Copacabana is a touristic town near the Bolivian border with Peru. The city’s main attraction to foreigners is its access to Lake Titicaca, a perfect jumping off point to visit Isla de la Luna and Isla del Sol.

For Bolivians, Copacabana is significant for an entirely different reason: car blessings.

Cultural superstitions, rituals, and religious beliefs tell a lot about the way of life in a country. In Bolivia, car blessing ceremonies are held daily at 10 am in Copacabana, outside the Cathedral off of the main city square. People come from as far as Sucre, a 20-hour drive away, to take part in the rite. Considering the winding roads, perilous drops, lack of lanes or general driving rules, the fact that people regularly get their cars blessed speaks volumes to the perils of handling a motor vehicle in Bolivia.

Though officially Catholic, the country has held on to some indigenous rituals, superstitions, and rites. There’s a traditional offering when you want to build a new house, at the birth of a child, and so on, that are still observed to this day.

Car blessings are one of the most frequently observed traditional rites. Whenever you buy a car, new or used, you go to get your car blessed. If you are planning on a long journey, you visit the priest to receive well-wishes for your vehicle. And if you drive for a living, such as a truck Taxi driver, you go regularly, commonly once per year.

In Copacabana, on any given morning, you can see cars lined up, four cars wide and two blocks deep, each driver trying to get a spot in line before the blessings begin. The square is abuzz with activity. People running, dogs barking. The street is lined with small shops that look like they’re about to explode with a hodgepodge of party goods.

For a few Bolivianos, you can buy garlands of flowers, beads, confetti, and anything else you can imagine to decorate your car. The colorful scenes of chaos look like a Mardi Gras parade, except that they take place at 10 am on your average day.

As I look on over the trucks, buses, and small sedans, there is a sharp air of anticipation encircling the crowd. Families have traveled from far and wide with their vehicles to receive a blessing along with their car. They stand grouped together, children tugging at their mothers’ skirts, or swatting at the flowers hanging from their windshield.

Sensing something is about to happen, I find a safe position on the edge of the street, my view of the cars and the cathedral unobstructed. I’ve lost Oscar somewhere in the throng, undoubtedly snapping photos to memorialize the event.

At 10, a small figure opens the cathedral doors and quietly slips out to join the festivities awaiting him. The priest, robbed and reserved, walks out into the explosion of color in the traffic-packed square. The only tell that distinguishes him from a priest performing mass is a baseball cap firmly planted on his head.

He takes in his hand a wand made of flowers and dips it into a bowl of holy water. He then proceeds to unceremoniously spray generous amounts of water all over the cars, the engines with their hoods left open exposing their inner workings, and all over the people huddled round, regardless of age or standing. It’s almost comical to see proper, serious looking people doused in water without a flinch, disclosing nothing except a reserved acceptance of the shower.

I glance to my left and catch a glimpse of Oscar slipping between the cars for a better view. An older woman in traditional skirts with long black plaits cascading down her back walks over to her car as the priest finishes his blessing. From a cardboard box sitting on the street, she pulls out a massive bottle of Champagne. Without hesitation, she uncorks the bottle, gives it a shake, and then douses her entire car, walking strategically counter-clockwise to cover the vehicle.

The scene has an element of absurdity as if I’m watching my grandmother suddenly burst onto the dance floor, showering everything in booze as if it was her 21st.

My revery is ended abruptly with a deafening “crack!” While I was watching the woman, I missed her son walk up to the car to finish the ceremony. The final step, apparently, is to scatter the ground around the car with firecrackers and light them off with a resounding “thwack!”

The priest continues his stately procession down the line of cars. The cracks continue, alcohol spurts everywhere, confetti flies. It’s like a scene from a mad party: booze, revelry, and mild explosives.

As our first town in Bolivia, I can’t wait to see what other surprises this country has to offer.