When you think of carnival you primarily think of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Right? We’d already been to Rio Carnival a few years back so we were keen to sample a different flavor of fiesta. This year we just happened to be around La Paz during carnival time. Some of our friends made the trip to Oruro for the biggest carnival in Bolivia, however, we just wanted to experience the local culture. And we ended up getting it…4 times, by accident, in different towns of Bolivia. And to our pleasant surprise Bolivians really know how to party and they also love beer. These are our sorts of people!!!
Carnival 1 – Mallasa. The first weekend in February noted the first celebration in a small town 30 min south of La Paz. The local people put on a great night of dancing costumed parades, and many food and beer stalls lining the closed streets. Everyone had a great night drinking the local beers and sampling the traditional foods.
Carnival 2 – La Paz Central. Now this crazy carnival Sunday known to the locals as el pepino clown day made carnival number one seem almost tame. Our Bolivian friends warned us to be careful and to definitely wear a poncho! We exited the local minibus a few blocks from the action and purchased ponchos from some locals on the street who were also selling many many water fighting devices and cans of foam. After putting on our ponchos, we entered the action zone on the closed main st Parado and had first glimpses of the locals covered in water and foam and teens being ferried in the back of police trucks, which made us slightly nervous. And it wasn’t long before we were targeted. The locals boys thought it was hilarious to run rings around Jade spraying her with foam and water. This is all in the Bolivian traditions and in the fun of carnival so we just laughed it off and made our way to one of the many beer stands.
Beer makes everything better and walking up the middle of the main st we dodged some of the many water bomb and foam attacks. The street was lined with benches, chairs and stands that were being offered for 10 to 20 Bs. We opted for the cheapest seats in the front row in the midst of the action. And boy did we get some action. The little kids next to us were fully armed with large super soakers and thought it was funny to squirt all passerby’s in the face. This sometimes prompted a swift response by the passing crowd who covered us with foam and water. And we looked like santa claus, faces covered in white foam. Nobody was off limits, the passing band members where squirted in the face, and well dressed dancing cholitas were bombed into annihilation. But everybody laughed and it was fun and dancing everywhere. This was an amazing day and so much fun celebrating with the local Bolivianos.
Carnival 3 – Copacabana. So we thought carnival was finished for the year. Think again. After learning of transport blockades to the Yungas region, where we were originally headed for trekking in the jungle, we made the quick decision to head to Copacabana and the Lake Titicaca region instead. Luckily there were buses waiting to leave for Copacabana, and we were on our way to the next adventure.
Walking around Copacabana town for roughly an hour looking for accommodation made us wonder why it was so busy. Later on when we entered the main square we discovered it was carnival, again! So we promptly joined in and sat at one of the locals beer stands near the stage; drinking beers and watching the dancers and bands play on the stage. Each group of dancers was sponsored by some wealthy local business families who payed for their costumes and crates of beers they all consume vigorously. What a great unexpected night!!!
Carnival 4 – Isla Del Sol. The next day we took a local boat to the Isla Del Sol and it peaceful seclusion. A nice lady met us at the dock of Challapampa and took us to her hostal along the water to the left of the dock. It was clean, cheap an overlooked the water so we agreed. After spending the day hiking the ruins on the north part of the island we walked back to town through the main beach where all the hippies are camped for free. It’s pretty crazy there and I was glad we were on the more peaceful side of Challapampa. But we did notice a party being setup in the square next to the beach.
After showering and changing we walked back to the square buying beers on the way. We sat in the stands watching the traditional dancers costumes twirl to the 2 different local bands that took turns playing music. One of the dances started with all the single ladies twirling around the square. Followed by the single boys dressed as clowns running in and claiming a girl for a dance. Again it was such a great unexpected experience and pleasure to be involved in the local traditions and festivities.