The 'Kodak Express' Gran Poder parade in La Paz

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June 18th 2011
Published: August 8th 2011
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The Gran Poder parade is La Paz´s biggest street party. It's not sponsored by Kodak but so many of my photos seem to have their logo in them. We were just sitting opposite the store. It's actually a religious festival that involves an enormous carnival-like parade through the centre of La Paz. Dancers, bands and street performers from all over the city and surrounding hinterland descend on La Paz for a spectacular show. And spectacular it was! Sixty four groups danced this year - and we presumed before the event that each group would only have a couple of hundred dancers. How wrong we were - in total over 100,000 people danced through the streets that day in a never ending stream of colour. The parade started at 7am with the President of Bolivia marching with the only sign of religion in the whole parade - a religious icon from one of the churches.
We rented a plastic chair each in front of San Francisco Church and therefore convieiently close to our hotel for coffee and toilet breaks. It cost us $10 each - they were the most expensive seats sold - our name was attached with tape and they were ours for the day. If we left and came back to find somebody in our seats the lady in charge promptly removed them!
The parade began in 1939 strictly as a small religious procession and remained that way until the Embroiders Guild got involved with a small group of dancers showing off their embroidered costumes (presumably as a form of advertising). Since then it has continued to grow and today the main feature is actually the incredible embroidered costumes that the dancers wear. We were amazed to be told by the locals watching that every year all the costumes are brand new - no costume worn in previous years is allowed to be worn in the Gran Poder parade again. All the old costumes are used as rentals for the many other festivals throughout the country. (Eg. the costumes we had seen on the Isla del Sol a couple of days before). The costumes were a riot of sequins, fake jewels, beads of all colours and a LOT of embroidery. What was really impressive was every dancer in each group matched exactly - same earrings, shoes etc. The boots and shoes were particularly impressive. I loved the colourful men's boots but the women were having a hard time dancing in their high heeled boots, Most were cheaply made and by the end of the day many of their heels were bending akwardly under them. They looked most uncomfortable!
We didn't start watching the parade until after 10am and were surprised to see many empty seats as we had been told that it was virtually impossible to find a seat at the parade. However the locals knew just how long the parade would go on for! By mid afternoon it was packed and they all started partying! Everything imaginable was for sale - all manner of food, alcohol (by the glass), balloons, cushions for the cheaper wooden seats, umbrellas, childrens' toys - it was endless! In fact by the end of the day the constant parade of people selling something became annoying as we always had somebody in front of us.
The noise was intense - fireworks (mainly bangers as it was daylight), whistles, cat calls from all the drunken men to all the sexily clad dancers, people announcing what they were selling but mainly from the dozens of brass bands! And they all seemed to play the same tune, though never at the same time! It was a truly amazing day - my photos certainly don't do it justice but will give you some idea. We left for bed at 10pm that evening and the parade was only two thirds of the way through (remember they started at 7am that morning!) The Bolivians certainly know how to have a great time. By the time we left the crowds were unbelievable with a strong police presence. Many were very drunk and we found if we left our seats we had to join a very long queue to show our tickets allowing us into the parade area. The parade was closed off with high screens so if you hadn't paid for a seat you couldn't see. Though everybody outside seemed to be enjoying themselves playing all manner of gambling games and dancing to pounding disco music - it had to be loud to overpower the brass bands.Whilst waiting in the queue to get back in Jerry had his pockets picked - nothing major was stolen, only a hat and a coin purse with a few Bolivianios in it but we felt it was time to leave. And we were well over the brass bands by that stage! But we had a fabulous day and one we won't forget for a long time. I can still hear those bands.......

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