Carnaval de Barranquilla 2014 blew into Colombia like a hurricane: starting with slow winds a month ago, building with showers of colorful confetti and costumes, and finally, erupting into a full-blown, four-day party resplendent with celebratory music, parades in the streets and people dancing at all-night parties: a tumultuous storm that left intense and blurry memories for everyone who stepped in its path.
Last weekend’s Guacherna opened the Carnaval skies to start the festivities; my friend Shauna and I ventured out on a Friday with some neighbors and met a friendly group, Cumbiamba La Guapachosa, who were performing in the evening parade. We met Willy, the Flauta de Carrizo player who mastered the flute made from a hollowed reed.
We reveled in meeting the dancers, who insisted we try on their giant faldas and pose for photos. I learned very quickly not to refuse the offer to wear a skirt, even if you have to hold it with one hand while dancing. After catching a ride in their chartered bus, Cumbiamba La Guapachosa insisted we walk the parade route with them, leaving our feet tired from dancing and our faces aching from smiling as we headed home.
Still glowing from Guacherna, the real celebration kicked in Friday night, with scheduled “official” events and small parties outside houses scattered throughout the approximately 150 barrios in La Arenosa. Exhausted from a week of teaching, and my heart aching from the tragic and sudden death of a beloved student, I stayed home and saved my energy for the weekend. (Side note: I lost a beautiful and brilliant Marianista from my school and may or may not blog about this later. For now, prayers go out to her sweet family during this difficult time.)
On Saturday I joined my compañeros from WorldTeach to watch the Batalla de Flores from street-side seats. Crowded together on plastic chairs under a glowing red shade tent, we drank Aguila in cans and passed around bottles of Aguardiente, while huge floats covered with plaster decorations and giant paper flowers swooshed by. Fit dancers in bikini costumes and elaborate groups in traditional dress marched by for hours.
Caught up in the celebration, our group (and several parade-viewers around us) honored the Carnaval custom of smearing each other’s faces with cornstarch and spraying candy-scented soapy espuma.
The remaining days and nights were filled with huge outdoor parties, crowded taxi rides to different barrios and hours of dancing with locals and tourists alike. The parade in my barrio, San Jose, filled Carrera 21B with colorful floats, wild costumes and families gathered together on hiatus from school and work.
I enjoyed meeting several Barranquilleros, including Jésus, his brother David and their humorous uncles, as well as many other happy, welcoming people excited by the international draw of their annual event. With street parties giving way to clubs, many places such as local favorite La Troja experienced massive, messy crowds of people dancing and celebrating into the early morning hours.
As the weekend of Carnaval de Barranquilla 2014 spilled into Monday and Tuesday, my barrio became noticably sparse; businesses that are regularly open during the day were closed and locked up tight.
The local Olimpica, with it’s bare shelves, looked like a Kroger before a snowstorm in Georgia. Still, the street parties continued, and people sat out on their porches until late at night, extending friendly hello’s to those passing by.
With the hurricane eye safely out of range, Barranquilla seems to be returning to it’s Costeño way of living: wigs and costumes are put away until next year, and many people will resist sipping Old Parr (for at least a week). Having immensely rejoiced in this year’s Carnaval, I now understand the Colombian saying, “Quien lo vive, lo goza,” or she who lives it enjoys it. Absolutamente!