Water balloon sightings are the number one sign that Carnaval fast approaches. I’d be lying if I claim that tossing balloons filled with water at innocent bystanders (especially girls) goes back to some ancient Incan ritual meant to purify the soul with water. I tend to think that it ties in neatly with the machismo-fueled culture that Bolivia suffers from.
Every year, recipe the water wars (not the April 2000 episode with Aguas del Tunari) seem to get worse. Even if the police announce that this is the year that they’ll put a stop to things, stomach many people prefer to stay indoors during daylight hours rather than risk being smacked by an errant water balloon. Launching these incoming missiles from half a block away are rarely done so with much accuracy.
In the vicinity of El Prado in Cochabamba, sovaldi women use an accordion-like pump to fill small baseball sized water balloons that sell ten for Bs. 1 (15 US cents). Often those with the urge to participate pull up in their cars, buy 3 or 4 Bolivianos worth and roam the city streets looking for targets. Then, they are back again for their fix, which the women are very happy to oblige
Balloon fights are the tame time of Carnaval, since there still is a sense of morality as to who is off-limits and who is fair game. When the few days around Carnaval in Oruro roll around, times get much rougher. As the blitzkrieg of colorful balloons rains down from opposing sets of stands, the folkloric dance troupes seem to be oblivious to the show in the sky. There is an unwritten rule that any dancer is off limits and even accidentally hitting one with a balloon is met with catcalls from within the stands themselves.
Those poor souls who are on the lookout for a friend among the stands must walk in front of the rows of seats, since there is rarely room behind to walk. These individuals attempt to spot an open seat or a friend to meet up with, but they are often ducks on the pond open for target practice. Many come equipped with plastic ponchos, which must be Carnaval’s number one seller after the 3 x Bs. 10 beer.
I’d be lying if I said I never participated in the water battles. In 2003, I felt as if I graduated from the world of water balloons. In order to break, they need to be thrown with a certain amount of force, which seemed to me to be a little excessive. Water guns allows for greater marksmanship, without the bruising effects of a carefully thrown water balloon. So before my bus ride to Oruro, I went down to La Cancha to purchase a super soaker. All along the streets, stalls resembled small artilleries. The price varied as the quality of water gun ascended. From itty-bitty peas shooters to double-barreled bazookas complete with matching storage backpack, all were available. I settled for a pump-action water rifle, which must have held 2 liters of water.
Sitting among the crowd, the long range capability allowed me to remain hidden among the crowd. I did take it easy on those unequipped to deal with a super soaking. These games aren’t much fun when you have to spend the frosty evenings of Oruro in wet and sloppy clothes. The only problem with the water gun is that it often ran out of water. Instead of having to return upstairs to my aunt’s house, I managed to buy some water from the melting ice from a nearby vendor.
Walking around the city with the water gun in hand did make me feel a little too old to be doing so, but it also gave no mistake that I was in the game. Sometimes I would run across bands of little kids who were fearless and were armed with something much fiercer –foam. I don’t know how foam became introduced to Carnaval, but it’s not uncommon to see someone wet from water and covered from head to toe in foam.