Bolivian Carnival: a cultural event of enormous national import perhaps obscured internationally by its bigger cousin in Brazil. By 11 a.m. yesterday the six day event was in full swing in the city of Tarija. Poorer northern migrants drifted through the crowds soliciting ‘pesitos’ (little dollars) or selling spray cans full of foam, water balloons and beer. Bolivian women young and old flitted around in their traditional dress: garishly colored dresses and flat brimmed hats. Strange gift baskets containing an unlikely assortment of sweet-bread, bright peppers, balloons and streamers were gifted between the locals. A din of festive conversation inundated the town square interrupted only by the startling rattle of exploding firecrackers. The social drinking of the morning would develop into full blown alcoholism by evening.
After a few early afternoon beers we retired to the casa. Later in the evening we sallied out again to catch the ‘Comadre’ parade – a celebration of female friendship that consisted of an endless stream of dancing Bolivian sororities.
What really got us involved was the flirtatious but violent exchange occurring on the periphery of the parade. Young boys heavily armed with water rifles and balloons prowled the streets and emptied their aqueous payload in the direction of vulnerable young beauties. The women would reply with hissing salvos of spray-can foam.
Being an exotic gringo, my sister became a prime target for the child soldiers. Within minutes of getting to the parade she was soaked down to the bone by repeated attacks. Growing increasingly agitated at her unjust treatment, she purchased her own pepper-spray proxy and began to fight out her preadolescent suitors.
Amy ended the night delivering a little justice of her own to the town of Tarija. We had spent an hour or so watching two young Bolivean squirts of about 12 pepper the defenseless girls in the parade with a huge backpack full of water balloons. She bided her time. As the parade wound to a close, we snuck under the bleachers until we were just underneath the boys. She leapt out and emptied her entire can onto the backs of the unsuspecting hoodlums.
We sprinted off gleefully as the stupefied boys wiped the soapy foam off their faces. An amused cheer went up from the neighboring stands behind us, assuring us that the people agreed: se hizo justice.