Every year in the Bolivian mining town of Oruro hundreds of thousands of people for Carnival – one of the biggest in South America. Most of us are only familiar with the South American Carnival in Rio. But Oruro doesn’t mess around!
The traditions go back hundreds of years, with flavors and influence of both the Spanish Catholics, who came to the area in early 1600s, and the indigenous Aymara and Quecha people mixing a wonderful cacophony of sounds and sights, traditions and symbolism, as well as pilgrimage and pageantry, into the festival that it is today.
Carnival in Oruro lasts for many days, but we were there for the main weekend, which includes the two main parade processions. We arrived by bus from La Paz Friday evening and went to check into our hotel, Gran Hotel Bolivia (believe me, there is nothing Gran(d) about it!). Our hotel was near the beginning of the parade route and we went to join the revelers gathering for the main procession the next day. The party was in full force. Street food, drinking, the bands were playing, throngs of people – I think all of Bolivia was arriving into Oruro that evening. Fortunately, we were able to secure some good seats for the next two days of festivities.
A parade that seems to go on for days! The main procession, the Entrada, begins Saturday morning and lasts for about 16 hours – much longer than we lasted! And what a parade it was. Hundreds of dance troupes and brass bands. Gorgeous costumes, beautiful dancers, infectious energy – truly extraordinary. We didn’t realize it at the time of purchase, but our seats were in a prime location. We were across the road from a building where the VIPs watched the parade from a second floor balcony. We spied American actor Ed Norton up there. But Hal managed to see, photograph and shake hands with probably the biggest VIP in all of Bolivia: their president, Evo Morales. Wow! The parading continued on Sunday, but with a more relaxed atmosphere. The dancers and bands were in different costumes (likely their costumes from the year before) and many of dancers did not wear their masks. Nonetheless, the energy and extraordinary pageantry seemed to never end. Entonces …