[Day 1] Carnaval de Oruro, Bolivia
So this was said to be second to Carnaval in Rio, Brazil and besides this day, there’s not much in the city, so of course they took full advantage and 10x the prices of almost everything. For example, a bed in a dorm room would normally be like $6 but this weekend it was almost $100. You can pay about $15 - $20 to sleep on the ground without a mattress, blanket, or anything. You also had to pay for seats to watch the parade and I know people who paid about 800 Bolivianos or $116 USD. Talk about extreme… but nonetheless it was such a good time and I did it the cheapest way I could.
Originally, Doug and I were going to pull a 24 hour trip to Oruro, not sleep, and catch the next bus out of the city. So I came with only the clothes on the back and a small purse for my phone, wallet, extra contacts, and dental stuff. I was well prepared to just stay awake for how many hours I needed to catch the next day bus out, which I realized would had to either be the same day at 9:30pm or the next day at 10:30pm. I wasn’t sure if I would make it 2 full days without sleep in the rain and cold.
We arrived in Oruro around 5am and I can’t even describe how freezing cold it was. Doug had like 4 or 5 layers of clothes on while I only had a tank, a long sleep and a windbreaker. It’s summer in South America, it should not have been that cold. So we went to the first restaurant we saw and took our time eating so that we could stay in a warm and dry place until it got lighter outside. That first meal was huge though - fried chicken with fries, rice, and noodles. Talk about carb overload at 5am in the morning…
Next we walked around to find a bottle store and find a coffee shop. At the sluggish rate we were operating, trying to stay awake for 2 days was going to be a lot harder than we thought. We then went to watch the parade about about an hour and a half not he bleachers. Since it was so early, they were all empty and we were able to enjoy the morning part of the parade.
Alex, another guy from our Spanish school told us that the place he was staying at had room for 2 more if we were interested for 125 Bolivianos or about $18 a night. Contemplated for a bit since Doug has back problems and sleeping on the floor isn’t the best for him and me not having anything to sleep on. But we’re only at Carnaval once so let’s do it. We met up with the others also staying in the room and we witnessed for the first time what it meant to try and get as much money out of every visitor. It was literally just a big room with nothing but the floor, walls, and ceiling. I can’t believe we were about to pay $18 for this… lol but it is what it is.
Most of the other people bought the package through the same tour company that included the price of the room, the bleacher seats, some Carnaval goodies, and the bus (the total price came out to be more than $150 for just a weekend… I was not down). A few of the others, including the Dutches, and an English girl, and us split off and did our own cheaper version of Carnaval. We walked around and with “Espumas” in our hands, or this soapy spray thing, we took on Espuma Wars with every group of kids who walked by and wanted to mess with us. It was soooo much fun! We had at least 5 different espuma wars and even with ponchos on, I was completely covered with soap. It felt so good to be a kid again! I don’t remember the last time I just ran around being 7 years old again. It was so refreshing and fun!! Except those Bolivian kids had no mercy for us. Even when I didn’t have can in my mind and was basically useless, they still came after me and sprayed me nonstop. I was at one point curled up in a ball on the ground and they kept spraying me in the face. I guess it was my fault at times because I would instigate the fights.
We continued climbing some bleachers to see if we could sit for free. Didn’t work out so well… most were asking for 500bs a seat. Like NO THANKS! We walked by the bottom of a bridge and saw a ton of locals climb the gate and so of course we followed. We got a few good shots from the top until we were kicked off by the cops. We continued onwards through different streets, taking in all the good smells of the street food, watching people dance, spray kids with the espumas, and just enjoying the music and liveliness of the festival. Although we weren’t able to watch the actual Carnaval, it was soooo much fun just exploring the city and being amongst the people.
At one point we lost the Dutches and so the rest of us went off and did our own thing. Oh, I forgot to mention that we met these two Bolivians from Santa Cruz who were pretty nice and cool at first, until they got drunk and really annoying. For example, when we finally found the Dutches, they got free seats in a really good section but since a huge group of us came back with them, the guy wasn’t too happy with letting us all sit for free. We were able to negotiate with them to lower the price down from 400bs to 100bs ($15 USD) for both Saturday and Sunday at a lower section of the bleachers (aka, I had to do the speaking and negotiating with my basic/elementary Spanish but I think I did a pretty good job).
The two Bolivians didn’t want to pay and the guy wouldn’t give us wristbands without everyone in our group paying. They literally sat with us for hours and we kept telling them that they had to pay for else we couldn’t get our wristbands. They kept talking back and forth and wouldn’t do anything. The girl left but the guy stayed and he got super drunk off of our alcohol. He wouldn’t buy any of his own. He kept doing the “drink” hand motion and asking each of us for our alcohol. I didn’t mind letting him have some at first but he kept doing it and getting waaay more drunk than any of us. Then he had the nerve to hand me 4bs for a beer, which were 10bs, and wanting each of us to put in 1bs for a small can of beer to share. Like what?? That doesn’t even make any sense. Then Merel went bought a beer but only had 20bs and the guy grabbed another one so she didn’t get any change back. So she told the person the only wanted one and he kept saying two. Then overtime someone took a drink of their beer or alcohol, he was motion for us to give him a sip. He finally left, thank god.
The rest of the night was so much fun! We were dancing, talking to the people around us, drinking more beer and this Cafe & Cognac mix that was only 10bs. Every time someone left for the bathroom, they had to come back with some alcohol. We took turns run out into the parade to join the dance groups. We chanted Doug’s name for him to go out and we kept saying, “He left a boy and came back a man.” Dancing, talking, singing, chanting, drinking, laughing, etc. the night just continued on like that until probably around midnight.
One of the girl got really drunk so we decided to make our way back home. Somehow Alex, an Aussie, and I got split off with the rest of the group so we just made our way back home alone. We stopped for dinner of course which was this delicious llama meat with corn and beans. I had it for lunch too and for only 10bs, we had a delicious meal. We thought we would get back after the others since we stopped for food and also a snack. But we got back a lot earlier than them. So apparently whichever way they took was just filled with puddles and flooded streets. There’s a video of them trying to cross the road but had to do some rock jumping since the water was all the way up to their ankles.
Okay, now let’s talk about the sleeping arrangement…
It was like a can of sardines in the room with just rows of people sleeping on the ground in one room. There were about 20 of us in a room just stacked next to each other, sleeping on any part of the ground we could find. Since I wasn’t planning to spend the night, I literally only had the clothes on my back. I used a friend’s sweater as my pillow and my jacket as my blanket to sleep on wooden floors. I couldn’t stay in one position too long because I would get sore and my hip bone was really sore in the morning. Here’s a picture to show you the madness…