Our guest writer, Linda Wainwright lives on Tenerife Island in the Canary Islands and danced the night away for Carnival. Carnival is a wild party that occurs in towns all over the island. Costumes, dancing in the streets, performances, and the wine flows. Reading this post may have you on the plane for Carnival. Linda is an expert. She experienced it all.
By Linda Wainwright
I’ve been standing around here for an hour, worrying about my heavy makeup running in the heat, when someone hands me a plastic cup of tepid wine. Taking care not to spill it on my swaying, crinoline skirt, I sip it gratefully.
It’s hot here for an early spring afternoon, and the kids are getting fractious, what with the waiting and the heat, as if they hadn’t already had enough with the costume fittings, being made up, learning dance steps and all. Last week’s dress rehearsal had been fraught and left us wondering if this had all been worthwhile.
Suddenly, our number is called. “Quick! Into formation” the word is passed along the line, and we frantically organize reluctant children into what passes for order. Our truck, decorated with thousands of paper roses, laboriously made by hand over the last few weeks and put in place during the course of the long, previous night, (because it was a working vehicle just hours ago) stutters into the slow crawl it will maintain for the next hour or so. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party seats itself in the center, and I feel the biggest lump rise in my throat (even now, years later, it returns at the memory).
It’s Carnival in Los Cristianos, and the next hour or two is spent dancing, swaying, laughing, clowning, cajoling our way through the streets, accepting cups of wine from total strangers and bouncing back repartee as we pass, and having what I can honestly say, and think about these words, is the time of our lives.
Watching a Carnival parade is fabulous fun, taking part in one is a thousand times more so.
This February 12th towns, cities and villages throughout Spain will host traditional, Shrove Tuesday celebrations, and nowhere more so than in the Canary Islands. The party in Santa Cruz de Tenerife claims to be the second largest in the world after Rio de Janeiro, and it is the most chaotic, colourful, fun-filled party you can imagine. It’s the highlight of the capital’s year, but the chaos isn’t for everyone.
If you like Carnival, but find the crowds a bit too much, then Los Cristianos, Puerto de la Cruz, Granadilla de Abona, Los Gigantes and other municipalities also have parades and open air dances and all the fun of the fair. Technically, Carnival ends on Ash Wednesday, but logistics of a small island mean that the festivities in the smaller towns are strung out for a couple of weeks or so after Santa Cruz’s sardine is well and truly “buried,” marking the official end of the season. The huge fair breaks up and divides itself between the smaller townships, and comparsas (dance groups) and murgas move on to the next venue.
Going to the smaller towns means that you have a better view. To get the full impact in Santa Cruz you need to arrive in the morning whilst the street cleaners are still clearing up the debris from the all-night party just ended, though the parade doesn’t begin until 4pm. In Los Cristianos people bring out their plastic chairs about an hour before the fun begins. If you like photography it’s much easier to get decent shots, and it means you’re closer to the performers and feel much more part of the good time they’re having.
Los Cristianos’ big procession is on a Sunday a couple of weeks after Santa Cruz has returned to normal. Even if you’re not involved, you can feel the excitement mount over the days before Shrove Tuesday. Carnival Queens are elected; dance troupes vie for prizes, and murgas, the satirical musical groups take aim at local politicians and personalities – granted your level of Spanish needs to be fairly high to appreciate the nuances, but not to enjoy the fun. It seems that every occasion is an excuse to party, and the stages erected in town squares throb nightly to the sounds of salsa. People living nearby have been known to move out for the duration.
Every Carnival has a theme. The year I took part it was Disney, and we’d chosen the movie “Alice in Wonderland” as our entry. It had taken us six months to organize costumes, music, decorations and choreograph and train around 50 children, not to mention raise money for it all (a Carnival entry does not come cheap) so you can imagine how the pressure had built to the day of the big parade.
As throughout Spain, the end of Carnival is a bizarre ritual which often resembles a Monty Python sketch, called The Burial of the Sardine. A huge mock fish is created from papier maché, and pulled through the streets of town, followed by an entourage which looks like a group of refugees from a drag show. In reality these are the local young bucks dressed as widows, who wail and mourn with abandon, until the unfortunate fish meets a fiery end on a beach bonfire.
Some think it’s the best night of the festivities, the pressure’s off and theoretically Lent begins in a few hours (in reality it began two weeks before!). In our case, well, we were to pooped to attend the ceremony ahead of the “burial.” If we had we would have learned that we’d received first prize for interpretation, but it wasn’t about winning a prize it was all about the fun.
Linda Wainwright likes to say that she is “re-inventing herself for her third age.” She transplanted to the Canary Islands more than 20 years ago from England and her passion for the islands continues. Now with kids grown up, leaving behind the 9 to 5, she studies writing and photography and is beginning to scratch a living from them, thus fulfilling a lifelong dream. She blogs at Island Momma http://islandmomma.wordpress.com/