Carnaval, Bolivian Style

Trip Start Dec 06, 2010
Trip End Mar 31, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  , Chuquisaca,
Sunday, March 6, 2011

Since the end of January, we have heard and seen small groups of young people walking down the streets at all hours of the night, playing drums and brass instruments, and singing and dancing, in preparation for Carnaval.

Carnaval activities started in earnest on Thursday, Dia del Compadre - the bands, the water balloons and the 'energy'. We tried to keep a low profile and stay out of the way of the water on slot but after a bit we couldn't help but join the fun.

 On Friday morning, we were invited to come to the Biblioworks' office to have a small carnaval celebration with Matt, Maritza and Roxana at 9 a.m. We were asked to bring something to share to eat and to watch out for water balloons as we made our way to the office, 6 blocks away. Good advice in Sucre on the first day of holidays!

Water balloons,confetti, water pistols and huge guns, and even buckets of water were being hurled from second floor balconies.  Foam, like shaving cream, and children dressed up as devils and other strange looking creatures, greeted us as we stepped outside of our little safe haven at Santa Cecelia. Marching bands had already started to wander the streets playing Carnaval music and it looked like they were the ones mostly targeted by the water brigades, so we decided to take the back streets in order to dodge the water and get to the office, fairly dry.

We were happy when we got to where we were going and could watch the havoc in safety from the upstairs windows of the office. The computer room was decorated with balloons and streamers and sprinkled in confetti. The 'conference' room table was already set for a feast with Matt's peach crisp and strawberry pie, as well as fruit juices and Leche del Tigre (Tiger's Milk), a traditional Carnaval drink in Bolivia. This is a mixture of coconut milk, egg, and some kind of alcohol. It is bottled in any secondhand bottle and sold in wheelbarrows on all the streets. The bottles are 'corked' using a bit of Saranwrap and an elastic band. We are pretty sure that the alcohol in the drink would kill any bad germs. We had brought devilled eggs, salami, cheese, peanuts, olives and coffee and at 9:30 a.m. we commenced eating. A great breakfast buffet.

We all enjoy each others' company a lot so it was fun getting caught up on all the activities of the past week. We had all gone to different libraries during the week so it was nice just being together.

After eating, the tiny water balloons came out. Pat, Gail and Chris quickly got into the spirit of things, by thoroughly enjoying themselves throwing water balloons out the office windows, at pedestrians below. Of course they were quite brave considering they could duck back into the safety of the office. But Matt, Maritza and Roxana were no angels either. I can't throw with any accuracy, so I documented the dirty deeds by taking photos. Well the laughter that followed from all of us, as unsuspecting victims on the street got soaked, was something to hear and behold. It was lucky for us that the water from the weapons below couldn't reach the second floor. Actually, I think that we as a group were pretty cowardly.

Getting home after the battle was harder than getting there as there were tons more people on the streets. There were no parades, as we know them, but there were lots of raggle taggle bands and dancers who were setting their own parade routes on any street in any part of the city. A cacophony of sound and wild dancing in the streets reigned. The energy was something that you can't capture in a photo. Pretty exciting! The drinking had also started so it was getting crazier and crazier! Some smart people were wearing rain ponchos and others were (card)boarding up their windows. It was fun, but we were happy when we reached the safety of our house.

By the end of the day, clean Sucre quickly became dirty Sucre as garbage, mostly empty booze bottles, starting filling the streets. The people here are very clean, so by the time the next morning came, people had picked up the garbage and cleaned their areas in front of their houses. Due to a lack of public toilets, the street corners started smelling somewhat. The street dogs were nowhere to be seen. We could hardly believe that there would be 6 days of this! How is the energy maintained? Somehow they can do it! Look at the photos. Too bad that we don't have the sounds or smells on the blog. It is something.

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day - perfect for the wonderful, organized parade that took place 2 streets away from us. The focus of the parade was 'Sucre's Past' so there were ladies in gorgeous long dresses and parasols, men in morning suits, carriages pulled by black slaves, a troupe of Zorros and lots of dancing, and charrango and guitar music. It was one of the best parades that we have ever seen. Mind you, we got wet from the ever present water weapons, but that was a big part of the fun. A times there were full out water wars.

We had considered going to the the most famous carnaval in Bolivia that is held every year in Oruro, but decided that we would just enjoy Sucre's big fiesta rather than do more travelling. Anyone that we met afterwards, that had gone to Oruro had said that it was amazing - the costumes, the dancers, the singers and the musicians were spectacular. If you want to, you can read a good explanation of it here 

On Saturday evening, we headed up the hill (mountain?) behind our house, to a small restaurant with good food and great views of Sucre, in the courtyard of the Recoleta, a monastery founded in 1601 by the Franciscans. We enjoyed our bird's eye view of the festivities below as well as the pitcher of Sangria that we had with our meal.

Later that evening,  we prepared for our planned retreat away from Carnaval chaos, at a secluded refuge, 30 km away  from Sucre, called Bramadero. We had heard about it from someone who had stayed at our Inn and felt that after the first 3 days of Carnaval, it may be a pleasant, quiet place to go, for the last 3 days of Carnaval.

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