by Todd Antony on July 11, 2019
These ladies are the ‘Climbing Cholitas’ or ‘Cholitas Escaladoras Bolivianas’. A group of Aymara indigenous women who are breaking stereotypes and shifting perceptions. In January of this year they summited the 22,841ft peak of Mt Aconcagua. The highest mountain outside of Asia. And did so eschewing traditional climbing clothing in favour of their traditional, vibrant, billowing dresses, and using their traditional shawls to carry equipment rather than backpacks.
The word ‘Cholita’ has previously been used as a pejorative term for the indigenous Aymara women of Bolivia. But these woman are reclaiming it as a badge of honour.
In the very recent past, as little as 10 years ago, Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara women were socially ostracised and systematically marginalised. Known as ‘cholitas’, these women, easily identified by their wide skirts, braided hair and bowler hats, suffered racial discrimination and could be refused entry to certain restaurants, using public transport and entering certain public spaces such as the capitals central square, Plaza Murillo
While these woman have been advocating for their rights since at least the 1960’s, their movement was further invigorated by the 2005 election of Evo Morales. Bolivia’s first Amerindian president. Since then the majority indigenous population have seen greater recognition and autonomy.
The glacier visible in some of the images is the 2.9km Zongo Glacier, which has retreated roughly 220m in the last 20 years. The Cholitas were telling me that snowfall at lower altitudes on the mountain is much rarer than it ever used to be, due a striking rise in the altitude of freezing levels in the region.
Within the group is 53 year old Dora Magueño Machaca. She’s summited the 6088m Huayana Potosi 10 or 12 times. So basically more times than she can actually remember. For the vast majority of us, once would be considered an achievement. Her daughter Ana Lía Gonzales Magueño is also one of the Cholita Climbers, and she said to me that when they’re on the mountain together, they aren’t mother and daughter, but rather they’re best friends.
©2019 Todd Antony. All rights reserved.
Alongside his work shooting for top advertising clients including Sony, Shell, Lucozade, Virgin, O2, and the BBC, Antony creates personal projects which capture exuberant characters from diverse contexts and far-flung locations.