One who lives it, enjoys it.

While Mother Nature was dumping three feet of snow on the Northeast last weekend, Barranquilla was similarly inundated with fluffy white matter. It flew thick and fast, carelessly landing on any available surface if it didn’t first dissolve and disappear in the sun. Available surfaces include faces. And actually, not so carelessly, because a cornstarch (maizena)- and foam (espuma)- free face at Carnaval is just screaming for some decoration.

Maizena to the face.

Exhibit A: Maizena to the face.

natfoam

Exhibit B: Espuma to the face

So, that’s Carnaval in Barranquilla, supposedly the world’s biggest pre-Lent celebration after that little annual get-together in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Te quedó claro, ¿no?

Ok, there’s a little more to it. More sequins, for example:

moresequins

The sparkling will burn your eyes if you’re not careful – or maybe that’s just spray foam?

A queen:

reina

And a smaller queen:

The classiest newspaper dress I've ever seen, courtesy of El Heraldo

The classiest newspaper dress I’ve ever seen, courtesy of El Heraldo

Masses of dancing Marimondas, Carnaval’s favorite jokester:

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Marimondas marimonda-ing

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Marimondas marimonda-ing

Beautiful people everywhere – which is Barranquilla on any given day, but the music and elaborate explosions of color, feathers and sparkle that make up costumes bring them out in full glory:

beautiful people

Stop being so hot, EVERYONE IN THIS CITY.

I can’t forget all of this either:

Or, more traditionally, this:

Carnaval is a four-day celebration ending right before Ash Wednesday and Lent kill everyone’s buzz – the same sentiment as Mardi Gras in the U.S. and other celebrations around the world. The idea is utter wide scale indulgence in worldly pleasures, a complex intertwining of culture, tradition and debauchery. As much as Carnaval means massive, organized parades with hundreds of dancers, it also means massive, seemingly spontaneous street parties with speakers bigger than cars blasting every genre of music known to coastal Colombia.

My first Colombian Carnaval (I celebrated in Cadiz, Spain…FIVE years ago? What?!?) began with Guacherna, the biggest pre-Carnaval parade falling very conveniently the weekend of my 25th birthday. The parade lasted several hours followed by several more hours of dancing, drinking and turning 25 in the streets with my new costeño rugby friends.

Like all the finer things in life, apparently official Carnaval events are being increasingly sucked up by greedy corporate wealth. On one hand, it’s nice to know that it’s not just the U.S. selling its soul, but it also makes for more difficulty in experiencing some of the good stuff. Most of the parade routes are staked out by private companies who sell bleacher seats – the bigger the parade, the higher the price. This left Natalie and I with the following view of the biggest parade on Saturday, Batalla de Flores:

bflorebetter

We caught the tops of some of the more elaborate floats, including those carrying reggaeton and TV stars, the queen and other unfairly attractive humans.
At one of the more tranquilo parades, if that word can even be used in Carnaval context, we had bleacher seats and saw an entirely different show, four hours of coordinated, costumed dancers of all ages and shapes.

Dancing

Dancing

Almost as many feathers as sequins

Almost as many feathers as sequins

Sometimes the Colombian flag explodes

Sometimes the Colombian flag explodes

Batalla de Flores float

Batalla de Flores float

Sometimes the Colombian flag explodes

Sometimes the Colombian flag explodes

La Negrita Puloy, a Carnaval character

La Negrita Puloy, a Carnaval character

skeletons

Blackface characters representing African slaves

Blackface characters representing African slaves

Wednesday morning found a different Barranquilla: sober, quieter, more serious. It’s too vibrant a city to go completely black and white, but maybe it dropped down a dimension. From four to three.

Back to this:

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A revelrous side effect of Barranquilla’s Carnaval is the tradition of throwing cornstarch  in people’s faces and showering everyone with spray cans of foam. My white face just wasn’t white enough so starting with the night of Guacherna I lasted about ten minutes before someone lovingly pasted a handful of cornstarch across my cheeks. Aside from itchy eyebrows and filmy contacts, it’s fun. The fun ends when unsuspecting gringos get blasted in the eyes with foam and robbed as they let their guard down to claw it away – luckily Natalie and I maintained the lowest profile possible (still pretty high) and only got attacked by friends.

As the slogan goes, “Quien lo vive, lo goza” – S/He who lives it, enjoys it.

Lived, enjoyed, would very happily repeat. Once I fully recover, that is…quarter-age is no joke.

Viviendo y gozando

Viviendo y gozando

(Pictures are either downloaded from friends’ Facebooks or taken with my 8-year old camera because like hell was I letting my good Canon near the foam, flour, water and pickpockets. Maybe next year I’ll try to party responsibly for photography’s sake.)

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