One of La Paz’s key ‘alternative’ attractions is the Cholitas Wrestling, a wrestling system / league / event / that happens twice a week in the northern suburb of El Alto. The event has become very popular with tourists, who pay B80 a ticket (£8) and occupy the “VIP” seats around the ring, while the locals make do with the bleachers.
The journey to El Alto was delayed by our bus firstly being late, something that made us both anxious, and secondly it not starting for what felt like hours. Otherwise, it was a very carefully organised programme, complete with our own branded tickets, free snacks, drink and souvenir.
Around 60% of the three-hour event was men fighting each other, and 40% was women.
My overwhelming memory from the Wrestling Cholitas is firstly the cold — it went down in a sports hall with a lot of glassless windows — and secondly bemusement. I have never watched WWE/WWF wrestling (I mean, look at me), so I didn’t really ‘get’ watching people pretending to fight for entertainment. At the ostensible end of the action the male fighters took their battles outside both the ring and the safety barriers, and attacked each other with plastic chairs, bins, and anything else they could get their hands on. I don’t understand why this is meant to be entertaining? We knew they were doing it for show, but it just looked like a bar-room brawl which my instinct is to run away from? Silly men.
But the fact that we didn’t understand ultimately didn’t matter at all: the atmosphere was electric, the characters were hilarious, and it was impossible not to be drawn in to the show of athleticism that was going on.
Also, everything was in Spanish, so we had to make up the trash talk ourselves. For a while during the male fights some northern England boys sat behind us and their commentary added a hilarious extra dimension to the action.
“Give ‘im one from me!”
“You what?! I could do better than that!”
“Go on, my son!”
Jess took some absolutely incredible photos of the action:
I hoped that the winners of the male wrestling would be ‘defeated’ by the Wrestling Cholitas, but the genders didn’t mix, bar a corrupt referee character who disarmed or ignored the girls he didn’t like.
Oh! In the ultimate display of Girl Power, one of the Cholitas brought her little boy along, who rather than being hidden backstage stood just outside the ring and stared placidly at the action going on within. He even walked amongst the ladies between fights, looking up at them without a care in the world.
Given that Bolivia is a Catholic country, I’d have thought that its culture would be as macho or male-dominated as they come. But the facts that there were plenty of men in the (local) audience, that the ‘narrative’ of the women’s show (from what I could tell) wasn’t about gender or attraction, and that there was nothing gentle about their wrestling, made me think/hope that this may not be the case.
Of course, this may just be conjecture; Las Cholitas may just be a quirky novelty. But perhaps the local indigenous culture means that women are treated a little more equally than in other countries.