The Winter Solstice at Tiwanaku, Celebrating Bolivian Style!

Bolivians welcome the Winter Solstice in Tiwanaku, stretching their open hands towards the New Year's first rays of sun.

Bolivians welcome the Winter Solstice in Tiwanaku, stretching their open hands towards the New Year’s first rays of sun.

It was one of those spur-of-the-moment travel things that I hadn’t really planed on doing until I was asked, or rather, told:

“Teddy, you know how you finish work at 1:30am tonight? Well, we are getting a bus at 2am with the whole hostel staff to Tiwanaku. Where is it? It’s about 3 hours away and don’t worry we have drinks for the whole way there. Coming back? About 9am. Yes, all night. For the Solstice, yeah. So, you’re coming, awesome!”

I looked down at the piece of paper in front of me to ‘register’ for the trip I had been told I was going on.

“Why do we need to write our passport details?”

“In case we die in a fiery crash, of course! Chances are that our driver will be drunk.”

I sighed and wrote the words, ‘Sorry Dad’ under the heading for our passport numbers.

***

The Winter Solstice, on the 21st June, is regarded by many as ‘one of the largest and most authentic religious celebrations in the Andean world’ and brings thousands of people upon Bolivia’s most remarkable pre-incan ruins sites on this day every year. Tiwanaku (or Tiahuanaco) is recognized by Andean scholars as one of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire, flourishing as the ritual and administrative capital of a major state power for approximately five hundred years.

Due to us still being over 3000 metres above sea level, it wasn’t surprising to find the mercury hovering around -5 degrees celsuis as our bus parked among hundreds of others just after 4:30am. Wrapped up in as many layers as physically wearable, we stepped off the bus into the freezing night air.

Just walking from the bus to the ruins themselves took us over 45 minutes, as the streets were crammed with Bolivians, street vendors selling fried food, taxis and buses. It was surreal climbing off a bus in pitch darkness, into a remote Bolivian town in the middle of the night, only to be thrust into the fiesta itself. Along the way we stopped intermittently to warm ourselves against the impromptu bonfires created along the way.

A Bolivian woman sells street food at 5am in the dark, cold streets of Tiwanaku.

A Bolivian woman sells street food at 5am in the dark, cold streets of Tiwanaku.

After paying what felt like quite a hefty 80BS each ($11AUD) for entry to the ruins themselves, we settled into the large crowd facing the mountains for the sunrise. Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, even dropped in via his helicopter to s a few words.

After two cold hours, the day’s first rays gradually began breaking over the mountain and through the sun gate itself. In typical Bolivian style, the crowd greeted the day’s first light with cheers and whistles. People raised their palms to face the sun’s rays, a supposed ritual bringing good luck.

Gathering people together after the evenings festivities wasn’t quite so easy, especially combined with the fact thatour bus was one of literally hundreds parked along the streets. After a few nervous hours we finally tracked down the bar manager, Sebastian, and safely dragged him away from his new Bolivian husband.

Enjoy a couple more photos from this incredible spectacle below,

Nos vemos!

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Sebastian with his one-night-only Bolivian soulmate.

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