It was actually a very interesting experience. I was with a few friends from the program at a temporary market in El Prado (a long, narrow park that acts as a median in a busy street downtown). We made it all the way to the end of El Prado, where there was a Bolivian boy band (no joke. coordinated dance moves and sweat suits.) and a group of people shooting firecrackers into the air.
Then a firework landed about two feet away from my feet. After the mini-explosion, we booked it. Some people were running away, while others looked like they were running towards others. We eventually made it through the mess to find an empty street we could take back to our hotel (and the police arrived much sooner than that), but not before getting a bit of burning in our throat and watery eyes. Some of the vendors that didn’t make it out had bloodshot eyes, tears streaming down their face. Tear gas.
Of course I was nervous, but I was honestly (frighteningly?) more interested in watching the reactions around me. There was anxiety. As soon as the fight broke out (turns out it was a fight over two soccer teams), people closed their shops in seconds. Cochabamba has experienced the water war and the gas war, but from what I’ve discussed with Cochabambinos, violence in between is uncommon. Bolivia is a developing country, but that doesn’t mean they’re used to violence. Nobody is used to violence. It was a scary experience, but one that I don’t necessarily regret for myself. It’s humbling to see the power of people when it’s not behind a TV screen.