Trip Start Feb 28, 2010
41Trip End May 17, 2010
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
At the largest public gymnasium in El Alto, Bolivia, daylight is fading from the windows, and hundreds of people along the bleachers are growing impatient. We have all been sitting for more than two hours now, jeering and whistling and yelling encouragement at the succession of artists who have faced off in the center of the gym to match wits and perform dazzling feats of strength and skill. But it is growing late, and over the blaring disco music, foot-stomping and impatient whistles can be heard in crescendo: "Bring them on!" The music grows louder, the whistling too; there is a sense that rebellion may be about to erupt, but at last the houselights flash and dim, and the music shifts to everybody's favorite Rocky theme song. An announcer emotes into the microphone, the curtains leading to the locker rooms part, and "Amorous Yolanda" and "Evil Claudina," this evening's stars, make their longed-for appearance to ecstatic applause
Like many of the women in the audience, Yolanda and Claudina are dressed to the nines in the traditional fashion as described in my previous blog entry: shiny skirts over layers of petticoats, embroidered shawls pinned with jewelry, bowler hats and neatly plaited pigtails. They are also accompanied by an equally creatively dressed midget/small person/politically correct term, who looks like a cross between a shrunken Nacho Libre and a circus clown. Yolanda and Claudina seemed to find him rather attractive however, and after having stepped away from their velvet curtain for only 3 minutes they are already fighting for his attention. Their costumes glisten in the spotlights while they make a regal progress around the bleachers, greeting their public with the genteel smiles of princesses, twirling and waving gracefully until the music stopped. That's the sign for the two women to swing themselves deftly onto the wrestling ring that has been the focus of this afternoon's activity. Swiftly they remove their hats, unpin their shawls, and ... whap, whap, whap! Claudina belts Yolanda one, Yolanda slaps Claudina, Claudina tries to escape, but Yolanda grabs Claudina by her pigtails and spins her around, and WHAM! Claudina whirls through the air, petticoats and braids flying, and lands flat on her back on the mat, gasping like a fish. The audience goes nuts. The Israelis behind us even started throwing popcorn.
Welcome to the delirious world of Bolivian wrestling. In the cold, treeless, comfortless city of El Alto just outside of La Paz, there are over one million people, most of whom fled there to escape the countryside's misery and boredom. The lucky ones find steady jobs down in the capital city of La Paz, which El Alto overlooks
The entire affair was rather formal, and upon entering the battling arena I was handed a small juice, packet of popcorn and the worlds tiniest souvenir. Most of these things didn't make it till the end of the evening however and perhaps by the end of the first match already, the majority of the audience had thrown their popcorn at the evil villain attempting to take down their favorite hero. By the end of the evening though, I had made up my mind that this was pointless exercise as the villains, particularly Claudina, often enjoyed picking up the packets of popcorn from around their feet and chomping away at your long lost savory snack, all the while glaring into your frightened face.
"Watch out!" the entire audience shrieks
Claudina, who is officially a baddie, has taken a swig of water and is spraying the public with it at the precise moment that Yolanda, a goodie, pounces on her and drags her up to the bleachers, sending the spectators there scattering in blissful, screaming alarm. Yolanda wins! No, Claudina wins! No, Yolanda! But wait! The audience screams in warning again because Yolanda's old foe and, perhaps, ex-husband (the ref), once again has leaped into the fray and has Yolanda in a ferocious leg lock. The situation looks hopeless, but no, here comes Yolanda's long lost midget crush out of nowhere, and he's carrying a chair! And he's whomping the Ref, or is it someone else, or maybe Yolanda, on the head with it! Even Claudina seems to have lost track of who's who: She's taking a flying leap into the audience onto a loud yet unsuspecting American guy. Suddenly we're all sprayed with water, and Yolanda's beating Claudina to a pulp with the remains of the chair right in front of us. "She is destroyed forever" the announcer yells frenetically.
Or almost forever: In the crazy world of Cholita wrestling, no defeat is ever final.