Carnaval ( Mardi Gras ) Carnival - the biggest fiesta of the year is upon us here in South America February 13 to 17, 2010. Commencing on the Saturday preceding Ash Wednesday, and culminating on Fat Tuesday ( Mardis Gras ) is a time of masquerade, excessive eating, drinking, music and dancing. Up all night, night after night. Dancing 'til dawn...then starting all over again at sunrise, with cerveza for breakfast. It is on the Catholic calendar immediately preceding the 40 day period of Lent. It's origin was to provide festivities and unrestrained indulgence to compensate for the abstention and penitence which follows. Carnival roots can be traced back to Romans and Greeks who celebrated the rites of spring. Across Europe, including France, Spain and Portugal, people annually gave thanks by throwing parties, wearing masks and dancing in the streets.
In Ecuador the celebration's origin stretches beyond Catholicism with a Huarangas Indian custom which celebrates the second moon of the year with a fiesta throwing flour, water, and flowers. This has provided a distinct uniqueness to Carnival celebrations in Ecuador. There continues to be a lot of water thrown, ( balloons, buckets, and hoses ) carioca ( a watery foam ) sprayed, and practical jokes played.
It seems everyone has made a break for the beaches, and there isn't any accommodation available anywhere. Homes and apartments are swelling with occupants. Mattresses cover all the available floorspace, and still others swing in hammocks. Those unable to find a roof to shelter them from any rain have camped out on the beaches. During this long weekend social boundaries and ethnic and gender differences vanish as people have fun together. Aristocrats would dress up as commoners, men would cross-dress as women and the poor dress up as princes and princesses - social roles and class differences are expected to be forgotten once a year but only for the duration of the festival.
Carnaval celebrations are held all across South America with the world famous king of celebrations in Rio de Janeiro. The Rio Carnaval is not only the biggest Carnival, it as also a benchmark against which every other carnival is compared and one of the most interesting artistic events on the Globe. Almost everyone has heard of the Rio Carnaval. Foreign visitors to it alone exceed 500,000 every year.
From a North American perspective we were puzzled by the lack of a formal or publicized schedule of events. But experience now shows the festivities are grassroots originating from passionate and fun-loving folks. It does not depend on any authority or sponsor. It is free and everybody's participation is welcome.
If you might be considering visiting South America for Carnival in the future, you should book your accommodation well in advance.