After we ended our four-day “Tupiza to the Salar de Uyuni” tour, the Swiss couple (that I met on the tour) accompanied me in search of a better hostel. We came across Hostal La Magia de Uyuni, a much more upscale place with great looking bedrooms and an excellent breakfast. It was pretty pricey though – as a budget traveler, I aim to pay less than $10 a night – $20 on special occasions. However, after 4 days with only one hot shower (not including the hot springs soak), I was looking forward to a quiet night’s rest in my own room. Unfortunately, an expensive room does not equate hot showers – I was shivering in (almost) lukewarm shower water that night (I think they didn’t have the water heater turned on at the time).
One of my favorite things about Bolivia (and Peru) is the amazing festival music – a combination of triumphant-sounding horns and energetic drums. Everyone seems to have access to brass instruments and can form a marching band out here! While most people in Bolivia go to Oruro for Carnaval (where the big parade goes down), Uyuni was preparing for its own Carnaval parades that weekend. I don’t know what it’s like in Oruro, but I have to say that Uyuni’s Carnaval made me fall a little bit in love with this small city, and it’s awesome people.
That night the three of us went out to see the parade flow down the main street. Despite the biting cold, locals still got dressed up in their costumes and proceeded to dance and run about – as they got pelted by water guns, spray foam, and water balloons throughout the night. These fights weren’t limited to the parade acts however – everyone, especially the young folks, were waging wars with each other, with strangers, with tourists – pelting each other with water balloon bombs and foam. It was a pretty crazy sight throughout the evening.
The best fights occurred near the end of the parade when the traditional dancers came out to do their performances. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before: older men and women in traditional Bolivian clothing dancing and being pelted with water and foam! It was unbelievable. No one was spared. If you go outside, just expect to be hit with something…
Every time I walked down the street I was also hit with water balloons and foam spray. I didn’t mind though – I screamed and laughed every time I got pelted, which of course made (the mostly young) people want to hit me even more. It was pretty amusing. After a while however, I said fuck it – why try to avoid it all and stay dry? I’m here, I might as well engage in the festivities! I bought my own can of spray foam and attacked the same teenage boys that had been pelting me all night long. They yelled in shock and surprise as we went to war for a few seconds. Every time I walked down the street and got hit, I fired right back. It was hysterical. At the end of the night, I came across another group of tourists from my Salar de Uyuni tour and unloaded my foam can on them too. One of the guys got me back though – I think I got canned foam down my shirt and pants while some random local kids squirted me in the butt with their water guns.
Despite being soaking wet at night, Carnaval is just an awesome atmosphere – it’s almost as if everyone (strangers, locals, tourists – old and young alike) bond over the festivities. The energy is incredibly positive, friendly, and electrifying.
During the evening’s festivities, I also went down the street with the Swiss couple to a local bar to get a few drinks and watch the parade from the windows. I have to say that if you’re ever in Uyuni, you gotta hit up the Extreme Fun Pub: Nice staff, good DJ/music, decent food and drinks…and the ground is covered in Salar salt. In addition to Bolivian tourist brochures, on the bar’s walls hang creative Salar de Uyuni photos that other tourists have taken. Made me wish I did something much more creative with my photos!
Many thanks to the city of Uyuni for an amazing Carnaval experience!