While still in La Paz Ed and I came accross an ad for a rather interesting wrestling match that was to be held on Sunday night in one of the rough suburbs up the top of the hill.........this wasn't just any kind of wrestling, this was Cholita wrestling, traditionally dressed women in bowler hats duking it out in the ring.....who could resist? So we made the journey. Up, up, up into the outer edges of La Paz to El Alto, the fastest growing city outside the city. Everything is back to front in La Paz, even the fact that here the poorer the area the higher it is. The rich folk live at the bottom of the huge canyon that is La Paz while the poor presumably get by on the thinner air and colder weather up the top. We are dropped off on the highway amongst piles of rubbish and crowds of people and make our way up a set of stairs and over a walkway following the booming voice of an MC yelling "que brutalidad!" from the small brick sports centre perched on the hilltop.
"Eye of the tiger" is blaring though the loudspeakers as we queue amongst the other wrestling fans for our tickets, little shoe shine boys, weather beaten brown skinned men and ladies in embroidered shawls and bowler hats. We splurge and buy 10 bs special ringside seats, inside a girl hands us a pair of plastic chairs that we lug inside and put down wherever. We squeeze next to a whole family complete with tiny baby propped up in his walker to watch. In the ring are Spiderman and another odd character dressed in a red jumpsuit, they are hamming it up for the crowd who lap it up, naughty boys hurl jelly at the villians and wriggle under the barricades to congratulate the winners. After a few rounds of watching various characters duke it out, Batman vs Robin, A handsome cowboy Vs an Indian the crowd are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the divas of the ring.
Suddenly the MC is back and his is introducing the first lady wrestler of the evening, Hilda Lopez or as he puts it “iiiiiiiiilda Lopez” but Hilda is a true diva and doesn’t appear as necks crane in the direction of the dressing rooms. Suddenly there is a burst of rousing pan pipe music and out she comes to a roar from the crowd. Dressed in a purple and pink sparkling shawl, pastel pink flouncy skirt, dainty white pumps and bowler hat Hilda prances about the crowd smiling, dancing and daintily flicking her skirt from side to side. She carries a little basket and throws sweets and kisses to the adoring crowd. Then she throws off her shawl and hands her hat to the ref and strides into the ring. Suddenly the sweet girl is transformed into a true pro as Hilda kicks food off the floor, stretches and stares out of the ring with a face like thunder.
Hildas opponents appear, one is a dumpy women in black and silver La Altena, while the other is in pastel colours who giggles and mocks the professional Hilda who waves her long black plaits like weapons in response.
The whistle blows and they’re off circling each other like wolves before getting stuck in. These women literally don’t pull any punches, or anything else for that matter, there is hair pulling, flying kicks and punches.Hilda throws La Altena to the ground at one stage and then skips away like a little girl. In response La Altena picks her up by the plaits.This is returned with a series of audible face slaps. The ladies are not spared from the food pelting as the crowd gets revved up and start throwing anything they can get their hands on. La Altena gets hit in the head with a flying pork knuckle and hurls it back in fury, the crowd collapse in laughter. Hilda appears back on stage with wet hair. Things get really rough now as they launch themselves across the ring, skirts flying as they throw each other to the ground. A true showwoman Hilda is wearing a pair of sparkly blue knickers that are on full view as she wrestles the other two on the ground.
Another Chollita appears now, in long white skirts and a dainty yellow cardigan – there are now four women in the ring and chaos ensues as the crowd go wild. There is a temporary lull in the proceedings as La ALtena perches on the edge of the ring and does an interview with a tv crew as the crowd boo her and throw yet more food.
Finally, the ref declares Hilda Lopez the winner, she jumps onto the ropes gesturing at the crowd with her fists. La Altera is on the ground gesturing at the heavens and the ref in a dramatic way while the crowd pelt her with more food. A little girl jumps the barrier to hand the victorious Hilda a plastic cup of soft drink which she downs in one go before flouncing off to her dressing room in an imperious manner.
Afterwards, the MC reappears to introduce the final boy wrestlers who take to the stage amongst cheers from the crowd, but in my mind they can't really compete with drama of the fighting chollitas. So we give our plastic chairs and our bottle of Pepsi to a pair of little girls and head out into the thin cold night air accompanied by the strains of "I was made for lovin you" by Kiss.