On one of my first nights in Sucre I had dinner on the balcony of a lovely little restaurant overlooking the city’s main square. As I gazed out across the beautiful gardens and sidewalks that lined the plaza I noticed something really disturbing.
A group of young college kids were hurling water balloons across the street at some unsuspecting girls walking by. The poor girls were nailed in the back and face, while the boys laughed and huddled up nonchalantly. I thought this was really messed up.
To my surprise, the girls kept walking and nobody stepped in to stop the guys. They carried on with the aerial assault for the next half-hour as I watched girl after girl get soaked, only to walk it off. I didn’t understand.
Every time I walked through the plaza on the following nights I witnessed the same thing, so I finally stopped and asked what the hell was going on. The young kid I asked, stopped and looked at me in astonishment and said… It’s Carnival!
The build-up to carnival in Sucre apparently kicks off with the turning of the New Year. It was mid-January and the chaos had already commenced for the late-February celebration.
There aren’t any major parades during carnival in Sucre and there are no elaborate costumes and almost no tourists. If this is the Carnival you’re looking for in Bolivia, you go to Carnival in Oruro. In Sucre however, it’s a different scene all together.
From January until the festivities wrap at the end of February, the entire city is at war. A big freakin’ awesome water war.
People dump buckets of water on innocent pedestrians from balconies above, teens chuck water balloons in every direction and squirt gun drive-bys make everyone paranoid.
On the days leading up to the “official” carnival, the streets come alive with random marching bands walking down the middle of the street with a herd of drunken followers. Bars, clubs and colleges have pre-carnival parties and work becomes irrelevant.
The tradition is that on the Thursday before carnival is called “conpadres,” where all men go out and get real tuned up and the following Thursday is called “conmadres,” where all the women of Sucre go out and get wild. Each night is like one big bachelor and bachelorette party.
For those looking to pick up women, conmadres is about as good as it gets.
Once carnival hits the whole city shuts down. You can’t walk from one corner to the next without dodging water balloons and marching bands along the way.
For me, the big celebration started early Friday morning of carnival with an asado (BBQ) and balloon launching party on the rooftop of the BiblioWorks office. We were armed with buckets of water, balloons and squirt guns to drench the early party animals.
From there, I met up with the gang to parade across the city with about 200 others and their hired marching band.
We walked clear across town, singing and dancing in the streets while getting soaked along the way. We passed dozens of other groups, each with their own marching band, and kept ourselves limber with a heavy supply of Leche de Tigre.
Leche de Tigre is a strong homemade concoction that consisted of milk, coconut, cinnamon and lots of Singani (alcohol).
The mobile party went on until about 10pm, when those who still could, continued the festivities with a giant water war on the streets and then moved inside to one of the bars along the main strip of Avenida de las Americas (Americas Ave).
Now, I don’t want to put a stamp on all Bolivians, but I must say, when it comes to drinking the Chuquisaqueños are lightweights. After a few bottles of Leche de Tigre, these guys were all over the place, starting fights and passing out on the sidewalk. Luckily, my friends paced themselves enough to keep it together.
Thank goodness they did because we partied like this for the next 5 days.
Overall, thanks to local friends I had a blast and was able to experience a carnival much different then other’s around South America.
Maybe next year I’ll compare it with Brazil’s!