February. A cold winter’s month home to snow, short days and Saint Valentine. Well, not this year. This year February is a hot, sunny summer and Saint Valentine’s day is swallowed whole by the biggest fiesta of the year. There is a life before and after Carnival. The pre experience and the post experience. You thought you knew, but you had no idea. Carnival. The word will never be the same again. It comes alive, dancing in front of you, exploding with colours and an energy so vibrant and contagious you have no chance of escaping it. You will be drawn back in and remember the first time you laid your eyes on these people, the first sound of the music and the first feel of the rhythm. You will smile, because it was epic.
The Carnival in Barranquilla on the caribbean coast of Colombia, is famously one of the biggest carnivals in the world. Thousands of people turn up every year to see another thousands of people parade down vía 40 in an explosion of colours and costumes. For four days the whole country takes a time out to enjoy the festive occasion and party hard from midday to early morning. How lucky was I that carnival was falling perfectly into my new Colombian schedule as well as being situated only two hours from Santa Marta where I live. Infused with dances originated from Spain and Africa, as well as indigenous flavour, it completely mesmerized me from the start. I thought the $85 entrance fee I had to pay for three days ‘carnivaling’ was a bit over the top, but I was soon praising myself lucky; it was worth every little penny. It would’ve taken a lot more ‘wasted’ money to make me regret this amazing performance.
The carnival is built up by four stages. On saturday is when your jaw drops to the grown as you witness the Battle of the Flowers.On this day we got a taste of everything that was in store. Floats, dancers, singers, incredible costumes, animals and even the odd famous (dead) person. We sat down at one o’clock to watch the parade and by five, when it ended, we were so pumped up by carnival we jumped from the audience stands and danced to latino rhythms with the locals. That night lasted well into the early morning after a massive street party blasting live music and with hundreds of people enjoying the spirit of carnival
On the second day it was time for the Great parade that consisted mostly of more traditional costumes and dance than the day before. I tell you, its impressing stuff this. 3 to 4 hours of parades is a lot of people, a lot of dresses and a lot of everything else. I enjoyed it massively, but when the clock passed five thirty, I was just too hungry to go on. The competition between the dancers was fierce and those who won, well maybe I should come back next year to see them in the Battle of the Flowers.
Monday is home to the Orchestra Festival and the final parade of the carnival. The Fantasy Parade was just that, a fantasy. A beautifully coloured dream and I had to pinch myself to realise the dream was true. Much like The Battle of the Flowers the Fantasy Parade had it all. It was impossible not to feel all the emotions that surface when you witness something that makes it seem like life stood still in a perfect moment. It paralyzed me and put me in a daze that I never wanted to come out from. I was a bit in a comatose to be honest, because never would I have expected a carnival to be this and to have such an affect on my perception of it. And isn’t that the best feeling in the world, when expectations are blown so profoundly out of the water it leaves you gobsmacked. And the best thing about carnival? No matter who you are, big or small, thin or thick, old or young, the carnival is a celebration where the whole world can shake their booty half naked to the sound of the latino rhythms and live by the words of carnival: those who lives it, are those who enjoys it….