New Years Eve With a Bang!

La Paz 2

As a teenager New Year’s Eve was the chocolate bar I would look forward to as a young child. And, like a chocolate bar, I would build it up for weeks only to be left with a sense of un-fulfilment and a need for more. The clock would hit midnight, my inebriated friends and I would slur a cryptic countdown that only we could understand and I would then mentally tick off my yearly accomplishments. Again, these would often fall short of what I had planned exactly 12 months ago. I would list my short-comings off in my head, on by one:

Why hadn’t I kissed that girl?

Why hadn’t I come first in English (or advanced past the bottom ten people in Maths?)

Why had I still not broken the three hundred CD’s mark for my collection?

And why wasn’t I the most popular guy in school, no, the suburb?!

The more I thought of it the more baffled I became. But no matter, a new year has just arrived; a new chance to start a completely new wish list.

Ultimately, after innumerable disappointing New Year reflections these promises to myself came to a grinding halt. The parties and cryptic count downs continued, but no longer would I make promises that I was unable to keep. I would save myself the disappointment. However, 2012 was the year that I broke this cardinal rule and I made a single promise to myself: see the world. And when the clock struck twelve in La Paz, Bolivia, bringing with it the year 2013, it felt like I had finally found that perfect chocolate bar.

La Paz 1La Paz, Bolivia’s infamous governmental capital city is truly a sight to be seen. With the city’s building’s literally clinging to the sides of a spectacular canyon and filling the deep bowl below, La Paz’s reputation as one of the world’s most breathtaking city’s (literally) is well deserved. Sitting at 3660m above sea level La Paz will hit you like a punch in the face.

When first entering the city I couldn’t help but question how this rat race could possibly earn the name La Paz (meaning Peace). From chaotic street scenes and howling street stall owners- playing what I can only assume is a local game of ‘who can shout the loudest’-to a myriad of sharp cracks as small fireworks are let off in the middle of the street. La Paz is bedlam, but is all the more wonderful for it and would be the setting that I would welcome in the year 2013.

As I walk the bustling streets it becomes clear just how important New Year’s Eve is to the city’s people. Perhaps they have wish lists too? Or maybe they’re just excited that they have survived the Inka’s predicted ‘end of the world’? The streets come alive with small stalls selling a collection of yellow merchandise ranging from hats, bow ties, full suits and even lingerie for the more daring Bolivian. I later learn that yellow is the traditional colour for a Bolivian New Year and with such a vibrant backdrop a sour face was near impossible to find.

Now, one thing must be noted about a Bolivian New Year. Despite the chaos that ensues and the excitement that electrifies during the day, the evening is largely a family affair which, strangely enough, means that the streets are stunningly quiet. For an Australian this is quite strange as by seven or eight o’clock pm we are well and truly pissed, and it is time to begin terrorizing the town. While relatively tame during the day, the streets of Sydney become a scene of hedonistic excitement by night. Thus, it was a shock to find the daylight bedlam of La Paz replaced with a scene of unprecedented calm, inhabited only by taxi drivers and a few cunning shop owners looking to make a quick buck before the clock struck twelve.

La Paz 3No matter. Despite a distinct lack of local charm on the streets below our rooftop party pounded on through the night. With a Bolivian DJ belting out some funky, albeit unusual tunes us gringos sang and danced our way to midnight with some extra help from a few simple party aids. Plastic maracas, fluro whistles, novelty guitars and an array of sparkling outfits converge in a swell of excited anticipation.

A bonfire is started on the rooftop terrace, bellowing waves of much needed heat and torrents of smoke, rising into the cloudless evening sky. Glowing scarlet red and creating an unusual silhouette in the heart of the flames is a llama fetus, a unique addition to any New Year’s bonfire, though a stark reminder of how rich the Bolivian culture is and how unforgettable this night will be. We excitedly reveal our assortment of fireworks which we bought from a street stall outside our hotel. In Sydney it’s illegal to buy fireworks, so we were overly eager to make our mark on the Bolivian skyline. We shot them off one by one as we counted down to one of the most awe inspiring sights most of us will ever witness.

5…We dance elatedly around the fire, cheering like we are in some sort of ‘Lord of the Flies’ re-enactment.

4…The Llama fetus glows menacingly in the centre of the flames.

3…A local man begins to howl at the night sky, chanting a traditional prayer while in some kind of trance.

2…Champagne is sprayed across the crowd of ecstatic locals and foreigners as unique cultures converge and celebrate as one.

1…Then it happens.

La Paz 6

The sky lights up as thousands of fireworks are let loose into the night sky. The ground begins to swell as countless explosions of colour and sound fill the deep bowl, the bangs and cracks echoing through the gullies as if in a war zone. From the centre of the bowl it is as if the Inkan predictions were merely a couple of weeks too late, and that the world really is coming to a climatic end-but what a way to go out, right?

We bask in the truly spectacular sight that we are witnessing, lapping up the acrid smell of burnt sulphur and charcoal and relishing the bitter taste of the explosions which have bought this city to life. I suddenly realise that despite the ‘punch-in-the-face’ altitude, I can finally breathe easy knowing that I have experienced a truly unique cultural experience. It’s going to be hard finding another chocolate bar that tastes this good.

la paz 5

Advertisements