Ana and Monica
Here in the southern hemisphere the seasons are opposite those in the US and so June 21st is not the summer solstice and longest day of the year, but the winter solstice. Since La Paz
is fairly close to the equator, there is not much difference in hours of sunlight throughout the year, but there is a difference in the temperature. This night is traditionally one of the coldest of the year, especially in the altiplano, at close to 14,000 feet above sea level. The ancient Aymara culture which had it´s center near Lake Titicaca in Tiwanaku
used to celebrate this day with rites and festivals, including a ceremony at dawn and welcoming in of the first rays of the sun by the Sun Gate in their ceremonial complex.
Octavia, Bolivian rock band
This tradition is still carried out every year although it´s become more touristy of late, with events including an all night concert and then the sun ceremony. I wanted to see what it was all about, along with a few other volunteers, so we booked some tickets and got bundled up and prepared for an all-nighter in the bitter cold. The tickets included the bus ride, a bonfire, a hot drink, some giveaways (a scarf!) from the cell phone company Viva, and entrance to the Tiwanaku ceremonial complex, all for 50 bolivianos. It turned out that this was a great deal, since the bus and entrance alone equaled that. I would have paid a lot more for the bonfire which was a godsend in the predawn hours of severe cold.
The bus ride of two hours turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole experience.
Andrew with sombrero
The agency we bought tickets through had 7 buses going and a large group of university students ended up on ours. They brought a guitar and plenty of good cheer, strumming and singing songs (and drinking of course!) the whole way to Tiwanaku. I had a small bottle of Scotch and some coke and I passed it around to Isolde, Patrick, Philippe and my seat companion, Elsa. That gave us a nice glow for the trip there. When we arrived I bumped into Ana and Monica, two friends of mine that I had met in La Paz and with whom I had gone out a few times, including the birthday party of Monica in Zona Sur. So we walked to the central plaza, on the way gobbling down a hot anticucho, where there was live music all night long. The Brazilian rock band Octavia was playing but I´m not so thrilled about their music, even though they are a favorite of Bolivians.
Elsa and friends
I was hoping to hear more traditional music, but that would come later and after less than an hour we were chilled to the bone, despite the bottle of te con te (singani liquor mixed with hot tea) that I bought for 6 bolivianos. What a bargain..that´s less than $1. The girls didn´t want to drink and I didn´t want to drink it all myself so I found myself sharing with random people we bumped into on the way back to the bonfire.
After an hour or so by the bonfire we all lined up to get into the complex and wait for the dawn. I was with Elsa and her friends and we took up places in the dark near the Puerta del Sol, where the first rays of the sun were supposedly to enter. There were a large number of people gathered on a bluff overlooking the central plaza of the complex where the Aymara priests had set up their altar for the dawn ceremony.
Waiting for the sunrise in bone-chilling cold by the Puerta Del Sol
We waited and waited and waited, trying vainly to keep warm. Finally the sky began to lighten slowly and the sounds of a helicopter got louder and louder. It was Evo Morales coming in for the ceremony and first rays. Morales is known for participating in the ancient pagan rituals of the Aymara people. As the sun finally emerged from behind the low-lying hills to the east, the rays broke out above the ridge but the angle was all wrong and it was at a 45 degree angle from the Sun Gate. What was this? I thought the rays were supposed to enter directly through the gate, a la Indiana Jones in the Egyptian temple. In Cuzco, the observatory, there is a slit in the stone where the sun enters on this day, at this moment, and strikes a specific spot in the rock.
Finally sunrise! But...the sun didn´t enter by the Puerta Del Sol..what a gyp!
It seemed to me that the ancient Aymara people were way off in their calculations, or that the gate had been moved at some point in time. I don´t know. But really, it was severely anticlimatic. After waiting all night in the freezing cold for this moment, it was a let-down.
The newly emerged sun felt good though, as slowly we began to thaw out. Elsa and I started back to the place where our buses were parked and sat down to enjoy a hot api (red or white corn drink) with a pastel (fried dough). The api was nourishing and delicious and it warmed our bones. Soon we boarded the buses and headed home much more quietly than our trip there. It was an interesting experience, but not one that I would repeat...Next time I could watch the sun come up from the warmth of my bedroom :)