As a traveller, you get to experience the most amazing things that many other people don’t get to see. Our journey of the last six months has taken us through South America, and we absolutely love it so far. Except for Bolivia. Man, so many people said it’s such a nice country, but we had a very different experience. Besides Tupiza. One thing we really wanted to experience in Bolivia, was the Carnival in Oruro. All guidebooks and even locals told us that the Oruro Carnival is the best.
The carnival of Oruro is a religious festival over 200 years old and was declared as a UNESCO Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001.
The Diablada or Dance de Diablos is the main dance at the festival in honour of the Virgin Socavón Oruro, or Our Lady of the Mineshaft, and is characterised by masks and devil suits worn by dancers, hence the name "Dancing with the Devil". It has retained most of the artistic expression of the pre-Colombian era, unlike other similar expressions of the Andes. We only found out about it 2 weeks before travelling to Bolivia, and according to everything we read, it gets busy, and accommodation gets booked out months in advance. But determined to go, we frantically searched the internet and social media for a bed, or a place to stay. We were used to sleeping in dorms by this time, so no biggy. Many places and even home-owners offered beds in their houses or a mattress on the floor in a bigger room, I guess a hall or something. So eventually I found a guy offering a bed, at a pretty penny. And I mean, a ridiculous amount of money for Bolivia. But we took it because we really wanted to do this. So we took a bus to Oruro from Sucre. We arrived at 5 am in a very ice-cold Oruro. The bus, though, didn’t even stop at the bus terminal, it just dropped us off in some random gas station next to the highway and we needed to take a taxi into town to our accommodation. Strike 1. Fortunately, I had a Bolivian sim card, and I could WhatsApp the host for the address to give to the taxi. The taxi dropped us off on a street corner, the given address. There were construction sites around us, and closed shops. It didn’t look like a neighbourhood at all - just an industrial area. Strike 2.
Messaged the host. He was waiting outside one of the construction sites. Shit. Our “room”, which we knew we would probably be sharing with some other people, was a room, but it was not even complete! It had plastic sheeting for a window, no plastering on the walls, no ceiling, oh and did we mention it was on the 2nd floor of a still-in-construction building? No insulation either and it was freezing cold. It was literally a mattress on the floor, made of straw or something extremely hard and heavy, and we shared the 3x3 room with another couple - sleeping at this hour, obviously.
The shower, was one of those much-hated by now, electric shower heads in a room that barely resembled a bathroom. With a toilet only. We had to share this "bathroom" between us, as well as people sleeping on the 3rd floor of this building. We looked at each other and thought, shit! Now what? It is dark, it is freezing cold, it is five in the morning and we have nowhere else to go. So we stayed (I know, dumb right?) The Carnival street was two streets from us, we woke up with loud music at 8 am. We got up so not a miss a thing. We tried having a nice hot shower, but as expected by now the water was freezing cold! We told the guy and went to the Carnival. There were thousands of people. The streets were cordoned off, but people were crowding next to the barriers to see. We found out that we could buy tickets to get inside, and have some seats to enjoy the day. We decided to buy them…
Except, it wasn’t as fun and comfortable as one would think. You get an assigned seat on a bleacher, your ass can barely fit in the dedicated, imaginary lines. As you sit, the knees of the person behind you are rubbing your ears, and you have to spread them legs so the guy in front of you can get the mandatory ear-rub. It's cramped and uncomfortable. The costumes were actually really good, the amount of detail and the hours people must’ve spent to design and sow them was remarkable. They follow a procession down the street, dancing, and singing.
After a few hours, we left to get some food. There were hundreds of food stalls in the street where one can buy traditional Bolivian food. It’s OK, nothing special, but calms the pythons.
We went to sleep for a while - we were damn tired. Around 6 pm we decided to go back and see what the Carnival is like at night. Children were spraying anyone they could find with fake snow, which was fun to watch, besides the procession. We decided not to go back to our very cramped, expensive seats and stood in the street. By this time spectators were drunk, people were rude with short tempers, couples were fighting, men are peeing in the street wherever they find a spot… Not so nice. What we experienced, and felt, were not a good festive, happy vibe one would expect during a carnival. It was dark and negative, no-one was really happy or enjoying themselves. They were just there, drinking, getting drunk and fighting. Strange. We went to bed around 9 pm. We made the decision that we are getting out of there, first thing in the morning. This is not the type of experience that we expected or wanted. Around 4 am, we were woken up by blood-curdling screams. A woman, from what we could hear, screaming and shouting. We didn’t understand a word of her Spanish, but there were 2 other people trying to calm her down. We thought, maybe a drunk person, maybe something happened. But we went back to sleep. 7 am, we got up, took our bags and made our way to the bus terminal. 2 blocks from our accommodation, a busy street corner, we see the road was cordoned off. Men in white hazmat suits were combing through debris - clothes, pots, pans, bookshelves? - littered all over the street. It looked like someone got mad and started throwing things around, and then burned it. I mean, people can act mad when they are drunk. We took a detour to the bus station as fast as we could - we just wanted to get out of there. On the way, we saw another couple fighting. It sounded like the husband was less than faithful the night before. Got to the bus station, bought our tickets to La Paz on the first bus out, 30 minutes later. We saw on the news, that sadly, a gas canister from one of the food carts exploded the night before. 6 people including children were killed and many were injured. The screams must’ve been from a mother or wife of a victim.
We were happy to get out of there.