade was amazing. Each group of people danced one of about 6 traditional dances, they were all brilliant. Each group would probably take about 20 minutes to pass as they each had a few large brass bands and a few hundred dancers. While all this was going on people were throwing water balloons at each other, the crowd on the other side of the road was always a good target. You could also buy a cannister of foam for spraying around. The police had a bit of a hard time of it, they were often at the receiving end of these arms whether deliberate or not....

After about 6 hours of this I got a bit tired and emotional and had to head off to bed for a while, with the promise of being back. After a couple of hours kip back at the pad I was able to get up and try to head back. This was far harder than expected. Large queues had formed to cross the roads that the procession trundled down. Sadly the rather inefficient police were inefficient at allowing the queue to cross and rather efficient at stopping us skip across. Some of the others returned back to the house but I continued on with Farah, after about an hour we managed to cross, then up to the entrance to the plaza and we wasted another half hour of our lives.

Oruro is about 4000 meters above sea level, and despite the relative heat wave that we enjoyed over the weekend it still got a bit cold at night. No Rio type carnival shenanigans here! Thankfully sense prevaled and the water and foam fighting had ceased. We got back to our seats and our group of friends again. It was about 10pm and we thought that weīd missed most of the eveningīs entertainment. How wrong we were, it was the same fair as earlier in the day but just dark and dry. We ended up standing for most of our time here as the wooden benches just didnīt look particularly comfortable, this also meant I was knackered by the end. By 2am Iīd had enough again and made my weary way home.

For the dancers in the carnival itīs a different matter. Many of them dance for 15 hours in the day finally arriving at a sacred temple near the city for some blessing or something (please excuse my ignorance), After standing for about half of that time Iīd had enough, what a wimp!

I got back to the house to find another group just about to head out! they were off to watch the dancers finish their procession. I mentioned to one of the guys that itīd been a great day but I was looking forward to a lie in and a more chilled day. "But the tickets are valid for both days" he replied. What! I didnīt realise that it was two days of dancing. After a little sleep it was up, queue for the toilet and then back to the plaza, arriving a little later this time.

Everything was a little more relaxed on the second day, either because it was more informal or they were all knackered from the previous day. It was also a day filled with even more water. For about 7 pence you could buy a bag of 8 pre-filled water balloons from one of the vendors plying their wares, I soon lost count at how much was spent and how many balloons thrown. I do know that I was hit heaps of times and didnīt give back as good as I got.

The parade was the same as the day before, only in a different order, still great though. I particularly enjoyed the "Caporale" Dancers, who would arrive with a real flair that put the others to shame, and real energy that got the whole crowd going. Brilliant.

Now, not everything in the world of the Oruro carnival is fun, there is a sader, darker side to it all. Mainly itīs the kids that are working here, either selling their balloons, beers, crisps, popcorn, foam, you name it and you can get it from a kid here. The kids would also be sent underneath the stands by their parents in order to collect the discarded beer cans, not a safe environment especially considering that underneath the stands was a favourite place of many people that didnīt want to head to rather busy, smelly and unpleasant toilets.

In fact the entire city of Oruro was turned into a toilet. It didnīt start too badly but by the Sunday afternoon it was getting really bad, you couldnīt walk down the street without the stench invading your nostrils. It was made worse by the fact that the small alley that led to the house where we stayed also underwent the same treatment. Not a pleasant memory of the weekend.

With that Farah and I left for warmer lands. We hopped on a night bus to Santa Cruz, now Boliviaīs largest city and commercial center. Itīs also near sea level so weīll be saying goodbye to the Alto Plano, Jeans, Jumpers and Chills. Hello shorts and thongs!
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