BOLIVIA. Rich in history and cutlure and blessed with breathtaking geography nation-wide. Think Lake Titicaca, The Andes, the Amazon Basin, the Incas, llamas, and a truly multiethnic population. What about camel-toes, plastic battle-axes with flashing LED lights and light-up disco floors?
My mate Dave and I went to a Peña show last week in La Paz. Peña is basically where a bunch of musicians and dancers get together to perform traditional songs. Food and drinks are served to the crowd that gathers, which is comprised of gringos, locals, or both depending on the place you go to. After a few beers and in my case, a dose of the hallucinogenic San Pedro Cactus – which I’d purchased at the city’s famed Witch’s Market earlier that day – we stumbled off to the city center to find a Peña joint. We ended up finding the most touristy, un-authentic place in town.
Featuring a light-up dancefloor and a bunch of plastic props you can tell they got from Cunningham’s Warehouse, Peña Huari is dubiously authentic. The chicks get up and dance in “traditional” dress, but you have to wonder whether back in the day you’d also be able to see what the local dancers had had for lunch that day. These skirts were short. And one of the girls was sporting a glorious cameltoe, which they don’t tell you about in the guidebooks. The dude dancers were wearing some pretty scary-looking shit and their constant shouting and fight skits, makes you forget how corn and cheese the performance actually is. Cactus helps too.
But the highlight of the Peña for me was the music, and this is where I think being the most touristy venue comes in handy for Huari. In my mind the place would make the most money in town, thus drawing the best musicians in town (in theory). These guys were insane, the maybe seven-piece band consisting of at least one Charanga (a little guitar type thing) player at all times, and a dude who had his shit down so much he was alternating between three pan flutes during each song. He was the Rolls Royce of basketball, the Michael Jordan of cars.
All up it was a pretty sweet night despite the corniness and worth the 15 clams, the scantily clad birds even getting Dave and I up on stage for a dance a couple of times. The only downside of the evening, other than vomiting up the San Pedro at the end of the night, was watching the performance with three tables full of middle-aged rich European tourists. It was both funny and infuriating watching one of the guys berating a waiter for not understanding him properly. Mate – you’re trying to order three glasses of wine, in English, in a thick German accent – and you’re getting frustrated ‘cos a Spanish speaking guy from a developing country doesn’t understand you? ¿Cómo se dice dickhead en German?
My two cents about La Paz? Cool city, rich in history and culture, with fuck-off amazing views of the pure mass of civilisation and the mountains which surround it. But after a few days there the traveler party vibe and coke-fiend chicks at my hostel plus the crowded city streets got to me. My stay definitely reaffirmed the fact I’m not a big-city guy and it hastened my need to get back to the coast. Here are some more pics: