The Five Stages of Cultural Romance

Trip Start Nov 05, 2006
Trip End Jan 14, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, October 8, 2007

 One of the greatest things about traveling is the new and interesting cultures you meet.  Things that you don´t expect or would never see at home are commonplace and keep the sometimes arduous task of being in constant flux interesting and exciting.  However, similar to that interesting quirk you notice in the first month of dating someone new that becomes the most irritating quality that ultimately ends the relationship, some cultural features run a distinctive life cycle.  We have dubbed this "the five stages of cultural romance."

As I mentioned in the last entry, our timing for our stay in La Paz coincided with an annual festival in our ´hood for Mary.  The neighborhood is in fact, named for Mary, the "Virgen de Rosario" neighborhood.   We were excited to be present for something that is purely local and doesn´t contain a hint of tourism. 


The first night was really the warm up.  Fireworks and firewater lubricated the locals who partied in the street until around 2 a.m.  The second morning began the real festival.  The streets were adorned with chairs and stages, and party decorations were stretched across the street from the second story of all the buildings.  The buzz in the street was excitement.  The Cholitas lined the avenues, each with one to two cases of beer, some for drinking others for selling.  Families came out and claimed their spots.  The Rose Parade doesn´t have more dedicated fans.  We were intrigued by the spirit of the locals.  After all, most of them were probably working off serious hang overs from the night before festivities.

About 2 p.m. the first band came down the street,.  Fronted by choreographed percussionists and a small marching band, followed first by a troupe of Cholitas in traditional costume dancing in unison, and second by a group of masked men in metallic uniforms performing another traditional dance, the collective group played and danced and stopped directly under our window to perform for the judges tent.   We could not have been luckier.  Not only did we get to see this festival, but the judges tent was ten feet below our balcony!  After a 10 minute performance, the band stopped while the judges made their scores.  Following a quick beer or two, the band re-assembled and played further into the barrio.  How cool was this!  We had ring side seats with a private balcony to witness a traditional neighborhood festival.


Half an hour later, the second group approached with an similar format wearing different colors, marching, dancing and spinning down the street as they approached the judges tent.  The new colors of the costumes with some variation on the dancing added spice to the event.  Their ten minute performance fueled the crowd and while the judges judged, the  performers swilled beer with the spectators before moving deeper into the barrio.  We were truly fascinated.


Another half hour passed and a new group could be heard approaching from down the block.  It was then we noticed something new, or rather something that was not new at all.  The band and dancers approached in nearly identical form and the band played EXACTLY THE SAME SONG as the first two bands.  It was then we realized that this was the deal.  Each band performed a traditional song with traditional dance, with only minor variations.  The song was simple, simple enough so that a really drunk band could continue playing it.  The song was always the same.  The dance moves were also simple, simple enough that a group of drunk country western fans at a bar could pick them up in one lesson.  The crowd, fueled by the hundreds of cases of beer, didn´t care.   It was then that we realized that our "ring side seat" immersed us in this cultural festival.   Like it or not, we were in for the long haul. 


We decided to make the best of it and headed for dinner.  How long could it go on anyway?  Two hours later, we were back in the room with the street party and marching bands still going strong below.  I peaked out the window and noticed that the current band wasn´t new at all.  In fact, it was the first band of the day making another pass at the judges stand.  The playing had gotten worse from drinking and the dancing was more free-style than choreographed as the Cholitas had clearly slammed back multiple beers.  The masked male dancers occasionally ran into each other and tried desperately to pour more beer through the mouth holes in their masks.  The crowd didn´t care, the initial cases of beer had been supplemented and alcohol had adequately lubricated the social scene.  They danced along with the bands and the momentum of the festival (remember, this is a party for Mary) was in full force.  Mary must be honored by such dedication.  We looked at each other and I said, "the bands will stop soon, they´re too drunk to continue for much longer."  As eleven o´clock  approached, it seemed we had a winner of the competition and they made their final performance.  We were exhausted with our local culture, and while still happy we´d witnessed this, were glad it was over. 


Half an hour passed an the crowd thinned slightly.  I anticipated some late night drinking, which ear plugs would easily muffle.  It was then that I heard the clear, distinctive sound of an electric base tuning up below.  I opened the balcony doors and peered over the edge.  Sure enough, what was the judges tent would now be a stage for the final entertainment of the night.  A stack of Marshall amplifiers and cabinets sat next to a stack of five Crate bass cabinets and amplifiers.  "Nice equipment," I thought, "but we are totally screwed".  Shortly thereafter, a five piece electric rock band  broke into Santana-esque dance songs that began to re-energize the crowd.  Despair set in as we realized that there may be no escape from Mary´s party as her revelers could very well continue ALL NIGHT.

A strange look came over Laura´s face.  "I can´t take this anymore," she said as she ran out the door.   Minutes passed as the room vibrated to the bass line.  I tried the earplugs, but they only muffled the high pitched sounds as the bass continued to shake my skull.  

Laura returned holding a key, a key to another room deep inside the building that had been a cancellation.  Instructed by the hotel staff to "just sleep" and return to our room in th morning, we grabbed the minimum from our bags and escaped the raucous party below.  In our new sanctuary we could barely hear the muffled band and revelers.  Laura tried to unwind and eventually we slept.  The party continued until 4 a.m.

Morning arrived and we returned to our room.  It was Sunday and all good catholics, even those celebrating on Mary´s behalf the night before, would attend church.  All was quiet on the street below.

  A mellow breakfast was followed by some lounging in the room.  Around eleven, I peaked out the window.  Oh s$%t!  The old ladies were back with their cases of beer.  Dozens of elderly women lined the streets with fresh cases of beer. Was it possible?  Would Mary´s party continue for a third day?  Yes!  With a stamina that would impress any fraternity, the locals of the "Virgen de Rosario" neighborhood would push on for one more afternoon! 

Luck was on our side though as the main stage was moved two blocks away.  The band played on to a re-lubricated crowd.    

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