The carnival in Oruro, Bolivia, is South America’s second biggest carnival after Rio, attracting around 400,000 visitors, 35,000 dancers, and 6,000 musicians. Having been lucky enough to witness South America’s third biggest festival at Lake Titicaca, the festival of the Candelaria, only a few weeks before, I was thrilled that our visit to Bolivia coincided with Oruro’s carnival as well. The Oruro carnival was declared by UNESCO as an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” and it is a marathon of festivities that lasts for four days. The main parade is on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. It is called ‘La Diablada’ (the ‘Dance of the Devils’), and is an extraordinary parade that showcases dancers in extravagant costumes and masks. We managed to get some good seats for the parade so were able to see the spectacular dancers and costumes from up close. No carnival parade is the same without some ladies in sexy outfits and while the outfits in Oruro are nowhere near as revealing as the ones in Rio, the men in the crowd seemed to have liked them. Whenever some lovely Bolivian ladies came past the men in the crowd went crazy and called for ‘besos’ (kisses). When the ladies then threw air kisses at them they were ecstatic. I’ve said it before, but men are so easy! 🙂
The most popular crowd pleasers were not the sexy Bolivian ladies though, but some guys in bear costumes (the osos). Whenever the bears danced past us the whole crowd went wild and chanted “Oooso, ooso, oso…”, until they performed a little dance. Aren’t the bears adorable? They reminded me of the Ewoks from Star Wars actually. The parade lasts for a staggering 20 hours and goes on for over 4km. I just don’t know how the dancers and musicians managed to keep their energy levels so high under the beating sun and at an altitude of 3,700 m above sea level, but they did and managed to cheer on the whole crowd. In the build up to carnival the whole of Bolivia breaks out into water and foam fights and Oruro is no exception. Having been hit by numerous water bombs and foam in Sucre for weeks, I came to Oruro prepared with ammunition in form of canned foam (espuma), because as you can imagine blonde gringas are a prime target. The foam fights were actually hilarious (if you have foam yourself that is – some Spanish tourists in front of me didn’t and they weren’t very amused when they got covered in foam!). I thoroughly enjoyed my endless fight against some Bolivian guys next to me and once we all ran out of foam we shared some beer together – that’s what you call maintaining good diplomatic relations I think. 😉
Have you been to Oruro carnival? Would you say yay or nay to a foam fight?
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Note: Very sadly, this year’s festival ended in tragedy when a bridge over the main parade road collapsed resulting in a number of deaths and injuries. However the carnival organisers and participants decided to continue the parade the next day as a tribute to those who lost their lives, including with participation from the band who were most affected as many of their musicians were under the bridge when it collapsed. Our condolences to those who were affected by the tragedy.