We were 3 hours out of La Paz, en route to visit a remote community and on the main road to the middle of nowhere. Reaching a queue of vehicles, we ground to a halt. Up ahead were flashing lights and a blockade. We jumped out the truck to investigate the hold up. Police checks? A strike (frequent in Bolivia)? An accident? None of the above…. incredibly the road was being closed for a wheelchair race!!
A) why would a wheelchair race be held on a main highway, 11am on a Tuesday, 10 miles from any sign of civilisation; and
B) how many wheelchair athletes are in Bolivia anyway?
Well, one, it turns out. The road was closed in both directions for over an hour while one guy arrived, ran (wheeled?) his one-man race, and won.
When we finally reached the community that evening the entertainment was more in line with the Bolivia we are familiar with, including a ceremony conducted round a bonfire by the community Shaman, swigs of their homemade 96% spirit, and fortunes read in Coca leaves. My destiny is apparently so positive that I was met with a gap-toothed grin and a huge thumbs-up at the end.
A few days later we were walking through the centre of Potosi, a small mining town that was once paved with silver. We heard a huge bang and looked up to see pigeons fleeing from the main square. One man seemed to be the focus of attention, as a few bystanders fumbled for cameras.
Had we just witnessed a shooting?
No. The perpetrator repeated the cause of the bang for our benefit:
Here in the Plaza de Armas, was a policeman, placing fireworks into a raw plucked chicken, and lighting them.
Flabbergasted, we wandered a little closer. After each explosion, he would stroll around for a few minutes, casually dangling the chicken remains and posing for a few photographs.
We’ve become accustomed to South America’s love affair with fireworks, hearing them at all times of day and night. But the police? And a chicken….? No idea…