Bolivian Carnaval: A Running Diary

We begin our epic voyage into the depths of Bolivian Carnaval on a Wednesday night at 10 pm in Sucre:

10:00 pm: Show up to a bus stop on the other side of town after a representative from the tour company leaves a message earlier in the day that we would not meet at said tour company originally agreed upon. Try not to think about what would’ve happened had we not received that message.

10:30 pm: Bus shows up a half hour late.

11:45 pm: Unscheduled stop in the middle of nowhere. (Bolivia is full of “middle of nowhere” spots, by the way.)

11:48 pm: Realize the bus is having mechanical difficulties.

11:57 pm: Looks like it has something to do with an axle, or possibly a flat tire.

Thursday

12:36 am: Bus just started up again. Looks like we’re back in business.

5:27 am: A cloudy sunrise as we rumble into the town of Oruro.

5:45 am: We pile into minibuses to our “sleeping arrangements.”

6:06 am: We find out that the “sleeping arrangements” are 32 people in a room that will not fit 32 people. So the organizers decide to only put 24 people there. I should also mention that room has a grand total of two bathrooms. Dana, Anu, Tuula, and I decide to go for door #2, which is wherever they plan on putting the remaining  8 people.

7:00 am: The first secondary option is a house that has a full crew of workers remodeling. There is exposed floor, drywall, and the place is covered in dust, not to mention there is no sort of lock on any of the doors or rooms. The remaining eight make a unanimous decision to refuse this place.

8:20 am: Everyone is thorough annoyed. We show up to a hospedaje (motel) that has a single room with one bathroom. It wasn’t great by any means, but it was a lot better than what the first group had to deal with.

Dana and her new friend in our luxurious room with 8 people. She doesn't look excited.

9:00 am: Our entire group of 32 winds though the streets to get breakfast, which look similar to the setup of any large parade you have ever attended in a city. Grandstands were on both sides, and there were thousands of vendors selling everything from dead llama fetuses to silly string/foam.

9:25 am: Arrive at the breakfast place. They have FREE wifi! And it works! This place is gonna be awesome!

9:28am: We place our orders.

9:45 am: No food has arrived yet.

10:00 am: Still no food.

10:10 am: Two of us get our food.

10:20 am: All of us receive our food. All but one gets the wrong order.

10:30 am: Unanimous agreement that this is a terrible restaurant.

10:55 am: Arrive back at our room. Time for a nap, as we got a terrible night’s sleep on the bus.

3:00 pm: Out to explore the city a little more. We take a hike up a large hill to check out a large church, the site where the Carnaval parade finishes tomorrow.

4:30 pm: Encounter a pre-Carnaval party on the way back to our refugee camp- I mean room- and get called over to stop by and say hello.

The kids who invited us over

4:40 pm: Find out we are celebrating at a local lawyers house. While the girls are all having a great time, I get seated next to the lawyer and he talks my ear off about Carnavale and country of Bolivia. I do my best to keep up listening (they don’t speak a word of English) while there is confetti and spray foam being sprayed all over the place. Definitely a wonderful experience.

It was fun... but cramped!

Fun times!

5:15 pm:  About a dozen beers and one celebratory shot later, we get ready to depart .

5:30 pm:  Dinner.

6:30 pm:  On the way back to the room, there was lots of people out getting ready for the big celebration. Dana survives a pickpocket attempt as two guys spray her with spray foam. We chased them off as quickly as possible, and luckily Dana didn’t have any money on her.  She was a little shaken up,  but we realized there were tons of police on hand and there was no “real” danger.

7:00 pm: Back to the room. Monopoly the card game for awhile until bed. Carnival begins at 7:00 am sharp, so we get to bed early.

8:30 pm: Bed.

Friday

6:30 am: Wake up early and get breakfast.

7:00 am: Meet up at the room where the 24 others are staying. Smelled and looked awful.  Glad we made the decision to hold out for new place.

8:00 am: Start waiting in line to get to our seats for Carnavale.

9:00 am: Still waiting……

10:00 am: Still waiting…

10:30 am: Finally get  in and sit in an open space in the grandstands. Initial thoughts: Colorful, fun, should be a great day.

Looks like this parade is gonna be pretty cool

10:45 am: Dana say the group is all leaving and we have to go. I get irritated.

10:55 am: I exit reluctantly, not sure of where we are headed.

11:15 am: I fall into some sort of open sewer drain, with some murky water just past my knees. VERY irritated that I left now.

11:30 am: Find out that the entire group’s seats were resold by the tour operator and we were more or less screwed out of my seats. Decide to have a full-blown argument with the tour co-operator. It gets me nowhere but it felt great to vent. Consider making it my life’s work to bankrupt Aventurarse tour company based out of Sucre.

12:30 pm: An hour of waiting to get to our alternate seats. I begin to realize that this thing isn’t the best organized event in the world.

12:35 pm: I find a group of open seats and head over there by myself and talk to the lady sitting there with her daughter. Find out that her husband is the ticket organizer of the new area I’m sitting in and  that I will have no problems here.

Dana (and here new blue hairstyle) and her new friend Estefania to the left of her

2:30 pm:  The parade is AMAZING. It seems to be a neverending wave of costumes, bands, spray foam, and amazing masks and colors. It felt like we were viewing an explosion of colors.  (A photo essay is coming Monday morning because there is no way I can put them all in one post)

3:30 pm: Dana finally comes over and meets the family while I run out to find us some lunch.

3:45 pm: I wander over to two guys and ask them where I can find some food. They reply in English and wonder where I’m from. To make a long story short, they are the military commanders in Oruro, and they like me for some reason. I walk back to the grandstands with them and sit next to them and watch more of the parade.

5:45 pm:  I ask the two guys if I can go onto the parade route to get some close up pictures. They say no problem, and motion for the office at the guardrail to let me over. Sweet!

6:30 pm: It’s starting to get dark, but the picture opportunities are in no short supply.

Even Dana was right by the action

6:55 pm: The kids in the area start getting me with spray foam pretty good.

Act 1...

7:00 pm: I decide to make an attempt to fight back.

Act 2....

7:05 pm : I lose. Handily.

Act 3. I lost.

8:30 pm: It starts to get cold, and the parade is winding down. Covered in foam (one of us), we head back to meet up with Anu and Tuula who ended up sitting in a different section.  Plenty of hiccups along the way, including a TERRIBLE tour company, but it was an excellent celebration we glad to be a part of.

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