Feb
22
2009

Carnival: day 2

Didn’t get to sleep TOO late, so was able to get up in time to get a good seat in the palco. Turns out I needn’t have rushed – today was less crowded. The theme of today’s parade was “Gran Parada Tradición”, in other words, all the traditional groups. I sat next to a guy I thought was North American or European but turned out to be from Bogotá. He (Juan Andres) was there with his girlfriend Mayra, who lives in Barranquilla. Juan is a flight attendant (only with a different airline than the group I met last night) and Mayra is a doctor. They were really friendly and great fun. They both speak goodly English, although Juan did most of the talking.

During the parade Juan explained some of the stories behind the different characters, dances, and music. Everything associated with Carnival has a history and a story. It’s such a rich tradition, I only scraped the surface. For example, there is a dance I attempted later that involves taking only very short steps (all the better to hold your partner close, as Juan explained). This dance evolved from the leg irons the slaves wore – they could only move their feet very small amounts.

Two of the most popular and well-known characters are the Monocuco and the Marimonda.
The Monocuco costume enables anonymity for the wearer. You wear ample clothing and a mask, in order to hide whether you’re a man or a woman. The monocuco never speaks (not to betray his/her voice) or else tries to disguise his/her voice. This costume was used in the past to enable (typically upper-class) lovers to meet in public whilst allowing their respective anonymity (not from each other, but from prying eyes). They could thus dance together in public without fearing anyone bothering them since no one would dare to breach the anonymity of their costume.

Carnival has deep pagan roots (fertility rites, etc.) and historically during these few days each year it also gave people an opportunity to smirk and belittle the Roman Catholic Church. The Marimonda costume is typical of this tradition. The name “marimonda” refers to a Colombian spider monkey as the wearers of this costume had to justify using it. But basically, the marimonda costume is a hymn to the male penis as expressed by the nose of the costume.

So the parade this day consisted solely of traditional music, dances, and costumes. No floats or outlandish modern contrivances. It also started late and went into the evening. We didn’t even stay until the end, instead the three of us walked to get a bite of traditional food. Mayra and Juan had to go back to her family for a familial celebration, so I went home to rest up. Got up at midnight and hit the clubs (they were just getting going at that hour). I began at one where a girl I met at the palco said she would be, but she wasn’t there, I didn’t dig the music, and it was not happening. Next I tried a popular club I had heard about, and it was jammed with people. I spotted her at the far end with another guy from the palco (betrayal!), but didn’t stay long.

Let me stop here for an observation. This girl could be a supermodel, yet she was flirting with little ol’ me. The next day, another very cute 19-year old girl asked for my phone number. Huh? I can’t tell whether it’s because I’m a gringo so they think I’m rich or I could be their ticket to a better life in the States, or whether they genuinely find me attractive. If it’s the latter, it’s all in the eyes – Latinos are always remarking about my colored eyes (they all have dark brown eyes). Whatever the reason, the weekend was a fantastic ego boost, just the antidote I’d been needing after the last couple months of intense loneliness. I also came out of myself a bit this weekend – going to clubs alone, dancing my ass off like I never have before, and generally becoming a bit more comfortable in these social settings which in the past I’ve always felt fairly uncomfortable in. Hallelujah.

So after not feeling the vibe at either of these straight clubs, I decided to return to that gay club we went to last night. It attracts a healthy mix of people – gay men, lesbians, straight women, trannies, and they’re all fun and relaxed, without all that insecure attitude you get at the straight clubs. Again, this could just be my perception. I also preferred the music here – straight up house that you can dance to, whereas the other places were playing remixed traditional stuff that I don’t get. Anyway, I ended up dirty dancing with an attractive woman who was there with her gay boys. All night long we danced, all of us grinding up against one another. It was mass fun. I’m thinking something is going to happen, the way we’re practically making out on the dance floor. But.. 7am rolls around, she announces she has a kid at home she has to get home to, and the boys say they’re splitting too. Ouch. I felt a bit used (I’d bought an expensive bottle of scotch they wanted, etc.). I’m told that’s typical of Colombian women, but who knows. So I wander out to the back patio of the club where the drag queens are holding court and revelers are still shooting foam at each other. Squinting into the bright sunshine, I look up to see workers from the office building next door staring down at us in marvel. After chatting with a friendly guy who had just gotten dumped and fending off advances from another chap, I finally made it out of there to search for breakfast and get back to the hotel for a few hours of shut-eye.

Here is a short video of a music group in the parade

A video of one of the typical traditional groups dancing down the street. This type of group is called a cumbiamba because they are dancing the cumbia, one of the main dances during Carnival. Here is a YouTube video of a couple dancing a more stylized, ballroom version of cumbia. Like many things in Colombia, it’s very sexy.

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