The first time I took a minibus to Villa Victoria, a working-class neighborhood of La Paz, Bolivia, I left my camera at home. Though I was attending something of a spectacle there, I had been warned by several people not to take anything of value. A little nervous about going to a place more commonly known as “Villa Balazos” [Gunshot Neighborhood], I begged R to come along with me. We were headed for the Coliseo, but neither of us knew exactly where it was to be found. After consulting with almost every other bus rider, we hopped off at a corner and walked up the hill two blocks. Still not really knowing where to go, we stopped in a tienda and R asked the way again. We made a right turn, and then followed the sound of “Eye of the Tiger” down the street, where we found a long line of Bolivians waiting in the cold outside a gate. It was early winter, and at almost 4000 meters above sea level very little was worth waiting outside in the cold.
I was still trying to get over a bit of a head cold (the kind that never really seems to go away in the Andes), so I was relieved when we were eventually let into the Coliseo, a large barren sports arena. However, as one quickly learns in highland Bolivia, going inside never really does much to warm you up. There’s no indoor heating, and in such a large, concrete space, there is little difference in temperature. At least inside, the walls block the wind. The arena—about the side of a high school basketball court in the US—had massive concrete bleachers on one side. We entered from this direction and went down two levels to sit down. Now the cold was permeating my body both from the air and up from the concrete bleachers through my but.
In the center of the floor was a six-sided amateur-looking wrestling ring. Used to a simple four-sided ring I wondered if there was an advantage to having two extra sides, or if there was some more practical reason LIDER (Luchadores Independientes de Enorme Riesgo) had decided on six. Perhaps that just happened to be the ring they had a chance to buy. In the midst of my contemplation, Carlos approached us and we shook hands. He and R discussed a bloggers’ conference they had both attended recently. Having been convinced for several months that Carlos was angry with me, I was tentative about what to say. Of course, I am often annoyed by him, but have tried to maintain some semblance of a friendship for research purposes. Carlos and I exchanged quick updates, since we hadn’t seen each other in two years, and then he was on his way, back down to the floor to presumably do something important backstage.
The first fight was between two men; one in a shiny gold spandex outfit with red embellishments, and the other in a Native North American appearing costume. R referred to him as “el Apache” several times, but he also seemed to often use “Apache” often when asking about Native North Americans in general.
After Apache achieved a decisive win, and another 15 minute break in the action, two more characters emerged from behind the curtain. Hombre Lobo [Wolfman] and the Momia [Mummy] came out to do their usual head-butting style of wrestling. The highlight of this was their frequent forays into the bleachers where kids would jump up and run away with high pitched screams echoing. What impressed me most was the parents. Working class Aymara men in Starter jackets that had originally been owned by US high school students in the early 1990s, and women wearing cotton polleras and thick sweaters, would grab the child’s hand and run away from Hombre Lobo along with them.
The other match that seemed directly created for the children in the audience was between Batman and Bob Esponga [Sponge Bob Square Pants]. Batman, in this pair, played the rudo, cheating several times, and pushing kids away who tried to get his autograph. Bob Esponga, dressed in a giant yellow spongy square that looked like an expensive Halloween costume, waved at the kids and gave a few hugs on his way to the ring. Batman eventually won the match, thanks to his unjust moves, but the kids’ hearts were won by Bob instead.
This highlight of the evening for me, however, was a match between luchadoras. Benita and Carmen Rojas entered the ring and hugged, obviously showing signs of friendship. However, the Farak started pulling their braids so that it seemed as if the other luchadora had done it. They eventually started wrestling. The matched turned into a 6 person brawl with 3 luchadoras on one side and Juanita with some other men on the other side. As Carlos reported in his blog,
Carmen Rojas enfrento a Benita, no hubo ganador pues en la contienda se involucraron el Hijo de Alí Farak, Sub Zero, y después de las exageradas trifulcas ingreso Juanita al Ring de 6 postes con el objetivo de colocar orden pero las cosas cambiaron pues al final se hizo un desafio de “tres contra tres” entre varones y mujeres que será develado el sábado 21 de mayo en el Coliseo de Villa Victoria.
Carmen Rojas faced Benita, but there was no winner in the contest because it involved the son of Ali Farak, Sub Zero, and after exaggerated scuffles Juanita entered the 6 posted ring with the aim of restoring order. But things changed and in the end it became a challenge of "three against three" between men and women to be unveiled on Saturday May 21 at the Coliseo de Villa Victoria.
It eventually ended with Juanita saying how much better she was than the others, and she’d show them next week. One of the other luchadoras eventually took the microphone and appealed to the audience: “Somos con el publico! Somos mujeres de polleras y somos con ustedes!” [We are with the audience! We are women of the pollera and we are with you!]