In Bolivia, fiestas are a way of life

Many of the country's grandest fiestas align with major celebrations within the Roman Catholic Church, but residents celebrate indigenous gods and beliefs, too.

Our cab turned a corner in Bolivia's capital, La Paz, on a rather drab, wet, Sunday afternoon, onto a spectacle of twirling skirts and top hats, as women danced down the street.

What fortune, we thought. Of all the streets, and all the hours in the day, we happened to bump into a cultural event.

Then the next day, in another cab, we turned another corner. Again, a burst of yellow shawls and skirts; costumed dancers; and cars decorated in orange, red, and hot pink tapestries.

It was then that we learned that Bolivians embrace their local fiestas in much the same way Americans enjoy their summertime barbecues.

There are any number of street fiestas in Bolivia, which include musicians, masked participants, and dancers strutting the Morenada or the Diablada.

Many of the country's grandest fiestas align with major celebrations within the Roman Catholic Church, but in towns across the country, residents celebrate indigenous gods and beliefs, too.

Many of the parades are paid for under a system called "preste," in which wealthier members of a neighborhood foot the bill for food, drink, and musicians. This way they earn respect in the community.

It is all taken so seriously that what might seem like an annual event to an unwitting visitor might actually just be one of many practices for the real thing. On that dreary Sunday, we learned we were watching a rehearsal for the "Day of the Carpenter" on May 3. But if the point of a parade is to celebrate – and have fun – judging from the looks on their faces, it's clear that it hardly matters whether it's the real thing or not.

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