So myself, Monica, Samuel (young’un) jumped into Samuel (driver’s) taxi this morning and drove about 30km out of La Paz to Calamarca.
We were on our way to see 160 cholitas, Bolivian indigenous women of wrestling fame, who come from five communities spread across the Altiplano – an unforgiving landscape more than 3,800m above sea level.
We arrived along a busy highway where a solitary sign and many more roadside shrines reminded us that 32 people had died along it so far this year.
As we got out of the taxi, beneath a relentless sun, I remember thinking: “Where are we? This isn’t it, is it?” That “is it” was in a high pitch voice even in my head. We seemed to have stopped at a completely barren and uninhabitable land.
But then I peered over the hill and there I saw a green football pitch. Hardly lush, but actual grass all the same.
But then as we went down the hill I realised the pitch was absolutely Gargantuan.
Being as high up as we were (and [cough] as unfit as I am), I don’t think I’d have made it even to the halfway line before collapsing in a heap of asphyxiation. Oxygen Please!
But right there in front of me were 160 women sitting serenely in their different communities undaunted by this Steroid pitch.
They were all about 14 to 45 and they’d made the journey from their various villages that morning to take part in this annual football tournament.
They’ve been playing footie for the last few years as a way of staying healthy and boosting their self-esteem. It’s also an important way of giving them more independence from their husbands in what remains a male-dominated and dictated society.
You’ll recognise the cholitas from their bombíns (a take on the bowler hat), their elaborate and lengthy plaits, and their voluminous, pleated polleras (skirts). The bombíns came off; the plaits and the polleras stayed on. Well, one pollera came off, turns out they have another one underneath that for good measure.
It was quite a sight seeing them charge about the field, their plaits flailing with every sharp turn and pirouette, their skirts billowing in the wind and often engulfing the ball entirely.
The cholitas take the event very seriously, but it’s all completely friendly. Amazingly, they didn’t even celebrate when they won a match. None of the women ran to the supporters’ end and ripped off their shirt when they scored a goal. Though, they probably would have had a spare underneath that as well. They’re like Russian Dolls – I have no idea what they’re real body shape is.
But there was a prize for the winning team. Monica brought a kit from Nottingham Forest Ladies Team over from England for them. They also got 100 oranges. Weird.
Anyway can’t wait to see them in them. The strips that is.
Bring on next year’s tournament.