Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe…and all of the night

A Bolivian fiesta is not to be taken lightly and you have to marvel at the stamina of the dancers and musicians who, after performing around the city for hours under a relentless sun and often in heavy costumes, reach Plaza 25 de Mayo with enough energy to dance, sing and play harder than ever.

From experience fiestas start early and finish late, and as the sun set on the second day of Sucre’s Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe there were hours of fun yet to be had. Plaza 25 de Mayo was still buzzing with activity at 2am on Sunday morning, which is when I went home, but which was by no means the end of festivities.

A group of dancers arrive in Plaza 25 de Mayo, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

The night saw an increase in the intensity of celebrations, with more fireworks, bigger dance routines and more intense veneration of the Virgen de Guadalupe, with some people crawling the last 20 or 30 metres to her shrine on their knees.

Do not try this at home, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Dancers arriving in Plaza 25 de Mayo, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

The Sucre Shimmy, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

One of the defining dances of the fiesta is when a large dance troupe of both men and women hove into view of the finish line. The women dance down the street first and then create a tunnel down which the men (all of whom have bells strapped to their legs) then strut their stuff. It is a brilliant climax giving the men an opportunity to show off their moves – I’m secretly envious of men who can dance, since I’ve inherited two left feet, but without the bells perhaps.

Men with bells prepare to do their thang, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Spanish dancers, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Fireworks, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Please don’t try this at home, or anyone else’s home for that matter.

Fireworks, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Dancers shimmy into Plaza 25 de Mayo, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

This mask had spooky lights illuminating the eyes, it made for a great nighttime effect.

Dancer with red eye syndrome, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

For 300 years during Spanish colonial rule Sucre’s fortunes were tied closely to the those of the silver mines in Potosi – the silver built most of Sucre’s beautiful buildings and made many people very, very wealthy. To keep the silver flowing, the Spanish shipped millions of African slaves to work and die underground in the mines. That terrible heritage is remembered in the fiesta by performers dressing as Africans, many of them wearing chains – while others went for the big hat with giant spider look.

Performers dressed as Africans, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Giant spider hat, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

A performer dressed as an African drummer, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

A brilliant feather headress, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Of course, it’s easy to forget amidst all the fun and frivolity (not to mention consumption of delicious cerveza) that this is all about Our Lady of Guadalupe who, ironically, is also crafted from a from a large chunk of Potosi silver. Reaching her shrine at the finale of the fiesta is the most important part of the day, and the sincerity and fervour people express when they reach the shrine is astounding…with prayers offered up in the fervent hope the she will deliver on them.

Walking the last 20 metres on your knees for the Virgin, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Photographing the Virgin, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Venerating the Virgin, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Venerating the Virgin, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Red hats, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Feathers and the Virgin, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

While things continued into the wee-hours of the morning I headed off to bed leaving behind a crowd of fiesta-goers still going strong. Thanks to the fireworks going off until 4 or 5am it wasn’t actually possible to sleep but after a tremendous day of fiesta who cares? So it’s goodbye to the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe for another year…out with a bang and a shimmy.

Drummers dancing, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

Shimmying the night away in Plaza 25 de Mayo, Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre

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