Religion plays a very significant part in all South American countries, and each place has its own specific events.
Bolivians consider the the statue of the Virgin in Copocabana’s cathedral to be their highest icon of religious salvation – but here it’s not just simply a case of paying homage to this figurine, it’s much more than that!
Folklore has it that if the Virgin is ever removed from the Cathedral, Lake Titicaca will rise and flood all the land around. Mind you, if the statue was ever removed the effects of poverty on the Bolivians that make an honourable trade on its presence would also be quite devastating!
Quite simply, Bolivians from across the country come to Copocabana to receive a blessing in the name of the Virgin, to bring them luck and good fortune for their days and months ahead. But in a strange and materialistic way, they bring their vehicles for the blessing as well, creating a wonderfully colourful and noisy scene of celebration.
From early in the morning the vehicles arrive – all sorts, from family cars and taxis, to small and large trucks and of course the ubiquitous tourist and collectivo buses that ply the countries’ roads. We’ve seen passengers on these buses while they’ve been waiting to be blessed – wonder if they knew today’s journey would take quite so long??!
The cars etc park up in front of the cathedral three abreast and remain there until blessed – probably five or six hours in some instances. While they wait, the process of elaborate decoration begins – bouquets of gladioli are affixed to wing mirrors, garlands of pretty purple, blue and yellow flowers draped across the windscreen and side doors, ribbons and bows attached to aerials and anywhere else that can be found – a spectacular scene which has the effect of removing most opportunities to see anything at all outside from inside the vehicle – but more on that a little later.
At some pre-ordained time (we couldn’t work out when, but were lucky enough to be there when it happened), a religious looking chap with brown sack cloth and strange “flower pot man” white hat arrives from the cool darkness of the cathedral and is immeditaley approached by hordes of occupants from the vehicles pleading with him to bless their cars and the occupants. In no particular order he gladly accepts some pennies from them and makes his way to the car. The family are clearly very excited by this, and gather round him hanging on every word he utters as he proceeds to use what can only be described as a (clean) toilet brush to cast water droplets over every little part of the vehicle – the engine bay, the entire outside (quite a lot of waving brushes around for large trucks!), inside the vehicle, the wheels, etc etc. He then blesses each occupant too for good measure. The it’s time for a family photo, taken by at least five ‘official’ photographers who jostle for the best spot amongst this impromptu car park. The type of camera technology they use is amazing – brick like Polaroids and SLR’s that can be seen in most museums, but nevertheless they take their pictures and barter with the families for their custom.
But it’s not over yet. As the sack cloth moves to another eager vehicle and occupants, the blessed family begin to spray any form of alcohol they can afford all over their car. The type of booze used can vary, and probably has much to do with the overall cost of this event and how much the family can afford. We saw some of the very cheap (but quite palatable) local beer being used, while others could afford ‘champagne’ – at least it fizzed a lot and went everywhere, including over most of the surrounding neighbourhood.
Once the car is completely covered in sticky fluids, petals and confetti-like paper is liberally sprinkled all over, further obscuring views from inside. At this point there may be the services of the lady with the incense called for – this didn’t happen every time, but if she was required she made her way round, in and (almost) over the vehicle to make sure it got a good dressing down.
And finally, just when there seems nothing more to do, it’s time to let off as many firecrackers as can be afforded – under the engine of course, just in case there’s a chance there’s some petrol leaking form underneath to finish the whole thing off!!
A noisy, colourful and dramatic spectacle taken extremely seriously by the Bolivians and a pleasure to be a part of We spent a good two hours admiring these events, and at one point were asked to pose with a family for their photo to be taken with us – not sure what that was all about, but we hope it brought them luck.
Some families go home, while others take the short trip to Bolivia’s Costa del Sol, the beach at the front of our hotel. Here the celebrations continue, much drinking, wailing (sorry, singing!), laughter and happiness.
Oh, and the trip home?? Well, it appears it’s bad luck to remove the decorations adorning vehicles, and so the families merrily drive off squinting through heavily obscured windscreens. Let’s hope the blessing brings them luck on the way home, eh??
Tags: Bolivia at last!