Fiesta, it seems, is ingrained in the Bolivian psyche. There is a fiesta somewhere almost every week and festivals here simply aren’t geared towards tourism. If all the tourists (not that there are many) were abducted by aliens and never seen again Bolivians would continue to fiesta regardless, and that makes Bolivian fiestas all the more special.
It also explains why there is virtually no information available to help outsiders understand what is happening and when. The first most foreigners know about a celebration is the sound of fireworks exploding. Following the explosions generally results in finding something fun happening – normally drunk people setting off fireworks.
However, Sucre’s civic authorities decided to take a more inclusive approach for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe and promised to print a programme of events.
After trying for a week to get our hands on one, we finally managed to wrestle a programme away from a nice woman at the Casa de Cultura. So highly prized are the programmes that she advised us not to walk down the street with it openly on display – presumably for fear of being mugged by programme-less citizens.
A quick read-through quickly confirmed that there have been activities taking place since August (who knew?) but the big folkloric parades would be starting on Friday 14 with local indigenous groups, university and school students. There is even a map of the route and a schedule of start times – although I’ll be taking those with a pinch of salt.
Armed with this precious information, off we go to join the celebrations. In fact, I can already hear drums and fireworks…walking out to the Rotunda church we were greeted by wave after wave of school and college groups, some very young to be walking the whole route!
The parades wind their way through the streets of Sucre for several hours, before the big climax in Plaza 25 de Mayo, where crowds and TV cameras are waiting. Everything finishes outside the Cathedral where a version of the Virgen de Guadalupe is waiting to greet everyone.
Some of the younger children look exhausted at the finish, but thanks to the appreciative crowds all the performers seem to rally at the end and the dancing seems to get faster and more energetic.
A very small and tired looking miner made his entrance into the Plaza 25 de Mayo but was swinging his hammer with vigour much to the delight of the crowd.
Sales of Virgen de Guadalupe merchandise were strong, and have been all week, but that’s not surprising since everyone wants her to perform some task for them and every performer wants their photo taken with her…