The Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe is the biggest event in Sucre’s calendar and draws people from all over Bolivia, as participants wearing an amazing array of folkloric costumes and as spectators. Sucre’s population seems to double as people flood into town, the noise intensifies, street stalls spring up to feed the masses and this normally tranquil city descends into seventy-two hours of party madness.
The atmosphere is fantastic and it’s a great time to be in the city, but fiesta is an exhausting enterprise for participants who have to sing, dance and play music as they weave their way around the city from the Mercardo Campasino to the Plaza 25 de Mayo, where terraced seating holding hundreds of spectators and national TV news await. Also in the plaza is the Virgen de Guadalupe herself, as a reminder that this is a Catholic festival despite all the pre-hispanic themes running through it.
People line the streets leading to the Plaza, constructing makeshift seating from wooden planks and beer cases, cheering on the parades and eating their way through a variety of foods from the many stalls.
Each section of the pavement is owned by someone – it’s not clear who but mobile numbers are chalked on the pavement and if you want to rent it for the festival you just need to call. Getting a piece of roadside legitimately is impossible, and a two metre section of roadside on the ‘black market’ will set you back around 1000 bolivians (approximately US$150) for the day.
Things got going early for day two of the fiesta, firework explosions signalled the start of proceedings around 9am. It took a while for my head to clear after the previous evening’s entertainment, which had started with the first day of the fiesta and ended playing Cacho (the Bolivian Yahtzee) with friends until midnight in Bar Amsterdam. A banana and a couple of cups of coffee later it was time to join the crowds watching the parades.
There were brilliant costumes, amazing masks, great dancing, big band music and fireworks at every turn…not to mention thousands of spectators lining the streets.
This being Bolivia it wouldn’t be fiesta without implausibly short skirts, lots of shimmying…and cerveza. Although Sucre implemented an anti-drinking campaign for fiesta, and it was noticeably less drunken that the recent fiesta in Potosi, there was still plenty of drinking on display especially amongst participants.
There were lots more costumes, masks, mythical creatures and men with bells on their legs before the sun set and night time festivities got under way.
With that, the sun descended but the party continued into the small hours of Sunday morning with more parades and bigger and better fireworks bringing proceedings to a close…more on the night to come.