Carnival - first hand

16 Jul, 2011 | Ciaran Raymer


Oruro. Sounds tropical doesn’t it? Well, if you’re ever lucky enough to be in Oruro to experience the Carnival, an extra layer of clothing will go a long way! Alternatively you could take advantage of the beer specials and forget all about the chill (2 for Bs.15 - yes please!). But for my friends and I, the main focus of this expedition was to take a dip into Bolivian culture.

To set the scene, Oruro is a small city that had been converted into a festival ground for its annual celebration. The streets were filled with vendors in stalls selling everything from bowler hats to local cuisines (llama steak, anyone?), while the longest of the streets had been lined with stands so that people can sit and enjoy the spectacle created by the dancers. Each dance group had their own moves to flaunt, and consisted of people of all ages - toddlers and the elderly included.

One of the traditions of this event consists of lots of foam and lots of water. Kids were running around with water guns and balloons, while teens preferred to wield canned foam that sprayed a soapy cloud onto whoever it was aimed at. Fun at first, but after the twentieth face-full, humours were failing and the cold in the air was cutting deeper into our soaking skin. As the sun set and darkness descended, the sky was set ablaze by fireworks to mark the beginning of the night’s “fiesta”. My friends and I arrived back to our flat at 3 o’clock the next morning - tired, wet, cold, and all smiles. The Oruro Carnaval was an incomparable experience that I recommend to anyone who has yet to see it first hand.

After the first hesitant steps in the crowded streets, we make our way amongst the beerselling cholitas, the kids having fun splashing gringos with their foam sprays and waterguns, and the mobile food stalls. Settled in the stands, we start to feel the growing atmosphere and let ourselves be dragged into a swirl of shimmering colours, glitter and amazing costumes: with the brass bands’ constant buzz, and the cries of the crowd all around, we get filled with a child-like wonder. It’s impossible to reach the main square, where the party is at its fullest, due to the mass of people. Amongst the hot sun and sandwiches and the cold rain and beers, the hours seem to fly. But the ambience of this day of celebration hardly hides the poverty that is rife here, and I found it hard to ignore the beggars that are lying on sidewalks full of holes (though this may have been exacerbated by Carnaval)... When the evening comes fireworks are launched and the atmosphere peaks. Soggy and exhausted it’s time to go back to La Paz, our heads full of noise and colour...


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