Day 32 – A family festival – Santiago Yonguyo de Espana Celebration in Poopo.

Day 32 – A family festival – Santiago Yonguyo de Espana Celebration in Poopo.

WIth the kids and cousins in Poopo!

WIth the kids and cousins in Poopo!

This weekend long festival, the family and I spent in the family hometown of Poopo (pronounced Poe Poe), a well-known small, mining town located about 30 minutes from the city of Oruro. Celebrated all around the country, Santiago Yonguyo de Espana, is about Santiago, a Spanish priest who arrived in Bolivia and was very much in favor of the rural people. Later, the “force of G-d” found him and “cured” him of his erroneous ways, making him a very pro-Catholic priest. After explaining this to me, one celebrator reflected a moment and remarked, “I don´t know why we are celebrating this but we are. It´s more habit than anything.”

Leaving the city of Oruro for Poopo became a challenge as more and more neighborhood folklore dance troops hit the streets, oblivious to the local traffic that had to stop and wait as they danced up and down the avenues. Finally we arrived in Poopo, just in time for the dancers in the plaza to reach a new level of cheer and celebration.

My son and cousins swimming in the Poopo hot springs pool.

My son and cousins swimming in the Poopo hot springs pool.

My Bolivian family was there and many “aunts” and “uncles” from the rural countryside too. In Poopo they use the terms tia and tio instead of hermano and hermana like they do in Salinas, so instead of brothers and sisters and I have aunts and uncles. I have been a part of the community for over 18 years, and as the only foreign community member, I am usually pretty well known and recognized. It was my first time at this particular festival though. Many people came up welcoming me back, asking where I had been, how long I was staying, when the last time I was there way, etc…. Beer flowed freely and the olsito (my neighbor dressed up like a bear) took me to dance in the plaza. Soon everyone was dancing as musicians played traditional flutes and drums, circling in ponchos, as is the indigenous tradition. As the hours passed the dancing became more staggered as people started appearing more and more drunk.

2 doctors, me and my cousin.

2 doctors, me and my cousin.

Finally with the fading light, all retreated to the numerous house parties being held around this town of about 1,500. Plates overflowed with rehydrated dried potatoes (chuno) in a ground peanut sauce, potatoes fresh from the countryside and grilled lamb also from the neighboring farms. Beer continued to flow and loud, amplified dance music pounded out late into the night, finally quieting down around 4am.

I observed to others that the people in Poopo celebrate, much harder than for example, the farmers in Salinas. The folks in Poopo dance more, drink more and stay around until much later than other towns I have gone too (not just Salinas). I ventured to guess it was the touch constitution of the miners and the dangerous lives that they led that led to Poopo being such robust celebrators. Others agreed and a cheer went around to the strong miners of Poopo who really know how to celebrate!

Grandpa's grave.

Grandpa’s grave.

The next day we went about the town visiting friends, the hot springs, and the cemetery where my children’s grandfather, a minor, is buried. Here’s the photo essay…

(PS: Tomorrow I’m off to the quinoa growing community of Quillacas and may be out of communication for a week or so.)

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