In a region plagued by drought, raw sewage was at times the only option for filling water balloons.

Now that all the tin is gone, and all the lithium is being sold to the Iranians, Bolivia’s greatest asset is Carnaval. I know you all agree. Sadly non-exportable, save for in the hearts of MKs the world over, the Carnaval de Urkupiña is the greatest thing ever conceived by man, except for maybe Chuck Norris. Many centuries ago before some of you were born, a little girl reckoned she saw the Virgin Mary appear up on top of a hill out of town and yelled “Urkupiña” in her native Quechua which means “hey, she appeared on top of that hill” and now every year thousands of people hike out there to get drunk and chip bits of rock off the hillside for good luck or something. I never cared about that part. Mostly because our parents wouldn’t let us drink and use hand tools at the same time. But traveling seatbelt-less with drunk bus drivers was fine. Right. The BEST part of Carnaval is that every year the entire city has one giant water fight for a week. I’m not sure how the 2 are related, and I don’t care. Citywide water fight! Come on! No expensive entrance fees, no height restrictions, no scary old men in costumes getting photos with you. I can’t believe other nations haven’t picked up on this, or perhaps they have and decided that boring things no one even cares about like “public safety” and “disease prevention” were more important. During Carnaval you could even buy pre-made water balloons from street vendors. It was like getting hit in the face with yesterday’s breakfast. And the water inside the ballon before it hit you looked the same as it did coming out of you 12 hours later once you got a mouthful. It’s a miracle the entire nation didn’t die from cholera.

Some of my best Carnaval Memories:

The balloons were real cheap. Like super cheap. You could buy about 500 thousand for $4. The downside was the quality wasn’t great and you lost half of them during filling due to holes or imperfections. The alternative was filling basketballs with water for a completely secure water attack, but they’d seriously NEVER burst and after a few of the less-athletic kids got killed we stopped that. The faucets in Bolivia were also the perfect size for filling balloons, not like the communist regime-giant ones we have here in Australia that aren’t good for anything other than watering the lawn. The variable-quality manufacturing process at the balloon factory meant that some of the time you didn’t fill them to capacity lest they explode mid-throw and you lose a hand to typhoid. So they were soft and took some pressure to actually pop. I had such a balloon once trying to hit Sam one afternoon. I must have pelted the poor guy about 50 times, the balloon bouncing off each time, before finally it smashed into his eye, blinding him and making his nose bleed. (I was throwing pretty hard by that point. I could have smashed a car window with the thing.) He got blood all over his shirt and I got shame all over mine. His was new though, and he spent about an hour afterwards getting all the blood out with soap and water in the boys’ bathroom  sink. To his credit, it did look brand-new when he was done. And his eyesight returned eventually so there were cheers all round. After that I always filled my balloons to the recommended level, even if it meant losing some in the process. We never experimented with blood-filled balloons, since filling them required pretty high blood pressure, but that would have been cool I guess. Maybe Dad could have tried it after we crashed the car that time. None of us were above playing dirty either. From within the safe confines of the school walls we could bomb passersby with balloons, buckets full of water, manure, you name it. The hardest part was actually tying the balloons. I spent around 10 minutes fiddling with each and every one with my useless ballerina fingers while this one kid, Simon, could spin them around like a pair of nun-chucks and in 5 seconds have about 17 tied & ready to go, which made water warfare rather one sided.

The most fun was driving around the main boulevard downtown and hitting people from the back of a pickup truck. We’d fill a few buckets full of balloons and then do the rounds, dishing out wet death to anyone coming near the car. The downside was people in the street could of course hit you back, and getting knocked off the back of a pickup while driving 50 miles an hour was deemed pretty hazardous to one’s health.  One time on the school bus Chris got hit with one full of mustard. I have to admit, it was a good shot, into the rear window of a moving bus over a bridge. Chris didn’t share my sentiments of skill appreciation; mostly because he had to walk around the rest of the afternoon looking like a baby had puked all over him.

Now that I’ve inspired you, perhaps you could write to your local congressman, and request citywide waterfights for your local area. Or start seeing glowing people on hillsides near your house. Together we can change the world. One water balloon at a time.

Edit: It’s been pointed out to me by people in the know that the two carnivals have nothing to do with each other and are at different times of the year. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet kids.

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