03 May 2011

bolivian carnaval in oruro

Oruro is this tiny town in what feels like the middle of nowhere in Bolivia, but groups from all across the country (and even some neighboring countries) start making costumes and preparing a year ahead for the annual Carnaval parades here, and the final result is like nothing I'd ever seen before.

I'm not much of a parade person, but I loved the variety of musical instruments, the vibrant colors and the truly impressive array of costumes, resembling everything from Chinese new year festival animals, African flamenco dancers, Aztec sun gods, Native American chiefs and marching band ladies with tiny ruffled skirts and thigh-high boots to angels and devils, traditional marching bands with matching fedoras and space cowboys.  

The bleachers are designed to pack people in, so you sit between the legs of the person above you and sit with your legs wide enough for the person in front of you to sit between them.  You have a partitioned segment of bench that you've paid for (ridiculously expensive for Bolivian standards at around $20 a "seat" and even more near the front), so you're crammed shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow with the people next to you, and good luck to you if need to get out to find a bathroom.

Hundreds of groups pass by in no obvious order or arrangement, and in the small breaks between performers dancing or playing music, kids run into the street, and all water-fighting hell breaks loose.  Water balloons are lobbed as super soakers retaliate, and foam spray cans jump in and join the chaos.  And then, as another band or army of dancing cholitas approach, they scatter, and the performers continue on as if nothing had happened.

Folk parades kick off the celebration the day before the official carnival parades begin, and there is a clear harvest celebration theme.

These parades were remarkable for a variety of reasons, but one thing I thought was striking was the all-age participation.  

Especially the substantial number of seriously old participants dancing all day, from about 7am well into the wee hours of the following morning.  (They follow a parade route through the town, go through tiny streets and around the central plaza until they reach the church up a decent-sized hill.)

And now... the photos.  Enjoy!

These guys had giant cowbells around their calfs, and when they jumped, the synchronized jingling was awesome.

This headdress was my favorite.  Like a badminton shuttlecock with a rainbow swirl and huge feather trim.  The rest of the outfit is pretty fun, too.  Now, I just need to figure out where I could wear something like this...