Exploring Colombia: Carnaval de Barranquilla

Carnaval Baranquilla 2012

by Joshua on May 12, 2012

With only three days left in Colombia, I was ready to soak in the sights and sounds of Carnaval. My sister and I hopped on a bus and made the roughly three hour drive from Cartagena to Barranquilla. Fortunately, my sunburned skin was healing quickly, thanks to a disciplined regimen of applying soothing skin creams to my back, chest, and shoulders.

We arrived in Barranquilla just as dusk set in. The energy derived from Carnaval was palpable throughout the city, even at this late hour. Walking past residential homes on my way to the rental apartment, I saw dozens of families camped out on their front lawns with music, booze, and elaborate costumes. I was in the middle of party central.

After a well deserved eight hours of sleep (this nation-wide tour of Colombia was really kicking my ass at this point), I made my way to the Carnaval parade. We ended up sitting next to a group of elderly, local gentlemen. Okay, so they weren’t really elderly, but it was fun to see fifty and sixty-something year old dudes partying like teenagers. They also weren’t exactly gentlemen, based on my limited Spanish profanity vocabulary. Still, I thought I’d give them the benefit of the doubt.

Within ten minutes, we had hit it off with this group of Colombian OG’s. They were passing to us a steady stream of shots of some sort of locally produced alcohol. Normally, I don’t feel any sort of peer pressure to drink, but I just couldn’t let these guys see my sister out-drink me. I quickly downed each of the shots they gave me. Honestly, I lost count after number ten. It was that sort of an afternoon.

Within an hour, a group of Canadian and Australian tourists had joined our drinking party. And the parade? The parade was cool. Lots of pretty girls, extravagant costumes, and fun music. But the real action was in the bleachers where we were sitting. The locals were soaking tourists with aerosol foam spray (a.k.a. “fake snow”), while the tourists tried to hide behind each other and did their best to fight back. It was a free-for-all!

The next day I woke up without any signs of a hangover. Good thing since we were headed to a major concert, which meant standing in the stifling heat for hours, just waiting for the sun to go down.

The Festival de Orquestas y Acordeones is an annual concert and musical competition coordinated with the Carnaval celebration. This year’s festival was held in memory of Joe Arroyo, the Colombian Salsa legend who died just seven months earlier.

Although the concert was lacking energy in the beginning while we stood in the mid-afternoon sun, by nightfall the entire stadium was jam packed and the performers were rocking hard. It was easily the most fun I’d ever had at a concert, and the most exhausted I’d ever been after a concert.

The next day was strictly an R&R day, while we waiting for our flight to Panama. Over the course of only two weeks I’d biked across Bogota, tasted my first Cholado in Cali, been sunburned in Cartagena, and experienced my first Carnaval in Barranquilla.

What a country! What an experience! I LOVE Colombia!

Check out more of my Baranquilla pics here.

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