I arrived exhausted in freezing Potosi and my companion, Carlos, took me to look for hostals. They were all full except one. They were all triple price as well. After an hour or so of searching I took a nap before venturing out to explore the city a bit more.
For 50BS ($7) you can buy a seat for the weekend. At the end of the street is a gate and behind that gate are the dancers, the processions. The first day are the local schools: amateurish and cute. They have been preparing for this for months, longer maybe. Every few minutes you see dancers dressed to the hilt in feathered caps that look like industrial sized dream catchers walk arm in arm with a parent to behind the gate.
The streets of Potosi were lined with empty bleachers, each marked with seat numbers. A million noises crowd the air: “Seats! Seats! Get your seats!” “Beer! Only 8BS! Ice cold!” Vendors raced around trying to get their products sold. People’s cares drop away as the groups prance and twirl down the streets under a blue banner reading:
NO ABUSES DEL ALCOHOL
SI QUIERES DISFRUTAR MUCHOS CAU’TILLOS
HONORABLE GOBIERNO MUNICIPAL
TRABAJANDO EN DISAROLLO HUMANO
At first there is the feeling of a school play, the children sometimes simply promenading, not dancing, down the mile long gamut lined with spectators. They munch on food and drinks and talk to eachother and look fearfully at the thousands of people in the bleachers. But as the day progresses and more beer is drunk the kids get into the show and just do their thing. They have seen from those who’ve gone before that nothing bad will happen to them.
An old woman, face wrinkled a gorilla mask I just saw in the parade, sits in the same place she did 5 hours earlier. Candied apples. A group dressed in pink sun hats shouts “Vamos chicas!” in drunken enthusiasm.
A group passes in hats that were probably the height of fashion in 1492. Each group is accompanied by its own marching band. Some bands are the main event, hamming it up with their styles of “marching”. As the dancers go down the street they sometimes pull their boyfriends or girlfriends (or possibly just people they wish were) out of the crowds to dance with them. It is all very informal and endearing. Between each group the street fills with crowds and with women selling snacks from trays and pushcarts. A boy walks down the street with a jug and some plastic dixie cups: “hot coffee! hot coffee!” In those thin cups I hope it was only tepid.
I have never seen finer costumes than in this festival. There were more costumes than I would have thought existed in Bolivia. There were, I guess, 500 groups of 30 dancers and a full marching band each. All were dressed in absolute finary. The girls usually in what the Brits lovingly refer to as FM boots and a corset and lace skirts. The boys were dressed as all kinds of objects ranging from alters to large condors.
Each group has its own personality. There is a band of dancers who sort of hop along to a steady repetative beat. Then there are some groups who have a “spirit” who embodies the group. Sometimes it is a particular dancer or a person dressed as an animal. One group had man on a horse who swung a dead animal around his head while screaming
As his group dances down the street, an old man with a symbolic traditional water jug in one hand and a regular water bottle in the other walks among them, tired. It has been a long day and the sun is setting but the pink hats cry for more. The sequen covered costumes glint off the setting sun.
These photos have been borrowed from a very nice girl named Fiona who I met in the Salar de Uyuni. Her photopage is at: http://05.fotopic.net