On Friday, this year’s carnival of Oruro takes place. One of the most important festivals in Latin America. Last year I was there and it was lively, great and colourful. But, I am truly glad that this year I am not going.
The carnival of Oruro was really impressive, I have to admit that. Every year there are over 20.000 dancers and 10.000 musicians, dancing and playing for over 4 km as a devotion for the “Virgen de la Candelaria”. The parade goes on non-stop, for three whole days and nights. It is the second biggest carnival in Latin America, after the carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
Even UNESCO declared the Carnival of Oruro as “Mankind’s Master Piece of Intangible and Oral Heritage” in 2001. And this title is well deserved, after my opinion. In this festival you will see many different types of traditional Bolivian dances. However, Diablada, Morenada, Caporales and Tinku, are some of the most famous. All the dances symbolize a different stories or events. For example the “Diablada” (The Devil’s Dance), symbolize a struggle between good and evil. While the Caporales represents the foremen who were in charge of the slaves in colonial times. Waca-waca shows a bull fight. This for just mention a few of the many dances.
Furthermore, the beautiful costumes used by the dancers are really impressive. They are handmade with many details. Many of them are extremely expensive with a lot of gold accessories.
So it was well worth going last year to experience all of this. However, here are the reasons why one time was enough for me, and why I would never like to return.
Firstly, I do not think I was dry one minute of that whole weekend. As I am a “Gringa”, which means I am a foreigner, children and young adults were shooting with water pistols at me all the time. I could not even eat a meal on the street without someone passing and shooting at me with water making me and my food wet. They also used water-balloons, though that is illegal. They also used spoom-spray that a child also on purpose sprayed in my eye once. Making it hurt for hours afterwards.
However, even worse, I got a rocket exploding in my face. And that was a really scary experience. It looked like someone had hit me in the face for several days afterwards. And all I heard in one of my ears was “biiiiiip” for a whole day. It was some of the people on our stand that was firing up some firework in the middle of the crowd from this hands. Clever, right? They did this several times. Until one of the rockets they fired up was wrongly made and instead of going up in the air it went towards me that was sitting 10 meters to the right from them, and it exploded in my cheek. Luckily it was not my eye!
This happened the first day, and contributed to that I was very scared the rest of the carnival. The dancers passing also fire up firework, and every time they did I was so scared. I could not relax at all. It also happened two times that the rockets went into the audience. There was no control related to safety and firework at all!
Furthermore, the stands where you sit or stand watching the parades are not solid at all. Almost every year one fall down and people get hurt. I was also scared due to this, as people were jumping up and down on the stand – way too many on one.
Luckily, this did not happen last year. However, what happened was maybe the worst accident in history during Carnival of Oruro. A bridge made for crossing the parade collapsed. It fell down on the audience and the dancer and the musicians passing under. 4 people were killed and over 60 were injured.
I was sitting far from where the accident happened, but I know people that witnessed the accident. It was really horrible they said. After what they saw, they could not sleep for many nights. We were sitting in the end of the parade, and after the accident all the dancers were just walking. Everyone stopped dancing, and was crying. It was not a party any more, just sorrow of what had happened. Even we in the audience started crying.
In addition to all of this, there are so many people during the carnival that it is almost a bit claustrophobic. At least for me that do not like when it is very crowded.
Furthermore, there are very few hotels in the small mining-town Oruro, and during carnival all the hotels are sold out. We had to sleep on the floor in an apartment with over 50 others people, with only two bathrooms to share. It reminded me of a school trip. It was pretty uncomfortable, and for three days there was almost no sleep, and no showers.
So these are the reasons why I do not want to go to the carnival of Oruro again. However, I am happy that I experienced it last year. The dances, the costumes and the music was really spectacular. However, due to the other things that happened, it was a bit hard for me to enjoy what I really came for – to see the master piece of intangible and oral heritage of Bolivia. Maybe I sound like a old bitter lady, that do not like water wars, fireworks, crowds or living on the edge. And maybe I am!? Despite my young age, I feel too old for all of this. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I was 18!? Anyway, I know many that just love this carnival, and go year after year. However, it is not for me, so I guess we are all different…