To be in Sucre during the build-up to its big festival, the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, is to witness this normally tranquil and reserved city transform itself and embrace party fever. The fiesta is a huge event in Sucre and people come from across Bolivia to participate in the festivities.
The festival celebrates the much venerated Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre’s patron saint, whose flattened statue began life as a painting early in the seventeenth-century. Over time the painting was encrusted with all manner of precious and semi-precious gem stones until it needed to be reinforced with silver and gold plates. It could probably pay of a large chunk of Bolivia’s national debt.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is also the patron of the whole of Latin America, and is typically portrayed as black or dark skinned. Guadalupe is an early example of recycling and actually originates in the remote Spanish region of Extremadura from where she was exported to Latin America by the Conquistadores, the most famous of whom such as Hernán Cortés, Francisco Pizarro and Vasco Nunez de Balboa also came from Extremadura.
The last three weeks have seen a steady increase in activity towards the main festival on 14 and 15 September, groups have been rehearsing and it has been impossible to avoid bands who seem to practice day and night. There’s also been a steady increase in the use of alarmingly loud fireworks, including a series of big fireworks last night which went on until 2am – it wouldn’t be fiesta without singularly dangerous pyrotechnics keeping everyone awake.
This weekend was set aside as a practice run for the main event, and all over Sucre you could spot groups of people putting themselves through their paces. In a fun but unusual twist, there was a large parade of highly decorated cars snaking around the city and creating endless traffic jams in their wake. Most of the cars belong to cooperatives who work in Sucre’s Central Market, and the decorations of fruit, vegetables and meat reflect this.
The cars are decked out in brightly coloured cloths, stuffed animals, inflatable toys, dolls, silver bowls, plates and cutlery. Many of them have fake money, houses and other desirable items attached, and prayers are offered to the Virgen de Guadalupe in the hope of receiving wealth and success in return. They create a bizarre spectacle as they make their way around the city before being welcomed back to the Central Market by a band and more fireworks.
I’m not sure what role Bart plays in the Bolivian Church, or what dreams and desires he represents, but he made an appearance on one of the cars.