A five day festival at the beginning of February, with much music, dancing, alcohol and water – lots of water. Carnival begins on the Friday as people have the day off from work or finish early to begin the revelries of music and firecrackers, and stock up with water bombs.
It being a rather heathen affair with a lot of alcohol and violence breaking out as a result most of the evangelical churches organise church retreats and ‘camps’ during this time and flee the city. From talking with many of the lecturers at the language school we discovered that many of the locals decide to go else where at this time and we were soon to discover why.
Having seen many videos at the language school depicting carnival we thought it would be a good experience to see the processions with their vibrant costumes, fervent dancing and music. We were however very sadly disappointed by what we did see. Over the weekend there were 2 or 3 organised processions through the city, we were told the safest to attend particularly with Alana would be the one for the children on the Saturday morning.
In true Bolivian fashion the procession arrived at the plaza an hour and a half later than what had been advertised and what followed was a handful of bands, all playing pretty much the same tune, with different groups in some kind of costumes just jigging around in circles, nothing at all like what we had imagined, in fact the carnivals in England had been far better. But apparently it is all due to the lack of money and resources now available for such frivolities.
Throughout the next few days the same monotonous music could be heard throughout the city as individual groups would wend their way through the streets.
So where does the water come into it?
Well I think that the water must be the most integral part of the whole thing as passing groups get pelted with water bombs or sprayed with water pistols, or any other passer by for that matter. Thankfully for us Alana proved to be a pretty good deterrent that made people think twice before soaking us. We also made a point of avoiding any processions (yes maybe it was a bit cowardly but we didn’t fancy being wet and cold as the weather wasn’t too favourable for the first few days). People would be gathered on most street corners with buckets filled with full water bomb for people to purchase and use. Several groups of younger people would travel around in the back of a pick up and soak any unsuspecting passer by who looked a little too dry. After just the first couple of days the streets were literally littered with the remains of colourful water balloons, even the dog poo round our area started to look pretty as it was flecked with many different colours.
Tuesday afternoon when the weather had become considerably warmer we joined in some of the fun and had a water fight with the neighbours. I don’t think Alana quite understood what was going on but did seem to enjoy holding on very tightly to the water balloon she had been given, and despite all the squeezing it still didn’t burst.
Tuesday was the last day of carnival and was the day dedicated to the honour of ‘Pachamama’ (mother earth). Throughout the morning fire crackers could be heard sounding off all around the city, people would decorate their cars or other things acquired during the last year with balloons and streamers, and would pour alcohol over these things as a sign of good luck. Didn’t really understand that as they would spend ages making their cars all clean and shiny only to then pour sticky alcohol all over it. The other thing to note was the burning of coal in small tins outside of homes or small businesses that were still open, on which were burnt something, not sure what as a further offering to Pachamama.
It was interesting to see all that went on, and gave us an opportunity to relax a bit but I think next year we will join the church on retreat.