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Published: April 2nd 2007
NOTE, PLEASE: The photos here were not taken by me. The Oruro Carnival photos are from Irish Guy (my friend Karl, who didn't know this: "Jeez, Mary, you took a lot of pictures of girls' legs.") The Salt Flats pictures are Ben-from-England's. Many thanks to them.
For my first South American carnival, I was determined to go somewhere particularly interesting. I set my sights on Oruro, on the Bolivian altiplano (altitude 3702 meters), whose festival, La Diablada, is renowned for its combination of traditional and Christian imagery and practices. Mostly, though, I had seen pictures of the costumes, and couldn't imagine missing it.
So, I paid something like $30 a night for a hotel room (I mention this because the normal rate in Bolivia, for the budget accomodation I prefer, is about $2), and arrived at a brisk white 5 am. The breakfast I had at a roadside stand (old fat ladies in traditional dress manning grease vats) was fried dough and a drink called api. This was a hot, thick fruit juice - dark red and fantastic. I could go on and on about api.
But I will not. The carnival was a HUGE parade, each group with
Typical Costume #2
...and would you just look at those shady spectators in the background? They're just waiting for a break in the action...
a different sort of costume, though these could be classified into a few groups: there were the alien-like costumes in the picture, scantily dressed women in lots of feathers, cowboys with jangling spurs, and strange, sort of frightening, white bears (many of which were children - so tiny bears). I didn't learn the significance of any of them.
The whole time I was there, I just kept thinking that it was like Scranton's St. Patrick's Day, only with great costumes and water balloons. The whole thing was really just an excuse for people to get drunk at 7 am. I am beginning to think that this is what all festivals are.
Also, every time there was a lull in the parade (which happened a lot), there would be a water balloon fight between the people sitting on either side of the street... everyone in town was wearing a poncho. Honestly, for myself, 3 days of being sprayed in the face with foam and having buckets of water thrown at me by old ladies was enough.
After Carnival, I headed south to Uyuni in order to do a South American backpacker staple: a tour of the largest salt flats in
Here is a funny tangential story about Irish Guy (who was in my group, and whose Oruro photos are here): He asked where I was from, I said Pennsylvania. He said, "Scranton?" I said, "Why on earth have you heard of Scranton?" and he told me that he had been on a road trip and spent the night in Scranton. He and his friend drove around for hours, but couldn't find a bar
! And he said ever since, when someone says they are from Pennsylvania, he asks if they're from Scranton, and they alway say yes. Weird, eh?
The way the tours work is that a group of people pile into a jeep and drive around for 3-4 days. My group was all young English speakers (except for one poor French girl). Our tour guides were Fausta and Esteban, husband and wife. The first day I sat in front squished in with Fausta, and she told me great stories... a legend about the origin of the salt flats (2 of the mountains fall in love. The female mountain gives birth to another smaller set of hills at her side. The salt is her milk.), a tragic tale about
Typical Costume #4
This is the one I saw a picture of that made me want to come to this carnival!
an entire family who died a few years ago when their truck broke down on the flats, and of a group of people who live in the next salt flat over, who live in salt igloos and speak a language that is neither Aymara nor Quechua.
The tour lasted three days, but we were only in the salt flats for the first. After this it was desert, desert, desert. There are small scattered villages, where the people keep llamas and grow quinoa - which is pretty much the only crop that will grow here, it is so dry. The final day we all woke up way before dawn, which we observed from the midst of geyser steam (as in, we were wandering around in a field of them, which Irish Guy didn't seem to think was too safe. Welcome to Bolivia, Irish Guy!)
Enjoy Ben's pictures, which tell the story of this incredible place better than I can.
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