By Published On: February 27, 2006Categories: Culture0 Comments on Carnival

The town sits as if sheltering from agoraphobia,
tucked under the dawn-lit hills clustered like islands in the sea-like Altiplano,
a blur of ugly unfinished brick buildings, a monotony of red and dusty brown against a dizzy blue sky.

The rattling taxi hurtles around the blind corner.
Lit up by the early sun a lorry full of tubas and trombones sparkles.
Further down the street, a fiercely vibrant dragon’s mask emerges from a rusty tin door,
a stack of blue and gold costumes spill off the pavement.

The rustle of ankle-bells from a dancer with unseemingly large shoulder-pads chatter excitedly "carnival, carnival, carnival."

The wrinkled woman propped against the pavement with her spread of vegetables seems untouched by the stream of people heading to the centre,
pulled magnetically to the sound of a thud, thud, thud
that reverberates along the cobbled streets.

Then suddenly you are swept into a meley of
crammed crowds, shrieking brass, roars of appreciation.
The climb up the rickety ladder onto the stand
leads you into an even more intense cacophony of people and sounds.

Waves of vividly bright colours rush past the piers of seats,
as dancers from all over Bolivia weave and bob down the street,
plaits swinging, tasselled shawls whirling, thigh-high boots stamping,
baubles and beads glistening in the sun, feathers waving,
devilish masks with bulging eyes glaring,
everything pulled onwards by the
cheering and clapping of beer-filled rowdy crowds.

Above a rainbow of coloured water balloons arches
before crashing on spectators causing shrieks and vows of revenge.

Energy ebbs. A tired child cries. A dancer loses his rhythm.
A family chews determinedly on gristly plates of meat.
A drunk man slumps against the barricades.

I head to a friend’s house to dry off soaked clothes
and amusedly watch a Carnival advert for Pacena beer
where beautiful women flirt with carnival devils
to the Blur tune of "Park life!"

Then it’s a clamber back onto the stand.
"All the people, so many people"
A dynamic Tinku band in bellowing colours
gets the whole stand on their feet dancing,
waving, chanting and spilling beer.
A group of tourists wandering past get mobbed
and drenched with foam and water.
A burst balloon streams cold water down my back.

I leave the intoxicating stand and head down backstreets
of slumped band players in ill-fitting suits and
tottering over-made up women in tiny waist length skirts
to the Church of the Virgin Mary of Socavon.

Outside crowds noisily cram the steps as dancers make their final twirls.
Inside the cool quietness is only disturbed by
brilliantly bright dancers shuffling on their knees,
sweat glistening as they cross themselves devoutedly
before a painting of a seemingly-aloof Virgin Mary.

Night creeps across the town, but the carnival hardly notices
The stands rock and precariously sway with partying spectators,
reacting off a fresh wave of spiralling dancers,
whose energy seem to intensify the light and colours on the street.

Exhausted and damp, I finally pull myself away from the addictive spectacle.
I head down streets that quieten with my footsteps,
following a dancer whose tired anklebells
murmur "carnival, carnival, carnival."


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