The joyful and funny Chapaco Carnival, which takes place in Tarija, is considered one of the main Carnivals of Bolivia! Let us find out how its activities and regional traditions make it a great occasion to party while discovering a bit of the southern Bolivian culture!
At the beginning of February, the Carnival's Queens are selected. Among them, there is one coming from the rural areas, probably, the most iconic of the region, as her real beauty lies in the joy she spreads. She does honor to her roots by singing couplets and performing regional dances.
Soon after and right before the beginning of the Carnival, the most expected pre-carnival celebrations take place: Compadres and Comadres!
Costumes are almost a must in most carnivals, right? That is why when the carnival's weekend arrives, it is time to dress up! Kids have a costume parade, called "Corso Infantil," on Saturday morning. That same night young people have fun in any of the costume parties of the city. On Sunday, the main parade, called "Gran Corso," makes everybody laugh with funny disguises and a lot of joy.
The next day, called "Lunes de Barras" is, probably, the favourite one of the locals, because, whatever the weather forecast is, people from all ages meet in the main square with one objective: to pour water against each other!
There was a time when a water outlet was used to throw water at high pressure from the beginning of the celebration, at 7 am. Nowadays, in order not to waste the city's water, a cistern brings it from the river to supply everyone's water buckets.
It does not matter if you go to the Main Square alone or accompanied: after the first bucket of water reaches you, you become part of the celebration! And there are no observers, everyone takes part in it: no matter your gender, age, or where you come from, there is no chance for anyone to stay dry.
After people get you completely wet, you can go change your clothes, and get ready to enjoy any of the open-air concerts taking place that same night!
The following day is called "Martes de Albahaca", which means Tuesday of Basil: the proper herb to use after several days of celebration since it helps to overcome the hangover headache.
"Martes de albahaca" is a day destined to thank for the good things received and to ask for a good coming year. This day is celebrated more enthusiastically in the countryside than in the city. Houses, cars, working spots, and any other tangible thing that is important in someone's life get decorated with serpentine, flowers, and, of course, basil. People also place a basil branch on their ears: the left side for the single ones and the right side for the married ones. A few external traditions for good luck, from the Andean cultures of the country, have also been adopted in this region.
The sound of erke – a regional instrument – resonates in the air, while couplets are sung by the local people. Baskets with basil decorate the family tables, together with fruits and flowers. Grape chicha - a fermented drink - is shared, using only one cup made out of a vegetable shell, called tutuma. And do not forget to say "te invito" designating the next person who will share the beverage before you drink. Otherwise, you must immediately drink a whole new tutuma of chicha by yourself!
Although everyone gets back to their normal activities on Wednesday, the festivity continues the following weekend with the “Entrada de Integración,” a parade with dances from all over the country, where people from other regions of Bolivia - living in Tarija - can enjoy a piece of their own regional carnivals.
Lastly, to officially finish the Chapaco Carnival, on Sunday, a symbolic Burial of the Devil takes place.
Tarija, nicknamed "The City of Smiles," will show you the hospitality and friendliness of its people during this joyful festivity, full of traditional and fun activities that will keep you entertained daily. You just need to get ready to have lots of smiles and buckets of water thrown at you!
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