Carnival fun and games

Trip Start Nov 05, 2009
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Trip End Apr 26, 2010


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Flag of Bolivia  , Oruro,
Friday, February 12, 2010

Another fabulous bus journey through Bolivia from Cochabamba to the once great mining town of Oruru. I was here for Carnival…it is the biggest carnival outside of Rio, so not to be missed. 

As you pass through Bolivia you realise how much there is of absolutely nothing in this country except for windswept plains and mountain peaks dotted with herds of Llamas and Alpacas. Occasionally you might see a shepardess…usually a leathery skinned old lady, wearing the colourful traditional dress with a papoose full of firewood or grandchildren.

The bus ride was fairly uneventful except for this sodding women who insisted on taking  a photo every 10 seconds. The constant click of her camera began to get rather irritating after the 4th hour,  particularly when there wasn’t anything to take a picture of. Thankfully her daughter was there to divert my wrath…she had a toy dog that when she hit it on the head it did a sing song yappy yappy woof woof ditty…she did this repeatedly throughout the journey. By the time we arrived in Oruro I could quite happily have  wrapped the dog around her neck and then repeatedly hit her on the head to see what noise she would make. I hadn’t eaten anything except for a lollipop so my nerves were a little strained to say the least. As you can see my maternal instinct is as strong as ever!

As we arrived into Oruru the bus was hit by a flurry of water bombs, some of which were bang on target and came through the open windows. After the incident in Cochabamba with the super shooter it had now dawned on me that water antics were all part of carnival in Bolivia. Yippee.

I had booked my room well in advance because the whole town sells out at this time of year. Annoyingly I was paying 5 times the normal price for a prison like cell, sorry room, with a very thin wall next to the shared toilets. Nice. They had also managed to create the worlds hardest bed. Not only did the mattress make my bum numb after sitting on it for 2 minutes but they had also managed to source a boulder for a pillow and a lead apron as the blanket. Once I got into bed it was very difficult to get enough momentum to lift the blanket and get out again.

I got my first taste of the carnival aqueous fun and games when some little sh** threw a water bomb at my arse just as I left my hotel to go for some dinner. Please bear in mind that I still hadn’t eaten anything except the lollipop and a wet bum to me constitutes one of the most uncomfortable things in the world. I was not happy but told myself to stop being a miserable git and to get into the spirit of the whole thing.

Still with a very obviously wet bottom (my other pair of trousers were very due for a wash) I went out for dinner to a local restaurant and ordered a rack of lamb and was served with no exaggeration a lambs whole rib cage. I have never seen so much meat and I’m not sure whether I will ever think of lamb in the same way again. When I left the restaurant I embarrassingly left a lovely wet patch all over the seat of the chair.

Local shop keepers build stands along the streets of the carnival route so that you can have a seat and a good view of the procession. I got to my seat  at the crack of dawn so that I would get to see as much of the carnival as possible. Possibly a mistake. I was sat next to some lovely Bolivian ladies who insisted on sharing all their food with me despite us having very limited conversational abilities. When I arrived the carnival was already well under way. My new friend excitedly told me that it didn’t end until 4 or 5 in the morning. Good grief.  It was an amazing spectacle and the costumes were fantastically elaborate. We had some guys behind us who were really getting into the spirit of things, drinking like fishes and shouting for kisses from the carnival girls. One of them had to be carried off the stand mid afternoon because he was in danger of toppling down on top of us all and creating a domino effect. There is literally a constant stream of carnival goers for almost 24 hours…all from different regions of Bolivia and with no repetition…it really is immense.

When there was a lull in proceedings all hell would break loose and there would be war with the opposing stand with water bombs, super duper power shooters and cans of foam being sprayed. I was well advised to buy a poncho as every half or so you would get soaked by the onslaught. I had bought some waterbombs but throwing has never been one of my fortes and a typical girl like attempt just ended up soaking the people down at the front of our stand. I delayed going to the toilet or getting some food for as long as possible but eventually I just had to go. Getting out was a mission in itself as everyone was so tightly packed. On my way back to my seat I had to walk along the front and so this was an open invitation to be annihilated with water bombs and spray foam.

By the  13th hour of the carnival I had really had my fill of marching bands, children dressed as bears and being routinely soaked. I suspect the carnival in Bolivia is much more traditional and formulaic than the one in Rio and so a few hours is enough to get a feel for it. The carnival is repeated again the next day but as miserable as this sounds I really couldn’t face sitting through another 12 hours + of it all. I was really ready to leave Oruro but had my room booked for another night so had to stick it out. The town is really quite grim and at carnival time smells strongly of pee and rotting stuff. I was also getting a little tired of having to dodge the water bearing hit squads that patrol the streets. It seems that there are no rules here about attacking innocent unarmed bystanders, which to me just seems incredibly unfair and just not cricket. They even tip whole buckets of water out of windows  onto passers by…gringos seem to be highly prized targets. As I found when I was chased down the street only to have my bottom soaked once again and then a water bomb slammed in to the side of my head. Grrrrrrrrrrr.

During carnival it is also neigh on impossible to find a restaurant. There are just the street stalls selling a tray of salmonella in the guise of a half cooked chicken and greasy chips. I was starting to lose the will to live when I came across an oasis in this piss smelling dessert. There was a Govindas….same as the wonderful veggie restaurant in Aguas Calientes that we spent so much time at during the floods at Machu Picchu. As sad as it sounds I almost had tears in my eyes….after hours of wandering the streets this seemed like a gift from god! Hurrah!

Get me out of here……..


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