When Carnival rolls into town each year many of us automatically think that the bus only has one stop… Rio de Janeiro. Whilst it may be the most famous, it’s by no means the only option when it comes to choosing where to spend Carnival. Believe it or not, there once was a time when someone would utter the word Carnival and an image of dancers in skimpy clothing and all night partying didn’t instantly arise; With its roots firmly dug in Catholicism, Carnival spread like wildfire across the whole of Latin America and has stayed firmly put ever since with each country putting their own spin on it. Here Dehouche gives you the lowdown on the best option to fit your Carnival style.
Four Parties and a Funeral
Officially honoured by UNESCO with the title of World Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, Barranquilla Carnival has a lot to live up to and oh boy, it doesn’t disappoint. The Carnival’s history dates back to the early 19th century and incorporates all the most important folklore traditions which gives birth to a truly unique creation featuring a fusion of Caribbean, African and Spanish customs. The festival is kicked off on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday with the Battle of the Flowers which sees the Queen of Carnival throwing flowers from a float whilst surrounded by marimondas (hooded figures with long noses) and gigantonas (dwarfs with large heads). On first sight it may look like something from Alice in Wonderland but when you start to hear those first notes of traditional Colombian music Cumbia and see dance break out around you, you’ll know you’re definitely at Carnival. The grande finale of Barranquilla Carnival is the slightly macabre sounding ‘Funeral of Joselito Carnaval’. Legend has it that Joselito, the symbol of the joy of the festivities, died the day before Ash Wednesday from too much partying, a feeling that we can all sympathise with. The parade sees revellers mourning Joselito, until his resurrection for Carnival next year.
And we’re Rolling, Rolling, Rolling on the River
Argentina may not share the same endless beaches as its Northern neighbour, Brazil, but it does have its fair share of rivers and it’s to one of these that the portenos decant to each year for some Carnival madness. Three hours north of Buenos Aires is the small town with a big name, Gualeguaychu. For the majority of the year it lies dormant but for the month of February it comes alive. Each Saturday in February until 2nd March sees a parade go through the specially built stadium which can seat up to 40,000 people and this year the parade will feature almost double the amount of feathers, with a rumoured 70,000 being flown in just for the occasion. The parade itself bears much resemblance to Rio de Janeiro’s as does the carnival spirit. If the soaring daytime temperatures get too much, join the revellers for a dip in the river.
The One That Just Can’t Stop
If you’re looking for a Carnival celebration with longevity than you need look no further than Montevideo, Uruguay. Although the country may be small in size, it more than makes up for this with their record long Carnival, starting at the beginning of January and running right through to Ash Wednesday. The early start in January is to pick the Queens of Carnival and to allow them to prepare for the main event in February. Unique to Montevideo Carnival is a type of traditional pantomime called Murgas which take place all over the country. They often poke fun at politicians or Uruguay’s shaky relationship with its Argentine neighbour; one of the reasons Carnival in Uruguay is so long is because all the murgas are all judged and it takes some time to get round them all. If you fancy finding out more about the history of Carnival then make sure to stop by the Museo del Carnaval, this may help it all start to make a bit of sense but if in doubt just keep on dancing!
The Golden Oldie
You’ll be hard pressed to find a Carnival celebration that dates back further than Oruro in Bolivia. It takes its roots from an indigenous festival but when the Spanish invaded they altered the celebration to fit their Christian needs and today the Carnival has come full circle and once again is heavily influenced by its indigenous past. The main highlight of the Carnival is a pilgrimage lasting three days and nights and sees 48 groups of folk dancers, featuring more than 28,000 participants in total, parade over a distance of 4 kilometres towards the sanctuary of a tunnel. The culmination of the parade is two plays, one a reenactment of the Spanish conquest and the other an introduction by the Catholic clergy, depicting a classic battle between Good and Evil.
Festivities at Altitude
Although not strictly a Carnival celebration, Virgen de la Candelaria takes place over 18 days in February each year and features dancers and musicians who come out to pay homage to the Virgin of Lake Titicaca. For the majority of the year Puno is a peaceful town situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca but for these two and a half weeks in February it comes alive with a mixture of both Christian and Pagan festivities. The first stage of the festival sees a statue of the Virgin carried around the town whilst dancers parade behind to the beat of musicians drums. One of the most exciting parts of the festival is the diablada, or Dance of the Demons, this allegedly stems from when a group of miners became trapped underground and resigned their souls to the Virgen de la Candelaria by performing this dance. Modern day revellers dance to the sound of pan-pipes whilst wearing nightmare-inducing masks that look like deer with long twisted horns.