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Loving Bolivia, where lunacy still roams

View MAP OF THE JOURNEY on AnnaMickus's travel map.

We took the bus from Trinidad to a small town called San Ignacio de Moxos in the middle of the Beni province in the Bolivian Amazon. There would be a 4-5 day festival that we knew nothing about apart from what it said in our guide book, which stated that it would be quite a spectacular festival, mixing mostly Christian elements with ancient pagan traditions. This was the case many times in the Andes; once the conquistadors had conquered the regions, the locals were force fed the catholic religion and in order to try to uphold their own beliefs they tried to mask their traditions behind catholic beliefs, e.g. Patchamama (mother earth) as Virgin Mary.

The bus ride to San Ignacio from Trinidad went fairly smoothly but it was a bit bumpy as the road was just a plain dirt road. The road also crossed a couple of rivers where we had to exit the bus while it was loaded on small proms and ferried over to the other side.



After five hours we arrived in San Ignacio and we were curious of what the town would look like. We had now actually arrived 4 days prior to the start of the festivities as it was supposedly hard to find accommodation during festival time. The first expression when exiting the bus was: what a shitty little town this is! And that was what it also turned out to be. Well what can you expect from a tiny dot on the map in the middle of the Amazonas. Well calling it a town is a bit exaggerating – it is a small village. So the first priority was to find a place to stay for a week and a half. We managed to find a place right on the main plaza where most of the festivities were going to take place. We made a verbal room price agreement with the hotel owners, the first 4 nights in a fine room at basic costs and then 5 nights in a 3 times worse room at 3 times the price during the festival.

There was literally nothing to do in the town prior to the festival. The days were spent doing almost nothing; checking e-mail, watching movies and roaming the streets in search for food. The food situation was particularly bad as all their dishes contained meat of one sort or the other so we ended up eating mostly cheese empanadas and mini burgers with cheese and egg every day. We were getting worried what kind of festival this would turn out to be as the town didn’t seem to have much to offer. We were getting concerned that the party would turn out to be too lame for our high party standard.

Well our worries were shattered once the party started. We got to know two street artists who were juggling on the plaza, Natcho from Uruguay and Angel from Argentina, who were staying/sleeping in a school close to the plaza. There was a nice open courtyard at the school and once the party started we normally spent some time of the evening there drinking wine and smoking fat ones before hitting the streets. Two Irish girls joined our team as well as a few North Americans and a Canadian hoola hooper, which is someone that does tricks with a hoola hoop ring. He had a hoola hoop that was lit and he was really good at it. We all gave it a go with mixed results but great laughs.

Now to the party itself, it is hard to get a grip about what it was about, as all the information was in Spanish. Well mostly the activities were centred around the church in some form. During the day there were parades involving all kinds of different dressed people walking around the streets starting and ending at the church. The most striking participants were the feather plumed men and men with large hats with wooden face masks. These were no stiff and up-tight ceremonies as the liquor was flowing freely and the longer the day progressed the more rowdy it became.











The first night there were some nice fireworks. By nice fireworks I don’t mean visually that great but nice in another way; there was no security whatsoever. No fences keeping you 500 meters from the fireworks, no security guards in yellow jumpers running around pissing everyone off. No sirry bob. Here rockets were going up in the middle of the crowd, some were going sideways and others were falling half burned into the crowd. People were throwing different kind of explosives and small fireworks back and forth in the crowd. But the craziest must have been the guys with the large hats and wooden masks, because on the top of their hats they had rigged a fire work device that when lit, it twisted like a propeller shedding spars all around for about 30 seconds before finally exploding in a big ball of fire!!! These guys were running around all over heavily pissed causing minor heart attacks for everyone in their way.

Once the main activities started dying out on the plaza, which was maybe around midnight, it didn’t mean the end of festivities for that night. Options were to listen to some of the local trumpet drum bands that played through the night on the plaza, to go to one of the many beer selling outlets normally with 20+ chairs and blasting local music, to head towards a large beer garden holding 500 people, or to go to one of the local discos. One of discos is especially worth mentioning as we were impressed by how sophisticated equipment it had. There were lasers, a foam machine, a soap bubble machine and all kinds of lighting. The music at the disco was in the beginning so-so with hope that it would turn to the better but every time it turned into shit reggaeton and everyone started dancing in a long row, which was kind of quite.

Dancing in a row

Well there was more madness to come...during the first days of the festival they were building a bull fighting arena!!! An on the third day the action started. The seating was high wood seating stands, which where erect upon large wooden poles that were very wobbly and one felt as the whole structure could fall over at any time. Luckily it never happened. In the centre of the arena was a large 30 metre tall wooden pole that was greased with tar. At the top of the pole were different kinds of stuff; a football, pots and pans... and the main trophy: a bicycle! The idea was for someone to climb the pole and collect the rewards. This would be climbed on the final day, day 3 of bullfighting.

Each bull was always first tied to a pole and then someone jumped the bull after which it was let loose. The rider was supposed to stay on as long as possible and then try to remove a large ribbon that was tied to the horns of the bull. There were probably around a hundred people inside the arena at any given time harassing the bull, everyone pissed out of their mind, which kind of evened out the odds with the bull. Many people got stung high up in the air and had to be carried/dragged out of the arena. Rumours were that 2 died, but we never got to confirm it. Fights started among the crowd inside the arena, blood was flowing, rocks were thrown, it was mental and it was lots of fun! The last day three guys started to climb the pole, it went slowly and after about three hours they had reached the top and the first one got to lower down his price, the brand new bike! The bullfighting was an unforgettable event. We attended all three days, drunk a lot of beers and some wine and enjoyed the fighting. By the way, none of the bulls were killed :)



























One of the evenings we rented a scooter and drove out to a lake close to the village. There we had a few drinks and went out swimming just as the sun was setting. It was a beautiful sunset but we got bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes, which was less nice.




Well all fun things must come to an end (unfortunately) and so did this party :(. After the last day we thought to leave town and head for our next destination, which was Rurrenabaque, from where we were going to do a pampas trip. In Ignacio it had rained heavily the last night and they said no busses would leave San Ignacio that day towards San Borja, which was on the way to Rurrenaback. We were a bit disappointed as 10 days in San Ignacio felt just right and we felt it was time to move on. So we looked around at what other options there could be...

Well we paid our hotel and surprise, surprise, the owner quoted a much higher price than we had agreed on. After a little wrangling we got it down a bit and left angrily to find a way out of town. First rule of thumb when dealing with people over 65: get agreements in writing!!! After a week they don’t remember any agreements if they even remember who you are.

At the bus station we asked a taxi driver if he could drive us to San Borja. To our surprise he said yes. Just pay me and we can head off straight away, only you guys in the car. Wow, we thought our fortune had changed, because we had been reluctant to get a cab as we know how many people they can stuff in a car. So we paid him happily and said LETS GO! Well one should know by now this wasn’t going to be the case. The driver took off without us and said he had to do some errands first.... well an hour and half later he came back. We ALL got in the car: the driver and a small girl with her mother in the front, in the back Anna next to the window then me, then a 65+ old guy, then a boy maybe 12 and all our luggage crammed in the back with weird stuff sticking out poking us in the head on the back row. Yeah well it’s Bolivia; these things are more a rule bound to happen and it was only going to be 3 hours to reach San Borja so best to keep the spirit high and think positive.

Well the first 10 minutes looked bright: the road was good and the pace was fast. Then the shit hit the fan. It had rained A LOT more outside San Ignacio and the road turned into a mud bath. It looked impossible to penetrate but the driver just kept driving through it. Our pace dropped to below 5km/h and the old guy next to me smelled so bad, especially from his mouth, that we had to hang out the window and put tiger balsam (strong mint kind of cream from Thailand) in our noses in order to be able to breathe!!!

To cut a very very very long story short our 3 hours’ journey ended up taking 9 hours. The car got stuck 20 times in the mud and we had to go knee deep in the mud to push it. One time we got so stuck so badly that when we opened the back door, mud started coming in into the back seat and we were sure that now we had done it for good. But miraculously we managed to continue. The funny thing was that the driver was constantly asking the woman next to him how he should drive. So she was giving orders how to tackle the worst mud pools and often we ended up driving straight into them! At some point the engine started overheating, so we had to stop frequently to let it cool down. And when the night came we couldn’t have the window open anymore to let the smell out, and the old guy had fallen asleep on my shoulder and started drooling, so we ended up stuffing balsam in our noses with 10 minutes intervals. Well this is one of those situations one needs to be present to grasp the whole situation.

The irony in it all was when we finally arrived at midnight to San Borja, the driver drove the boy and the old guy to their homes and when it was our turn he said, you guys can get of here, it is only a few blocks to your hotel. We got sooooo mad! There we had been pushing the car for 9 hours, mostly in the dark, the air full of mosquitoes and God knows what else lurked in the mud. We had mud all over and felt hungry and really miserable and this fucker wasn’t going to drive the last 2 blocks!!! So we said we are not moving an inch, either you drive us or we sit here! Smoke was already coming out of our ears, so he then finally caved in and angrily drove us to a hotel and dumped our stuff. Well the hotel was closed, but 45 minutes later after walking back and forth in the town we finally found a place to sleep.



Posted by AnnaMickus 19:22 Archived in Bolivia

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