Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back in Bolivia

So we finally made it back to Bolivia. We were supposed to come here three weeks ago, but as most of you know, my appendix had other plans for us. Even though the doctor told me I could travel as soon as I wanted to, I'm glad we waited until this weekend as the past few weeks were full of abdominal ups and downs.

But we're here...and just in time for Carnaval! While Brazil is what people typically think of when they think of Carnaval in Latin America, I must say, I was pretty impressed with Carnaval La Paz-style. We flew in from Lima on Sunday afternoon and were both immediately relieved to be in the high altitude, cold weather, and sunny environs that La Paz holds. It's amazing what a change in weather and scenery can do for you! The last few weeks were long, frustrating, and boring, so the change has done wonders for me.

Carnaval completely shuts down the city. Taxi rates are fixed from the airport, but becuase our driver had to take a "back way" we shelled out an extra $1.30 to get driven all the way to our hotel. The festivities were well under way on Sunday afternoon, as the big "entrada" takes place that day. Many women have on their best clothes, and people of all ages-from kids who are too small to walk-to people who are too old to walk-are dressed up as clowns, spider man, traditional Bolivian costumes....you name it!

The other thing you see everywhere is people covered in plastic ponchos and protective eye wear. One of the ways pacenos (people from La Paz) celebrate is by drenching -with hoses, water balloons, water guns, cans of warm beer, et cetera-everybody else. Throw in "epsuma", too, which is soapy foam in an aersol can, and you can see why the ponchos are needed! It's amazing though that nobody cares if you get sprayed. Kids spray adults; adults spray kids; the only people who seemed to get a pass were the hundreds of cops present to make sure nothing gets too crazy.

We quickly donned our rain coats, grabbed some change and cameras, and headed down to the main drag to catch the end of the festivities. Carnaval is celebrated here, as it is around the world, as a last hurrah before the shackles of lent prevent partying for a few weeks. Bolivians are known for their fiestas, and Carnaval is no exception. What normally takes 5 mintues to walk the three blocks downhill to the main drag easily took fifteen. We were in a sea of people, sometimes three rows wide, trying to squeeze through a space about two feet wide. Matt had hands in his back pockets for most of this time-somebody looking for a quick buck. He stands at least a head and a half taller than 95% of the population here, so it's a bit hard to blend in. Luckily for him, the afternoon was on me, so he had nothing to steal.

I bought some of the best popcorn I've ever had for 1 Boliviano (0.14 cents), a warm can of pacena beer (0.85 cents), and we paid 10 Bs ($1.42) for our extremely uncomfortable, but good view of the festivities. Not bad for an afternoon. We spent a good couple of hour people-watching, getting sprayed and foamed, before calling it a night. The parade ends around 9pm, and I was so impressed by the street cleaners that were immediately out cleaning up the aftermath. The streets stay closed to traffic until the last street sweeper is done, so by the next day, besides the remnants of balloons or streamers on cars, you wouldn't even know a huge party had taken place.

Most restaurants and businesses are closed during the 3 day festival, so we found ourselves eating in our hotel that first night. The food is fine, but the translation was keeping us entertained. Anybody up for a chicken breast stuffed with a landfill of ham? If so, I can tell you where the best in La Paz is......

Photos coming with a better internet connection-Matt is in the hallway, standing on his tiptoes trying to download a document for work, so I'm going to wait until we have a better bandwith to share our pics and videos....

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