In the tourist town of Copacabana, Bolivia, a priest conducts daily car blessings.
With jam-packed traffic, winding roads, sheer drops and shoddy mechanics, it’s no wonder Bolivian drivers need the help of a priest.
For good luck and safe passage, local commuters visit the shores of Lake Titicaca, in the small town of Copacabana, for one main reason — a car blessing.
The Bolivian car blessing ceremonies happen every day at around 10 a.m., outside the cathedral off the main city square. They begin upon the arrival of the priest. Dressed in a dark brown robe and a white baseball cap, he passes from car to car, zigzagging through the lineup of parked vehicles, dabbing the engines with holy water.
Outside the cathedral, there are stalls selling colourful trinkets and garlands. For a few Bolivianos, you can decorate your car like a Mardi Gras float.
Diesel trucks, four-door sedans and buses alike are decorated like Mardi Gras floats. For a few Bolivianos, you can outfit your ride with a whack of tacky plastic trinkets: Garlands of paper kitsch, bouquets of flowers, bright bows, confetti and toy trucks. The dozens of stalls that line the street also sell bottles of brut champagne, Pilzner La Paz beer and Big Tom Thumbs firecrackers.
Nothing makes a party like plastic leis, booze and mild explosives.
Buzzing around, snapping photographs with the zest of a Japanese tourist, I find myself in the middle of the priest’s blessings. He waves a red carnation around like a magic wand, he dips his flower into a bowl of water and lifts it to my head. Holy water runs down the sides of my forehead as he blesses me in Spanish. With a long journey ahead of me (11 countries left to visit on this trip), good luck for my future travels is just what I need. I thank him with a soft “Gracias.”
Though Bolivia is primarily a Catholic country, the popular religion is a blend of Christian ideology and pre-Colombian indigenous rituals. To this day, blessings, burning ceremonies and good luck amulets are an important part of everyday Bolivian culture.
Once the car and the driver have been blessed, the vehicle gets a champagne bath. Bottles are shaken, corks are popped and bubbly is sprayed all over the engine. It’s a festive but sober celebration, since liquor is a symbolic offering for the car, not for the driver.
I see an indigenous woman, dressed in a long skirt, braided pigtails and bowler hat dousing her husband’s car with a bottle of champagne. It’s strange to see a traditional Bolivian cholita squirt booze like a geyser from a bottle.
To complete the ritual, her husband bends to light a handful of firecrackers. A puff of smoke, a series of sparks, then some loud unsettling pops. These little pocket rockets are fun, but mostly agitating. My nerves are shaky and I feel like I’m in a mini war zone.
The priest blesses an ambulance and another bottle of champagne pops. The lineup of cars thins out as the freshly-blessed drivers set back along treacherous Bolivian roads.
For more articles on Bolivia and other parts of the world visit Julia's website at thetraveljunkie.ca
*This article was first published in Metro metronews.ca
| julia’s tips |
Fast fact: Bolivia’s Copacabana existed before the beach in Rio, Brazil, and before Barry Manilow’s famous song.
I couldn’t find any ATM machines in Copacabana, so it’s best to take a wad of cash and travellers cheques during your visit.
Stay at the Hotel Rosario del Lago, one of the best hotels in town with lakeside suites for as low as $35 US a night; hotelrosario.com/lago
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