From the minute we arrived in Barranquilla we were told about Carnival. Then the hype leading into the event was enormous. The question is, though, did one of the largest Carnivals in the world manage to overcome the fact that I’m not a fan of massive crowds and disorder? The answer to that was sadly, mostly no. That being said, there were parts that were fantastic, but it definitely wasn’t the experience I was expecting.
The Carnival de Barranquilla is a more than century-old tradition of folklore and cultural celebration that was declared a UNESCO Masterpiece of Humanity’s Intangible and Oral Heritage in 2003. Carnival consists of 4 days of parades, decorations, colorful costumes and street parties. People actually get so excited about Carnival that ‘pre-Carnival’ lasts almost a month before the event truly starts. Starting shortly after we arrived, decorations of massive colorful flowers, various figures and anything neon started to go up in the streets. Typical music filled the streets and the city started filling up with festival goers. When the time came for the actual weekend, we were armed with a full line up of tickets to a concert, parades and street parties, but clearly not with the knowledge of how the weekend worked. :)
Let's start with the longest concert I’ve ever attempted to go to. Most of you probably know I’m not much of a concert person, but I’ve been in the habit of saying yes to most things here and so when the international students decided they wanted to go to a Don Omar concert (one of the more popular artists here), I decided why not go for it. We were told the doors opened at 4pm and that we should arrive to meet up with the group around 2pm. I assumed it was like US concerts and you had to arrive early, but also it’s Colombia, so we were running a little late. My friend from tango, AJ, (who was visiting me from CO at the time) and I arrived at the meeting point around 3pm and almost no one was there. People slowly started to roll in over the next few hours as we tried to entertain ourselves and finally ended up getting dinner. We went to get in line to enter around 6pm (yes, that was 3 hours of killing time in a food court, though it was a nice place to hang out). We entered the venue, which was set up in a large parking lot, and started getting excited. A few minor bands and DJs took the stage as we took bets on when Don Omar would come on. The energy of the crowd ebbed and flowed and slowly started dying as the hours ticked by. After several DJ’s who insisted on playing only a 1/3 of a song before switching to the next, we were starting to lose our minds a little. People started sitting on the ground and asking if they could leave and return (the answer was, despite the fact that we had wristbands, a firm no). Then around 10:30pm a band came on and started crooning what could only be described as very nice elevator music.
I have no complaints about the music, it was lovely, but was not exactly helping boost the energy of the crowd that had come to a more or less pop concert. Finally, about 11:30pm we heard from the local students that Don Omar probably wouldn’t come on until 1am and AJ and I decided we did not care enough about this concert to wait it out. I texted a friend the next morning to ask when he showed up and she informed me she left at 1:30am and he was still nowhere to be seen. Turns out that for a concert that started at 4pm and that you could not come and go from, the main act came on at 2:30am! I wish I’d known and we would have showed up at one in the morning and had a great time. Oh well, such is the life of being in a different culture. Not all was a loss though because AJ and I had accidentally stumbled on the venue the night before when they were running their sound check and dance rehearsal. So we got our own little private Don Omar concert and got a few fun fusion/tango dances in amidst the construction zone surrounding the venue.
Time to get to something a little more interesting and more integral to Carnival…. but first we are going to have to wait a few hours. We had tickets to the ‘Battle of Flowers’ parade on Saturday morning. Well, the gates to cross the parade route closed at 11am but the parade started at 1pm. Want to give me an idea of why? I have no clue. Anyway, it was a chaotic morning consisting of us catching a taxi with some very nice random people because every taxi in the city was busy. They were also headed to the parade but thanks to me being a little forgetful, I’d forgotten the tickets so we had to get out halfway and catch another taxi. We arrived shortly after 11 and ran the last few blocks to join the crowd pushing to get across the street. The crowd quickly turned into a mob that became rather scary and we started having to fight to not get trampled. Luckily, it was short and we made it to the other side of the street unharmed and found our seats. Thank goodness they had some shade cloth above them or we would have become lobsters as we sat there until 1:30pm. Maybe we were being clueless foreigners showing up when the tickets said, but the seating was nearly full of Colombians also waiting so it appeared to just be how it worked. The parade itself was spectacular. Especially as I’ve become a bit of a clothing nerd, the costumes were just incredible. That being said, it was a 4+ hour parade and we left after 2 hours or so because we were done sitting in bleachers. We returned to the Grand Parade of Tradition the next day which was a similar experience but without the getting trampled part. Given the costumes and decorations and dancing were by far the most fascinating part of Carnival, here’s a little video I found for you to enjoy:
Hope you enjoyed your little virtual trip to Carnival. Amor, Jasey