Fiesta Time and the Blessing of the Cars, Copacabana,Bolivia
We travelled from Peru to Bolivia and arrived in Copacabana late one afternoon. Taking time out to have a drink and something to eat, we became acquainted with the local drop out bar, it’s eccentric owner who dressed like a Bedouin and the resident green parrot who was eyeing up a patron’s plate of food. Silently sidling up the fence, the parrot crept up behind the diner who was totally oblivious to its presence. We were sat opposite and watched in fascination as the bird peered over her shoulder to check out what she was eating. Thinking we were laughing at her, she looked uncomfortable until we pointed out the green bobbing head playing peek-a-boo behind her.
After deciding which hostel to head for, we trudged up hill, past a market and church, climbed yet another hill, only to find it fully booked. The altitude was high, the air thin and the sun shining so walking with a backpack became an endurance test as we sought out accommodation. Finding a half decent place we booked in. An interesting discussion ensued with the owner as to why we‘d only been given one towel between two people. They said – one room one towel, the audience said – stingy. No matter how intimate I may be with my roommate sharing towels is never a preferred option. Luckily I carry my own. It may be small and only cover about an eighth of my body but its light, super absorbent, dries quickly and comes in a fetching colour of muddy blue. I discovered a new novel use for the towel when I had a shower and received a shock from the taps. Naked, wet, cold, slightly stunned and wearing rubber flipflops, I eyes the thongs that had failed me. I had no idea how I was going to turn the water off without getting thrown forcefully out of the bathroom. Wrapping the towel around my hand I gingerly turned the tap – it worked a treat. The only problem was that the towel was now wet and I was back to sharing.
Later that night we heard music from the square and walked down to find Copacabana’s citizens ready to celebrate the mayor’s birthday and party big. After having their names called out and being summoned into the church to meet and greet the main man, they passed through fresh flower covered archways to the exit on the other side of the church. Free drink and food circulated as people settled into the seating provided around the square in anticipation of the main event. A variety of bands played to keep everyone entertained until the dancers and singers took their place for the main act. Everyone was having a great time and became extremely friendly, including us, as the local firewater circulated time and time again. After fireworks the disco started and we headed for home to get out of the biting cold and to recover in time for the blessing of the cars the next day.
Strange but true. Blessing of the cars takes place several days a week. Locals who’ve bought new cars deck them out in finery and take them along to the church. Here the priest will sprinkle holy water on the engine and intone a few prayers in exchange for a few Bolivian notes. A whole industry has sprung up around this ceremony. Market stalls line the outside of the church walls selling garlands, tinsel, fruit, dolls, banners, and all manner of other gaudy paraphernalia for proud car owners to trick their prized possession out in. It was interesting, somewhat bizarre, but if the rest of my travels in Bolivia were going to be as unique as my first few days, it was going to be an amazing journey. I wasn’t disappointed.