Saturday, March 15, 2014

Carnaval: Game on.

For Cochabambinos, carnaval celebrations either ended a week ago OR if you live in certain areas of the Southern Zone of the city, are going to end tomorrow, after one last day of festivities.  This incredible duration of celebrating has been quite the experience and although I have loved most of it, has also led me to *more than once* desperately wish I was both male and not so white-skinned... :)  But I digress.  Let's start from the beginning.

Dia de los compadres--always celebrated on a Thursday--is a day when men celebrate friendship with their compadres. "Compadre" is the word men and women use to address the godfather of their son or daughter.  They (along with the comadres, or godmothers of their children) are considered part of the family.  Celebrations take place in the markets, at restaurants, in the home, etc and always include lots of food, alcohol, music, and dancing.  Below is a picture of Nate after he'd been dressed up for a compadres celebration we accidently attended (we honestly thought we were going to attend a Taize prayer service...oops!)
Dia de las comadres--always on a Thursday as well--takes place one week after the dia de los compadres and is pretty much the same holiday, except this time it's a day for the women to celebrate with their comadres.  I sadly did not get to join in the festivities, but Mary, one of the Franciscan lay missioners, celebrated enough for the both of us--she was out until 3am with the daughter of her host family!  This day is more or less the "official" start to Carnaval--ie the time of water balloons, super soakers, and spray foam or as I like to call it, the opening of "hunting season" in Cochabamba...  And can you guess who the typical "prey" is during this time?  Why females and foreigners of course--awesome :)

 Day of the water balloons.  Since the beginning of February, Hady and I had the pleasure of experiencing being the target of a random water balloon every now and then...  However, this game was exponentially up'd the day after comadres.  In a half a block walk alone, I'm pretty sure Hady and I had roughly a dozen water balloons catapulted at us through open car windows as well as by our lovely fellow pedestrians.  *Luckily* for us, Cochabambinos would have a very hard time hitting the broad side of a barn, and we were mostly spared as our walking turned into frantic half-running down the street to the restaurant we were planning on eating at that night.

But don't you worry, later that night we got our revenge!  The plan was to go to Karaoke after dinner, but this dream has yet to be realized due to non-dress-code-acceptable sandals worn by someone in our dinner party.  However, as luck would have it, this proved to be just the push we needed for one of our party members (*cough* potentially a Maryknoll seminarian...) to purchase a nicely sized super-soaker and have another one of our party memebrs (*cough* potentially a Maryknoll priest...) drive us around so we could NAIL all of the single men walking around.  We figured women are always the targets, so we were going to leave them and the children alone and FOR ONCE make the men suffer :)  Below are some pictures from this wonderfully gratifying night.  As you'll notice, I did not shy away from taking my turn using the super-soaker :)

Clearly, I'm on the left, Shaun (the potential Maryknoll seminarian aka super-soaker purchaser) is in the middle.  We were definitely not the only ones out that night with the intention of causing *trouble*--on the right is a picture of me with foam all over my face after being sprayed from a car that pulled up next to us at red light...  Definitely did not see that one coming!

Corso Infantil! This Sunday was the day of the children's parade in Cochabamba.  It took place downtown and consisted of kids dressing up in whatever costume they wanted (very much like halloween), packing their favorite water gun and/or foam spray, and running and spaying water as they made their way down the parade route.  It was super fun to see all of the cute costumes, and even more fun to have these cute little children spray you in the face with water :)  

The picture on the left was taken by Nate (if you remember from a previous blog he's an AMAZING photographer and has a photo blog if you want to see more of his fine work:  The picture on the right was taken by Hady and PERFECTLY displays the overall atmosphere of Carnaval--small children ignoring everything in life except their deeply seeded desire to soak and/or foam spray everyone in sight :)

Monday Funday!  The Monday and Tuesday of Carnaval are national holidays in Bolivia, which means there's lots more time for people (both old, young and everything in between) to pack an extra set of clothes, grab a water balloon, hose, bucket, water gun, etc (are you starting to sense a theme here??) and keep the water fight going FOREVER!  Monday afternoon found me at Mary and Nate's host family's house soaked within *seconds* of entering the front gate!  It didn't take me long to *whole-heartedly* join in the massive water fight that took place first within the family and next against the neighbors!  Talk about crazy amounts of fun.  I sure could get used to this on a yearly basis :)

Picture on the left is from Nate's blog and believe it or not, HE is the person in green completely covered in foam.  The picture on the right is of me, Mary, and Mary's host sister.  As you can see we are all completely soaked.  There was literally not a dry spot on my body for the 2+ hours we were engaged in this water war.  Like I said before, it was amazing :)

Day 4 of the long weekend!  On Tuesday (ie Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras in the US), SOME families settle down for a bit and use this day to bless their house with incense and also do a q'owa (see previous blog for more q'owa details), which thankfully, is what my host family did.  They first started by burning the strongest smelling incense I have ever smelled to bless (ie fumigate) the entire house.  They then burned a q'owa (also strong smelling) and had everyone in the house add to the offering by pouring a small amount of their beer/wine/mixed drink (I had a rum and coke...) in the four corners of the q'owa in clock-wise fashion.  A part of this ceremony also included decorating all the greenery in the yard and/or house.  Below are pictures of the q'owa offering, the incense bowl, and the decorated front yard.  I tried my best to get some pictures of some of the family members, but NONE of them wanted their picture taken :(


The incense bow, with some bits of the incense left in it is in the bottom left picture.  You can see the q'owa offering smoking nicely as it sits over very hot coals.  As I said in my previous blog, the longer the q'owa burns, the better the offering.  I think our offering was a very good one that day--it was still burning when I settled in for the night at around 10!

After Tuesday, everyone had to dry themselves off and head back to work.  However, this did not mean the water fun ended...  Although I never did get hit (again, thanks to horrible Bolivian aim), I did have a couple water balloons thrown at me a few times throughout the next couple of days :)

Corso de Corsos ie Carnaval Parade day in Cochabamba!  This was the day we were all waiting for--when we finally got the see all of the costumes and dances we'd been learning about in language school!  10am found me and Hady already downtown scoping out seats along the parade route.  We found some good ones and settled in to watch the first part of the parade, or the "military" parade.  This part includes different military divisions dressing up in ridiculous outfits (we saw MANY despicable me minions--both yellow and purple) and dancing choreographed dances to some of the latest pop songs.  Loved every second of it.  Here are some pictures of a *very* small sampling of the costumed dancers:
Think the costumes on the left (both the silver-masked ones and the green ones below) are from a video game... Picture above on the right is of a very large sheep float, and the one below is of the two queens of a specific military division (I think...)

And now we come to one of the hilarious highlights of this part of the parade: the boys in their diapers.  Sadly (or not sadly??), this was not the only group we saw in "diapers" with little else to cover them up while shaking their bon-bons to whatever the pop song of choice was for their group!  Above on the right is a group of Alvin and the chipmunks and it looks like we have some Simpsons fans in the picture on the bottom right (unless there's another reference to "Duff" beer that I don't know about...).  

The second half of the parade was far more traditional and consisted of dancers in very ornately decorated costumes dancing mainly to live bands (on floats or playing behind them).  I could have watched this part of the parade all night long.  The dancers were incredible and so were the costumes.  Let's also remember that the dancers dance for FIVE HOURS straight as they slowly move along the parade route--talk about being in excellent shape!  Below is a very small sampling of a the costumes present during the parade.  I was in love with all of the bright colors in both the men and women's costumes.

Taking it to the barrios!  Tomorrow will be the last hurrah of Carnaval in Cochabamba when neighborhood groups dance in a parade(s) in the Southern Zone of Cochabamba.  There's actually a former Maryknoll Lay Missioner who lives in one of these neighborhoods, who has danced in the past, and will dance again tomorrow in the parade.  We've been promised more of the same fun we've experienced throughout all of Carnaval--great costumes, great dancing, and LOTS of water and foam.  You can be sure I'll be bringing a extra set of clothes along with me tomorrow to help ensure I can travel home not soaking wet :)

I'd say overall, I had a great Carnaval experience this year in Cochabamba!  And although I'm *very* ready to take a break from being a water-target, I'm already looking forward to the fun and excitement of Carnaval 2015 :)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Valle Alto

Two weekends ago, two of our teachers from language school packed the 5 of us students, plus the two of them, and a driver, into a minivan trufi and headed a bit over an hour south to a region called "Valle Alto."  I wasn't quite sure what to expect on the trip, since the only time I'd heard the names of any of the towns we were headed to was in regards to the extensive flooding that has occurred in parts of Bolivia (due to the large amount of rain the country has received this year).

We left at the *leisurely* hour of 7:30am in order to try and make the 9am mass at the first pueblo on our list, Tarata.  However, this was an epic fail.  No one except the 10+ statues of Catholic Saints (complete with wigs of real hair--!!) was to be found inside the church.  They, along with the incredibly intricate and ornate decorations surrounding them made for quite the churchly experience.  Here's a picture I found online so you can get a taste of what this spectacular sight looked like:

Second stop on the tour was the market in Clisa.  We were warned ahead of time that this Sunday-only market was huge and full of anything and everything you could possibly want.  And our teachers were not lying. We passed lines and lines of clothing, fruit, vegetables, electronics, coca (!!), meat, all kinds of cooked food, MASSIVE amounts of bread, sweets, kitchen wares, shoes, etc.  It was amazing and overwhelming all at the same time.  One of the highlights for sure was our poor teacher Viviana asking pretty much every single person she came in contact with where we might find a bathroom...  Darn gringos and their combination of constant water drinking and very small bladders...  Here are some pictures of the market that Nate took (another Franciscan Lay Missioner).  He's quite talented and actually has a photo blog you should check out if you have the time! (

In this first picture, you get the sense of what I mean by "massive amounts of bread."  This is just one of m.a.n.y tables of all sorts of bread--flat breads, rolls, loafs, etc.

Here's a picture of a woman selling (from left to right) limes, tangerines, chirimoya (still have yet to try, but I've heard it's delicious), and the little pile all the way on the right is higo, which translates to "fig" in English, but the taste (SUPER delicious) bears little resemblance to the fresh figs I've eaten in the States (although also super delicious in their own right).

After looking at all this food and spending what felt like *hours* walking under the boiling hot sun (I know I shouldn't complain too much to all you Northern-State livers who've gotten pummeled by snow and cold weather this winter...), it was decided we would drive to the next pueblo of Punata to eat our lunch.  And it was along this part of our journey that we really started seeing the evidence of the flooding that had (and still is happening) in the region.  Here's an awesome picture Nate got *while in a moving vehicle* of a house surrounded by flood waters.

We saw this same scene in pastures, forests, and everything in between during our drive.  Very sad.  And very frustrating.  So far, the only organization I can find that says that it's directly helping Bolivian flood victims is called Samaratian's Purse.  Here's the link if you want to check it out: (  However, my big disclaimer is that I don't know anything about the organization past what I have been able to read on the website, so take it as you will.  I'll let you know if I hear of any local organizations that are helping out as well.

Now I'm going to shamelessly segue back to lunch.  I wish I would have taken of picture of mine.  It was incredible.  My host mother had gotten up at 6am (I had to leave the house by 7) in order to *freshly* make me grilled chicken, mashed potatoes (from scratch of course), and broccoli.  Yup.  Can you say, "PRINCESS???" Because that's exactly what I felt like...  In lieu of a food picture, here's one of the whole group minus our trufi driver, who was kind enough to take it.

From left to right we have Oswaldo and Viviana, our two fearless leaders and two of our absolute *favorite* teachers, Valerie, Hady, me, Mary, and Nate.  It looks like Nate has gone Bolivian in this picture meaning zero sign of a smile...

And finally, we get to my favorite part of the trip--Laguna Angostura! When I asked why this quite large body of water was called a "lagoon" and not a "lake," I was told it's because it's not big enough to be called a "lake..."  Apparently, a body of water only gets the title "lake" when it's roughly the size of the *massive* Lake Titicaca OR one of the Great Lakes in the United States. I assured both of my teachers that we had MANY "lakes" in Wisconsin that were quite a bit smaller than their lagoon...  Not to worry, I will be starting my lagoon-to-lake name-change petition shortly.  Stay tuned. Here are some pictures I took of the water, the surrounding area, and some of us from the group.

Here are 4 out of the 5 students (sorry Mary!!)--Valerie, me, Nate, and Hady.  Looks like the Bolivian way of smiling (ie not) is Nate's signature look :)

And here's the lake in all of it's glory!  I love the way the clouds were filling the sky--and thanks again to my incredible camera, it looks even a little better than the real-life scene :)

Two more scenery pictures! The one to the left shows the abundance of cacti found near the lake.  The one of the right is looking up the steep banks found near the far side (don't ask me north, south, east, or west...I have zero idea...) of the lake.  There were TONS of trees and bushes growing in every little nook and cranny of the rocks--a beautiful sight for sore "city" eyes :)