Things to do in La Paz, Bolivia

[Above]This is a cholita: a Bolivian woman in traditional dress with the colorful shawl, ballooning skirt and bowlers hat. You might be wondering what she is doing parading in front of a wrestling ring.

[Above] Or perhaps what she's doing on the ropes.

[Above] Or perhaps what she's doing jumping off the top ropes onto another cholita.

While I was in Bolivia I went to watch Cholita Wrestling in the El Alto area of La Paz. It's held every Sunday from about 5pm to 7.30pm and it was one of the most entertaining things I've been to in a long, long time.

[Above] There is usually a mix of foreigners and locals watching the show.

Originally I was very sceptical about going - I thought it was going to be very touristy or disrespectful to the cholitas - but I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a serious wrestling competition but a wonderfully choreographed and scripted show. It was entertaining and extremely funny!

[Below] There was a number of different characters all with their elaborate costumes. There were 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' and a meddling referee.

[Below] I never caught the name of the guy in the silver suit, but the guy beating him up is Sexy Weapon. He was eventually pushed over the barrier into the audience.

The show was very interactive - at least with the tourists, who pay extra and therefore sit immediately around the ring. The wrestlers would often enter, hi-fiving everyone around the ring-side. And then, during the battle royale, they would take the bottles of water or cups of drink from the audience and use them against each other.

It was always very clear who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. The bad guy would always fight dirty, eliciting boo's from the audience.

In the bus on the way to the show we were told, "Your ticket includes a bag of popcorn and a drink. You can throw the popcorn at the wrestlers if you don't like what you see, but don't throw anything too hard or you might get it thrown back at you." I was happy to hear this and I wasted no time to throw anything I could find at the fowl-playing wrestlers: popcorn; empty cups; empty plastic-bottles; and an orange (twice).

Once I threw an empty 2-litre bottle of Coca Cola (plastic) at the evil referee - who was helping the bad guy beat-up the good guy. He was in the ring at the time and the bottle just missed his head, eliciting an "Oooohhhh" from the audience.

[Below] It was really amazing how athletic the wrestlers were. They flip and spin each other around their bodies with incredible strength and agility. It was just like the North American wrestling I used to watch on TV when I was a young boy- until I found out it was all fake. But seeing such athleticism and humour in a live performance, I could really appreciate it's entertainment value. I laughed a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

[Below] There were more fights between men than between the cholitas (women) but when the cholitas did get in the ring they really made my jaw drop with their athleticism.

[Below] The last fight of the night was the best: two teams, each with one man and one woman - and they didn't restrict their fighting to their equal gender. After continually taking bottles of water from the audience and smashing them on each others' heads, everyone was used to getting a little wet. But when one of the cholitas picked up a 2-litre bottle of Coke and unscrewed the cap ready to spray it, the whole ring-side audience cleared out of their seats in fear of getting sprayed. It was a hilarious conclusion to the night.

[A ticket to Cholita Wrestling can be organised from most agencies near Plaza San Francisco in La Paz. It costs 80 Bolivianos (around US$11.50) for transportation, entrance and snacks - which can be eaten or thrown at the wrestlers.]

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