Punching on at the Tinku Festival
In a remote countryside town not far from the city of Potosi, a different kind of religious festival takes place. Instead of sermons in a church, the Tinku Festival sees locals beat the crap out of each other to curry favor with Pachamama (Mother Nature). Traditional belief dictates that the more blood spilled, the better the next harvest will be. Sadly, pilgrims sometimes die in what might be the world’s most dangerous religious festival.
Tiny little everything at the Alasitas Festival
Much more family-friendly than Tinku, in Alasitas revelers partake in the mass commercialization of tiny little miniatures. When purchased and blessed by a local yatiri and a Catholic priest, these tiny models are believed to materialize into reality in the year to come. So whether you want a new car or marriage with that special someone, just buy yourself a miniature version, get it blessed, sit back and wait for your fortunes to roll in.
Fearsome cholita wrestlers
WWE is pretty lame. Everyone knows that, especially Bolivians who have created their own version which is infinitely more entertaining. In La Paz, local cholitas (indigenous women) battle it out in the ring while proudly wearing their traditional garb. Stranger still, the movement actually started as a way to reduce domestic violence. More power to them!
Constant protests and blockades
Most people who have visited Bolivia have been affected by some sort of civil unrest. Whether it’s angry pensioners, striking bus drivers or rioting teachers, the whole country takes to the streets to settle even the most minor grievances. These frequent and often violent demonstrations are a result of the country’s turbulent history, from a time when civil disobedience was the only hope of toppling a brutal dictatorship. But for those living or traveling through modern day Bolivia, these constant strikes and blockades can get a little tiresome at times.
The spooky Ñatitas Festival
Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations have got nothing on this. In Bolivia, the indigenous Aymara of the altiplano (highland plains) decorate the skulls of their ancestors with jewelry, cigarettes and other offerings in the belief that they will provide spiritual protection in return. If that wasn’t morbid enough, those who don’t happen to have access to an ancestor’s skull are able to purchase one from a local grave robber.
The highest everything in the world
Bolivia has the highest capital, golf course, Irish bar and who knows what else in the world. At any given time, tourists struggle from breathing difficulties, lack of sleep and a myriad of other side effects that come with altitude sickness.
Unique indigenous culture
One of the main reasons people see Bolivia as being so authentic is the predominance of indigenous culture that still thrives in the country today. With more native inhabitants than anywhere else on the continent, Bolivians hold onto a number of pre-Columbian beliefs which are as bizarre as they are fascinating to the outsider.
Live animal sacrifices
Anyone who has been to La Paz witches’ market will have heard stories about how dried llama fetuses are buried under buildings as sacrifices. However, unbeknown to many is that fulyl grown live animals are also slaughtered to appease the gods. Worse still, humans are said to be used for the biggest projects such as high rise apartment blocks and mines.
Cauldrons, potions and spells are a big part of Bolivia’s traditional beliefs. Frogs’ legs and lizards’ tails are sold at witches’ markets while yatiri (witch doctors) cure the mind and soul with rituals involving the sacred coca leaf.
The morbid elephant cemeteries
In Laz Paz, there is a clandestine and utterly horrifying alternative to rehab – the elephant cemetery. Here, alcoholics miserable enough to have given up on life can check into a hotel from which they will never return. The elephant cemetery provides little more than a dirty room and enough pure alcohol for guests to drink themselves to death.
The crazy San Pedro jail
It’s no surprise that the world’s most outrageous country is home to the world’s craziest jail. In San Pedro Prison, inmates have to purchase real estate which they share with their wives and children who are free to come and go as they please. The government provides little to no assistance, forcing those inside to find menial jobs in order to survive. The best cocaine in the country is reportedly manufactured within the complex, and smuggled outside for some much needed income.