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Ladies throw rose petals on a shrine to the Virgin of Amparo.

We went to Sacaba because we were looking for something. We should have known by then that we’d fail to find it. Our entire stay in Cochabamba, up until that point and until our last day, was characterized by fruitless searches.

Day one we spent hours walking around with a big bag of clothes looking for the laundry. We only succeeded on our fourth visit to Portales Palace to get in. We couldn’t find the advertised urban art bike tour and just sat on the curb.

Wool socks. Or any of the vegetarian restaurants on HappyCow.net. Or even bottles of water sometimes.

On the bus to Sacaba, we didn’t know that our Cochabamba karma would thwart our search. We enjoyed the ride.  On the bus was a woman – a grandmother – wearing a maroon skirt and tasseled, embroidered shawl, and her little top hat was festooned with a gold brooch. She looked fly. She got off where we did.

On the way to the market we enjoyed carrot juice and freshly baked rolls. Then we noticed that streets were closed off. Colorful women in glittering, sequined mini skirts, top hats, and platform shoes flowed down the street.

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As a photographer, my motto is follow the sexy. (I kid.) After asking a bunch of people and failing to find our destination, we decided to see what all the costumery was about.

Turns out, we randomly arrived in Sacaba on one of the town’s most important days of the year, the Feast of the Virgin Amparo, celebrated with a colorful parade through town.

Men and boys dressed as dragons danced or marched in thunderous bands, preceded and followed by the beautifully dressed ladies – maidens, mothers, and crones – who danced in perfect unison under the hot sun.

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The parade snaked through the town. Somehow, the oldest, fattest guys were chosen to wear the hottest outfits – bear costumes. They exhaustedly twirled back and forth, masks on their heads, sweat pouring down their beet red faces, and if the exercise didn’t cause any heart attacks, it probably did a lot to help stave future ones off.

Naturally, vendors selling peanuts, potato chips, ice cream, popcorn, soda, and candy walked up and down the route. On the side streets, huge piles of donuts and cakes and cookies were stacked on tables.

I haven’t found any information about Our Lady of Amparo, specifically explaining the image of an empty gilded crown, cloak, and scepter. The name “amparo” means “refuge.” She is the queen of the afflicted and oppressed.

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We eventually called off our search, and just enjoyed the parade day. We were thinking of writing a story about the town’s famous coca leaf market, but no one we asked for directions managed to send us there.

That was our luck in Cochabamba. On our very last full day, we managed to find wool socks; urban artwork; two art galleries; the Palace art exhibition; and two meals that we used for stories. It was our most productive day.

But otherwise, Cochabamba was awesome. Next destination: Bolivia’s capital in the mountains, La Paz!

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Written by Ada Kase (Kulesza)

Ada Kase is a freelance journalist and photographer from Philadelphia. AJKTravels is her personal travel blog documenting her adventures with her husband, journalist Aaron Kase.

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