Long skirts and stockings in a wrestling ring is something rare. Except in Bolivia, where indigenous women don their best traditional dress for fights. But don't be fooled into thinking this makes them any less fierce...
Every Sunday in a vast public gym in El Alto, 4,150 metres above sea level, a dozen female wrestlers turn up to fight. Of indigenous Ayamara origin, the women dressed in their traditional puffy, multi-layered skirts, long braided hair down to their waist and don’t forget the bowler hat, the cholitas turn into fighting machines, flying through the air from the ringside, toppling on to their opponents who can be either male or female."the highest wrestling matches in the world".
Foreign tourists pay a high price to watch the show. No doubt some of the money the wrestlers earn - up to 60 euros per fight - goes towards buying the increasingly flamboyant attire. In 2008, several "cholitas" were invited to take part in a popular US talk show for Hispanic audiences, and their popularity has since exploded.
Cholita wrestling is mainly for tourists these days. Tourists pay three times as much for their tickets as locals do, but they do get better seats. Most of the audience are American or Anglo-Saxon tourists, or backpacking kids visiting the Salar de Uyuni salt desert.
There’s no real violence in cholita wrestling, it’s just for the sake of entertainment. Male wrestlers do the first couple of matches. The cholitas come in at the end, with their flashy colorful outfits, and they’re the real stars of the show.
Tourists buy "cholita wrestling" tours from travel agencies in La Paz for about 40 euros. The price includes transfers, entry tickets, a little porcelain cholita souvenir, as well as two free coupons to go to the loo! Tourists can also buy wrestling masks and other souvenirs during the games – as you can see it’s a real business. "
Most Cholitas are housewives from low-income families who train as wrestlers on the side. They train very hard, with well-known professional wrestlers like Kid Simonini. They learn how to tackle, throw their opponent, hold him or her down, dodge blows, jump and fall without hurting themselves. Some of them become really excellent wrestlers and famous in their own right."