28 May, 2015 | Mila Araoz
The bar El Acuario is hidden deep amongst the busy, traffic-filled streets in the commercial district of Max Paredes. Behind three women selling chicharrón lie some steep steps leading down to the 'El Sotano', a popular nickname for the bar. The playground-like coloured rocks on the wall guide visitors down the stairs towards a small lamp hanging above a wooden door. There is no other sign to indicate that this is a popular bar for clowns.
The peeling walls and sticky smell of beer and cigarettes could mistakenly make you believe you are entering a typical boliche. At the front, where various liquors are on display, two signs catch my eye; 'if you drink to forget, pay before you forget', and the second one, written in blue biro on a piece of lined paper, says 'we sell soft toys'.
Mila Araoz visited this bar in May 2014 to discover that clowns don’t come to this bar to drink beer, but to get ready for their afternoon performances around the city. Once their faces are painted white, cheeks red, and noses on, our new friends undergo the final step in their transformation, suddenly breaking into an incredibly high-pitched voice.
One clown, known as Tibilín, told BX: 'the AMI association [Artistas del Mundo Infantil] says we can’t be drunken clowns. Its also the rule here in the bar. We can’t drink or smoke -- what would happen if a child saw us? We would break the fantasy'. Indeed, the only clowns we encountered at the bar were drinking Coca-Cola.
Its hard to leave the bar, even after having spent the past two hours here. We leave this hectic little world just to enter another one. As we walk up the steps onto the street, the fresh air awakens us from the surrealist dream we’ve just left behind. We emerge into a labyrinth of multicoloured street stalls. The pervasive smell of fried food hanging in the air signalling our entry back into the strange and manic reality of La Paz above ground.