Carnaval II: Slash and Burn Finale

06 Mar 2007 11:02 pm

The second day was a lot like the first only a little less fun because we were actually watching the repetitiveness that became the parade. Don’t get me wrong, it was gorgeous. The costumes were out of some fantastical kids’ book like Where the Wild Things Are but people! The most well known costumes are those of the Diablo, which is supposed to be the devil but looks more like a googly-eyed monster with a party coming out of its ears. They’re incredibly elaborate down to the fiery color-grade looking paint on the curly bits popping out from either side.

Diablos are usually men. The women generally wear obscenely short skirts with tons of frill underneath and a beady, sequined jungle of intertwined strings and designs on top. The vest can have anywhere from one to four layers depending on how intricate it is, and their braided hair is usually topped with some sort of flashy, matching feathers or hat that, believe it or not, outdoes the outlandish fashions some southern women wear on their heads for church or that swanky Aussie women wear to the horse races. Not to mention what a pot hole Oruro is, but this is their one big event for the entire year, so the girls go all out on the make up to the point where even the ugly ones are pretty. Well, most of them.

Finally, there are these big fuzzy bear costumes that are absolutely adorable. Their legs are really short with these big ol’ bellies so when the people inside them try to run, they look like they’re waddling. One group had some baby bears with kids inside them, so you can imagine we were all cooing at them. Unfortunately, I only took one of the kids’ little old-school photo project cameras because it’s not uncommon to have things stolen and I love my digital too much to see it go. So the pictures aren’t that great and they’re prints, so I’ll have to wait to post them until I get a chance to scan them into the compy.

Since we didn’t really get out of the hostel until about 11 and since I really hadn’t eaten anything but beer the day before, we decided to go find some decent food before we molded ourselves into our seats. We ended up walking a good few blocks and then having to cross the parade route to get to our seats. What a mess. Again, we were stuck behind the bleachers trying to get through this little fenced in passage way, but this time there was a wall about 5 feet from the back of the bleachers and about 40 extra drunk people creating an unsympathetic undertow. We were literally squished in the crowd to the point that if someone fell, they’d just get sucked right underfoot. I finally understood the logistics of how exactly people get trampled at concerts and stuff. Only one thing could part this crowd.

A dancer came off the street wanting to get through to the area behind the bleachers. As I mentioned in the last post, the dancers are sacred. If one comes through, even if he’s trying to go the opposite way as the current, everyone gets out of his way. Well, this dancer happened to be wearing a giant blue costume with lots of jutting out tiers and gold beads that took up the equivalent of about four of us squished people. He’d lost the head of his costume somewhere along the way, so that wasn’t getting hung on the bleachers and on people’s clothes like the rest of him was. Plus, he was drunk. Like, really drunk, which is why he was leaving the parade. I don’t think he meant to leave the parade. It looked more like his feet just took him that way and he went along with them. We know who was the captain of that ship!

Anyway, everyone moved out of his way, which squished some folks in even tighter. But no one seemed to mind as everyone was watching this lost boat of a man. A guy in a ball hat saw the dancer’s eyes rolling back in his head as he slumped against the base of the bleachers. Thank god his costume caught on the metal of the beams so he didn’t do an ass-plant in the mud and soil his pretty white trousers.

If you saw this, what would be your first reaction? Perhaps, “Wow, he’s dehydrated, he could use some water,” or even, “Whoo weee, he’s drunk.” I’m not sure which one of these got mixed up in Ball Hat Boy’s head but he rushed over to the guy, tilted his head upward with the grace of a first aid student in training, and proceeded to gently pour beer into his mouth. Jesus. I could be wrong but I don’t think that was the most logical idea.

About that time, the floodgates opened and the congealed crowd started sliding forward. We made it through the fenced gate and across the street without getting bombed at all. I’m not sure how. Our seats were only about a block away from there, so we kept walking, climbing through the forest of beams beneath the bleachers. We got sprayed here and there with a can of foam, had a few water balloons and trashed dropped down through the bleachers with a lot of close calls, no worries.

We found the backside of our seats and were trying to decide who would climb up first. About that time, a group of three guys about 23 years old started passing by. One of them lightly grabbed me around the back of the neck laughing as he sprayed me in the face. I had my hat on, so I just tilted my head down to let the bill catch the foam and keep the rest of it out of my eyes. After a few seconds, when he was still spraying, I had a flash of a thought that this was a little weird, but then they left.

Andy was fired up, smiling and asking me to hand him our can of spray. I dug it out of my bag, handed it to him, and he ran off after the guys. From his point of view, he caught up with them not too far down the sidewalk and started spraying them. He noticed they weren’t laughing but rather looking at him like he was crazy. Getting that feeling they didn’t want to play, Andy came back just in time to see the Bolivian mountain lady with the green and white striped accordion thingie pointing at my bag.

“Your bag is torn!” She said, pointing with an upset look on her face. Normally Bolivian mountain women don’t really have facial expressions other than deadpan, so it was a little odd. Being a slightly naïve person despite my traveling experiences, I looked down at my sliced bag and thought, “Well, hell, when did that happen? I don’t remember it catching on the bleachers or anything but…” Then I noticed the wound in my little bag… it was a clean cut, not ripped, as if it had been done with a knife. And there was a slit in the poncho plastic over top of it too.

Holy shit! My bag just got slashed! It was so quick and so unsuspecting! The one guy must have foamed my face to blind me while another one was slashing my bag. Weird.

I had heard so many stories about this. Many were just normal city stories and a good few of them were from Carnaval itself. No surprise there. I might be naïve at times but I know better than to carry anything of even slight value in a bag in South America, especially at Carnaval. Even still, a part of my brain was thinking there might maybe have been something little like keys that aren’t valuable but necessary. Andy and I just looked at each other trying to get a grip.

We went inside the open door of the building directly behind us to look and see what they got. Andy’s face was trembling by this point as he asked if I had anything in my bag. I said I didn’t and not to worry. I was surprisingly calm. At the same time, Andy was also figuring out that he’d just chased down the guys who had done it. They knew what they’d done and didn’t know how to react to this laughing gringo coming back for revenge. If they had thought he was as insane as he must have looked, he could have gotten knifed! Wow.

I reached inside my bag and started feeling around. I really hadn’t brought anything with me. Thankfully I’d left the camera at home that morning but even it wouldn’t have been that great of a loss as it was just one of the point-and-shoot photo project cameras that will be left in South America anyway. I found the crackers and apples I’d brought with me that morning. My ibuprofen and gum were still in there. What could they have taken?

I had a quick flashback of packing all the stuff in my bag that morning:

‘Ibuprofen in case of acute headache… check.
Snacks to avoid eating crap again today… check.
Toilet paper, oopsy, only have a little left… check.
Oh I should also put a tampon in with the toilet paper in case of emergency…’

Oh! OH! HAHAHAHAHAH! That’s what they got! A tenth of a roll of cheap Bolivian toilet paper and a tampon! Enjoy that, assholes.

Andy still wasn’t ok with it, understandably, as he’d unintentionally risked his life for a bit of toilet paper and a tampon. Then he got to thinking about how horribly wrong their operation could have gone. What if my hand had been in the way and got cut? What if he’d plunged the knife in deeper and it went through the bag and into my body? A thousand things could have gone wrong but thank goodness they were professionals… I guess.

The rest of the day was pretty much the same as yesterday with the same amout of water balloon throwing and foaming, etc. Come to find out, the parade groups are exactly the same as the day before only they reverse the order slightly. So there really wasn’t much new and we headed out a little early for dinner.

Later that night, as we thought the parades might be coming to a close, we made our way up to the plaza where the route ends. It turned out to be pretty cool as, when many groups finish, they add a few fireworks and do an extra jig to go out strong. The fireworks were, at best, dangerous as hell. Many of the dancers and music men were drunk by that point as they were basically “hydrated” throughout the parade with cans of beer, so it looked like some didn’t realize that fireworks actually do emit fire and explode most of the time. So they’d be standing right next to them, sparks from the cannon spraying all over their heads like they were kids enjoying a sprinkler or something. Thankfully, all the ones we saw moved away just in time and no one appeared to be hurt.

Overall, Carnaval was a great time. I can’t say it was anything more than I was expecting and I don’t think I need to go again. Wearing a poncho for four days straight is enough for me, thanks. But good memories, for sure, and worth going if you’re in the area.

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