So after missing out on the famous Carnavals of Brazil (namely Rio and to a lesser extent Salvador), I finally got to partake in a Carnaval, albeit a bit off the beaten track.
Myself and Rob (the English bloke I met in Cartagena) had initially passed through Barranquilla on the mini-bus to Santa Marta/Taganga and to be honest, from what we saw it didn't look like a particularly interesting place to stop, being little more than a dusty mid-way point.
It was here that Rob informed me that Barranquilla had a Carnaval of it's own and.. get this.. it was the 2nd largest in the world after Rio (I thought Salvador, Brazil held that honour)! I couldn't fathom that a place like this could have anything as good as Brazil so I put it at the back of my mind and concentrated on organising the upcoming Lost City trek instead.
While on the Lost City trek, though, Barranquilla kept coming up. About 3/4 of the group on the trek were headed off to Barranquilla directly after the trek, and even the bottles of Aguila beer had a label promoting itself as the beer of choice for Carnaval! "OK.. I'd better check this shizzle out yo", I thinks to myself (yes I think in West-Coast rapper dialect)
So, considering I was smashed after the Lost City trek and needed at least 2 days to recuperate, I managed to get to Barranquilla on the LAST day of the Carnaval. Not all was lost though, as this was the day with the main parade! I'd heard from others who were there for the previous 3 days when the Carnaval consisted primarily of numerous parties spread out across the city. Barranquilla, as I was to quickly find out, is a HUGE city, rather than the small dusty town I'd seen previously (such is the case with all towns in South America, they're either tiny or full-on megalopolis') and so to get to all the parties you would need to take numerous expensive cabs for 20 minute journeys. So yeah, the last day was a good thing for me as I could take in the huge parade and get in on the festive action all in one location!
The trip from Taganga to Barranquilla took only 1.5 hours and I got dropped off on a dusty street beside some remote shopping complex called "EXITO Metropolis" in Barranquilla (there are no buses in Barranquilla, hence no bus depot, so to get buses to and from Taganga you basically pick them up from this remote spot on the outskirts of the city.)
I had no idea where to go from here, plus it was a scorching 38C in humid heat, so I took the wise choice and headed into the shopping centre to get a bite to eat and try to find my coordinates. After asking several people questions like "Dónde está el mejor lugar para el carnaval?" (where is the best place for Carnaval?) and getting lots of blank looks, I eventually got a guy in a restaurant to write out the address of some street "Calle 84". I didn't know what to expect when I got to Calle 84 (I wasn't aware it was the day of the big parade) but when I got there and saw several hundred kids spraying themselves in white foam while lined up beside a street barrier, I knew I had arrived!
As much as I'd anticipated an onslaught of water, the last day of Carnaval is actually a day of spraying everyone with FOAM (espuma) and the day of water is actually the next day. Phew! Camera is safe... but I left my SLR at home to keep it dry. I still got fairly decent shots with the pocket cam though.
A quick bit of trivia for ya: Carnaval is actually celebrated across South America, not just Brazil (which is most famous for it!). The word Carnaval actually means "without meat", and is used to mark the beginning of LENT where most obeying Catholics refrain from eating meat until Easter. Hopefully this won't stop me getting a damn good steak in Argentina when I head there soon...
So I got to the parade just in time to see it start and the cacophany of groups of musicians, along with people dressed in various traditional costumes from Colombia (along with many non-traditional gay-pride costume groups who hardly wore a costume at all!) plus other nearby South/Central America countries showed that this parade was going to be a truly international affair. I even found it quite unusual, but a large proportion of people here spoke somewhat limited English as well (pretty much noone in Colombia speaks English!).
The parade was HUGE. I mean, it literally went on from 1pm (when I got there) until sundown. There was no shortage of beer and food being consumed so everyone was getting more and more rowdy in the heat as the day wore on. I swear though, after seeing ten groups of scantily clad women (or transvestites) in feather outfits pass ya by, you've seen more than enough and by this stage my knee was killing me for standing up for so long!
I got some great photos though, being a gringo-lookalike made me stand out from the crowd so I got a lot of the participants coming over to me to pose for shots like I was a reporter or something.
Great day was had....
The bus home, though, had a frickin cold AC blasting me for about 1.5 hours (this is quite a common thing in South America too!), so that night and over the following 3 days I had a pretty damned awful attack of the runs, flu and constipation (in that order!) ...