We finally made it to Carnaval! Somehow, we had missed going to this South American rite of passage our first year here, and budget cuts in town meant last year’s Carnaval was cancelled. However, they were back in action this year–so we figured we’d brave the incredibly hot and muggy weather and see what makes this so special.
We just went to Ituzaingo’s small-town Carnaval–but it was still pretty impressive. I think some day we’d like to see a big-city Carnaval, but we just didn’t have the energy or time to devote to getting to any of the cities nearby. But being able to walk four blocks from the house and see a whole Carnaval parade is pretty special unto itself!
Carnaval in Argentina was officially two days (February 8th and 9th), but in addition to these federal holidays, Ituzaingo added three more weekends in January to the mix to maximize their tourists. The town could very obviously use the tourism–major flooding over the Christmas holiday wiped out almost all of the town’s beaches, so the tourists aren’t coming in droves from Brazil as in years past.
From a logistics standpoint, Carnaval shuts down about a mile stretch of the main road into town. The elaborate floats end up being parked in an open-air garage that’s only about two blocks from our house–so we had the interesting opportunity to check out the floats in daylight before we saw them in action at Carnaval.
Carnaval starts LATE. The first round doesn’t start until about 11pm. We chose to do general entry, which was 30 pesos (or somewhere around $2USD) and allowed us standing room only. We figured this would give us the best option to walk from one end to the other and get the best vantage points for photos. They had the option of sitting on the bleachers (60 pesos) or in the “fancy seats”–otherwise known as lawn chairs on the dais (100 pesos).
One of the best-sellers of Carnaval was cans of spray foam–a cross between silly string and shaving cream. They were about 20 pesos each, and herds of kids spent the time in between groups dousing each other in foam. This must be a yearly tradition, since the moms we stood next to came prepared with hand towels to wipe away any that ended up in eyes and noses. If you go to Argentinian Carnaval, be sure to wear something that is okay to be covered in foam! (I hear the Paraguayan Carnaval version is about the same.)
We knew that Carnaval would be full of barely-clothed women decked out in sequins, but I didn’t anticipate how inclusive it would be. People of every age, from toddlers to older folks, participated in the parade. It really was a community effort. As estadounidenses, we were a little uncomfortable with the preteen girls in g-strings–but it wasn’t particularly surprising, considering that’s pretty much what the bathing suits are down here as well. The costumes were incredibly ornate, and everyone was sprayed with copious amounts of glitter spray. Considering how difficult it can be to get so many basic craft goods in rural Argentina, I can’t imagine how much effort had to be put not just into making the costumes, but just in getting the raw materials!
Each group started with a fanfare and flag bearers to clear the way. That’s followed by various groups, each with their own costuming theme. It seemed like some of the songs had a specific dance the whole troupe would do and others allowed each group to create their own choreography. The costumes would get wilder the closer to the end, and was often closed out with an elaborate float carrying that company’s “Carnaval Queen(s),” followed by the Argentinian version of a marching band.
We ultimately only stayed until 2am (about three “crews”)–but we were told the party went on until after 7am. After further consultation with our Argentinian friends, it seems like the traditional schedule is to go out to eat at 9 or 10pm, drink a little bit at the bar, and then go to Carnaval for a bit, and finish the night (morning?) by dancing at the club.
Overall, I’m glad we got to experience Carnaval! The best way I’ve found to describe how the various groups work is that it’s very much like the Mummers in Philadelphia. The groups are familial or neighborhood based, and they spend a whole year coming up with a theme, costuming, choreography, and music. Each crew has their own distinct flavor, but they are all impressive in their own right. It was a great night to see the whole community to come together and dance, sing, and (of course) spray foam.