I couldn’t really tell you the official dates for Carnaval, as it was really more of a month-long party. Carnaval happens in places all over the world, and in various cities in Bolivia. The most famous is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but the best in Bolivia is in Oruro. Sucre’s carnaval floats my boat just fine though. About 3 weeks before Carnaval really starts, all the teenagers celebrate by throwing water balloons. Everyone avoids walking near the main plaza after 4:00 in the afternoon, as that is when the kids get out of school. It doesn’t matter who you are, you get wet. It was worse for me as my blond hair and pale skin is an easy target, but it is all in good fun. Once Carnaval really begins, everyone goes to the streets with alcohol in hand and marches all afternoon with a band in small groups. It took us about 45 minutes to cross town one day because you simply have to wait for all the slowly-moving bands, but that is the norm and there was no complaining. For about two weeks before the festivities, you can see vendors on every single street corner filling and selling water balloons. But if you are smart, you buy a water gun so you can get people wet in cars as they drive by with their windows down. So pretty much you drink, you dance, and you get wet during Carnaval.
The first official day of Carnaval was a Thursday called Comadres, in which there are big parties in town for only women or teenagers. I went with a group of friends and ended up seeing about every single girl that I went to school with here. A hotel hosted the party and we basically stood in a pool all afternoon with our clothes and shoes on while dancing and drinking ‘Leche de Tigre,’ which translates to ‘Tiger’s Milk.’ Tiger’s Milk is an alcoholic beverage only served during Carnaval. It consists of Singani(an alcohol unique to Bolivia), egg, milk, and something else I can’t remember. It is actually pretty tasty, though I didn’t partake in any excessive consumption of alcohol for this festival. ;) Around 7:30, the parties leave to the streets to dance to the plaza with a band. I was honestly a little terrified at one point because a bunch of rowdy girls, too much alcohol, music, and tight spaces makes for a not-so-great situation. It was kind of scary being pushed so hard into a hall that I wasn’t even using any effort to stay upright anymore. I was just limp, packed into a hall of drunk girls while waiting to get to the street. When we finally got to the street, every guy in town was waiting to throw water balloons at us. It probably took us two hours to dance two blocks to the plaza, or at least it felt like two hours since I got the duty of looking after my drunk friend. I had drunk people telling me to take care of a drunk person. Whatever. It was an experience, but I was very greatful for Comadres to reach its end.
I slept like a rock that night, and it was necessary to prepare for the rest of the weekend. I walked into town Friday afternoon, but that was a stupid choice. Friday must have been the festival day for the guys, and staying dry was not an option. I had no choice but to walk through the main street where all the partying was to get to my destination. Every 5 seconds for 10 blocks I was pelted with water balloons. A few times I was doused by buckets of water from windows above the street. I walked right through a partying crowd and one guy flat out asked, “hey gringa, can I get you wet?!” Of course I said no and grimaced, knowing full well he would soak me no matter what my response. And he did in fact soak me. Whatever. I finally got to my destination but was completely soaked. Oh well, that is Carnaval.
On Saturday, the family and I headed over to the old/ancient family farm where Jorge and his brother are working on building an apartment building together. This was the second of two parties we have had in honor of his building. It is called a Challa in Quechuan, which is intended to bring good luck on the building. We at chicharron by hand with all the workers and family members. After eating, the hose came out. Everyone but Abu were soaking wet. Vivi lit up once she got Jorgito’s water gun in hand. I soaked Jorge, and it was well-deserved. Everyone was soaking wet and drunk by the time the band came. I was really happy to see most of the members were playing zamponas, but Jorge made me play. This made me cringe a little bit as the tubes were covered in green spit from their chewing coca leaves. It was nasty, but I tried anyway and failed miserably. At some point, a few workers decided they wanted to dance. I was among the few ladies present at the party, and the only with blonde hair. I danced with ONE guy and refused the rest. I do kind of like doing traditional dances though, but I wasn’t going to dance with 25 different workers. I searched for Jorgito and his friend after dancing and saw them jabbing some long stick at something. I headed over and discovered they were trying to kill 6 little frogs. I was mad and told them to stop it, but then I remembered they were little kids. They promised they would stop, but they went right back to it as soon as I left. I don’t understand how a kid can hate frogs. I remember when I used to go swimming in the creek on the farm and I loved the millions of tiny frogs that it was full of. Whatever. That was a fun afternoon. The building is on the 6th floor and they only have 6 more to go. We headed back home after that to rest well one more night in preparation for the next day’s party. You must be wondering how many party’s I went to. A lot.
On Sunday we headed to Yotala where our family friends, Maricelo and Monica, have a cottage. It was pretty much the same exact party as the day before, but in a different place. There were lots of children, so it was quite fun for them. Late afternoon, the water fight really began, but the young children had already changed into dry clothes. They thought that meant they were officially off limits, but they thought wrong. Jorgito kept spraying me with his water gun, so I grabbed him to throw him in the kiddy pool. I wasn’t really going to do it, and I set him back down when he started yanking on my hair. 5 seconds later, a friend told me to grab his arms while he got the legs and we made a nice, dry Jorgito one very angry little boy. He marched off with the biggest frown I have ever seen. I felt horrible, but of course Jorgito was over it in 5 minutes. Everyone but the mothers were soaked that afternoon. They were chickens and stayed inside. We headed out yet again in hopes of a good night’s rest to prepare for…….? Another party! Imagine that.
On Monday, we drove down to the valley where my aunt Sandra has their cottage. I had a bit of a rough start. We were lazing around when Jorgito sprayed me in the back again. After the same thing yesterday, I decided to throw him in the pool again. I mean, my friend justified doing so yesterday when he told me to grab his arms. It was fine to do so judging from yesterday’s events, right? Apparently not. This pool was a bit deeper, and I learned very quickly that Jorgito doesn’t really know how to swim. It was fine. He just grabbed my hand and I pulled him out really quick, even though he was sobbing into Jorge’s arms immediately afterward. I was confused why nobody said anything. It wasn’t at all a fast process, and Viviana or Jorge could easily have said NO. If you know me well, you know how horrible I felt after that. I punished myself with my own guilt, but moved on eventually. Jorgito was fine, and he even trusted me to teach him how to swim that same afternoon. Life moves on. The rest of the afternoon went well. There were a couple other girls there my age that I got along well with. We walked to the river and swam there a bit. It was great. I got a pretty bad sunburn, but this time I didn’t peel. I am one tan woman now. Good afternoon, and I was glad all seemed well after the incident with Jorgito.
Once again we slept like rocks for the LAST day of Carnaval. I woke up Tuesday morning exhausted. Vivi came down early and asked if we could talk. That is always a bad sign. I will NEVER forget what she said. Ever. “Hayley, a mi no me gustado NADA de lo que has hecho ayer.” She said it in her strictest voice and with a pointed finger. That translates to ‘Hayley, I didn’t like what you did yesterday ONE BIT.’ It was absolutely terrifying. I immediately started crying. I knew she was referring to throwing Jorgito in the pool. All she said after that was that she knows I have never had a younger sibling, and that if he is bothering me then I need to tell her and not throw him in the pool. She left as quickly and surprisingly as she came. That was the end of it to her, but I was sobbing and hyperventilating in my room for the next half hour. I went to wash the dishes and had to stop and dry my hands after every dish because I kept crying and had to wipe the tears away. After thinking a bit, I calmed down. I know realize this was my first real encounter with a culture difference. She is a strict, loving Bolivian mother. She did not know how it went down the day before in Yotala, and she can’t read my mind. I am new to Carnaval. After the previous day, I thought it was perfectly acceptable to throw him in the pool. I did not know he couldn’t swim. And nobody told me to stop because they didn’t think I would do it anyway. I don’t feel the slightest bit of guilt for what happened, but I do feel really bad even though it was intended to be fun. Jorgito had to have been terrified. For the first time, I had to just suck up what Vivi had to say. I know I am not in the wrong, but she doesn’t understand everything the way I understood it. This was a learning experience. A tough one. We never said a word about the incident after that morning, and continued with the day just fine.
That same day, the whole family gathered at the Casa Rodriguez for one last day of partying. There was food, there was family, there was water, there was alcohol, and there was music. We left to the streets and danced around the plaza and called it a day after that. Everyone went their separate ways to wind down before going back to work the next day. I was exhausted. 5 days of being completely soaked is just too much for me. I slept like a rock and was one grouchy lady. That was enough of Carnaval for me, and I am happy to be back on a regular schedule. It was good experience, and I say that if I ever make it back to Bolivia some day it will be during Carnaval.
I forgot to mention the day I finally found someone to go throw water balloons with. None of my girl friends wanted to go, but I finally ran into one of the guys I graduated with. We planned an afternoon of it and I had a blast. I missed the testosterone. We met up at Juan Pablo’s house to fill water balloons and headed to the plaza by 5:00. I ended up being to scared to throw them at anyone, and we all ended up using the balloons on ourselves anyway. As usual, I was a main target, but it was much more fun this time. The other funny thing was how they fill their water balloons. I kept laughing when they asked me if I knew how to fill them. What kind of question is that, right?! Well, bolivian boys do it different. They gave me a lesson on how to make them really tight so they hurt when you were hit, but that shall forever remain a secret to you all. Mwahahahahah. And they do hurt super bad…I speak from experience.
I think that is all for Carnaval. I walk into town and still am a little paranoid that a water balloon will strike me from out of nowhere. I got pretty good about being discreet after a month of dealing with that paranoia. Thank our good lord Jesus that is a thing of the past. I am exhausted just writing about all that. I do have some pretty good pictures you will have to check out on picasaweb.google.com/hmnelson12 as soon as I get them posted. Cheers!