These are the ‘Climbing Cholitas’ or ‘Cholitas Escaladoras Bolivianas’. A group of Aymara indigenous women who are breaking stereotypes and shifting perceptions. In January 2019 they summited the 22,841 ft peak of Mt Aconcagua. The highest mountain outside of Asia. And did so eschewing traditional climbing clothing in favor of their traditional, vibrant, billowing dresses, and using their traditional shawls to carry equipment rather than backpacks.

Cholitas Escaladoras - This is Dora Magueño Machaca, who is part of the ‘Climbing Cholitas’ or ‘Cholitas Escaladoras Bolivianas’, and also mother of Ana Lia who is also part of the group. They said when they are on the mountain they aren’t mother and daughter, they are best friends. © Todd Antony

The word ‘Cholita’ has previously been used as a pejorative term for the indigenous Aymara women of Bolivia. But these women are reclaiming it as a badge of honor.

In the very recent past, as little as 10 years ago, Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara women were socially ostracized and systematically marginalized. Known as ‘cholitas’ and easily identified by their wide skirts, braided hair and bowler hats, they 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.

Cholitas Escaladoras - Base Camp. Beginning the climb from base camp, up Huayana Potosi Mountain © Todd Antony

While they 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.

— Todd Antony