March 7, 2019. A river of color flowing down the street. Hot sun. Gentle breeze. The smells of chorizo grilling. Drums beating, and people everywhere clapping, singing, dancing, and cheering. I sat so still in the chaos and cacophony caught up and lifted by the symphony of mystery and wonder and compassion and beauty. I sat there amazed and knowing I was in the right place and it was the right time. It was one enchanting moment among many such moments during the Carnaval of Barranquilla.
Enrique and I had arrived late Friday evening, March 1, for the four day festival that is akin to the Carnaval of Rio and to Mardi Gras of New Orleans. Each culminates on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. However, this Carnaval is different than the others. It is a people’s Carnaval. Yes, there are corporate floats and groups of participants from companies and stores and banks and investment firms, but mostly there are neighborhood groups that get together to create their costumes and to make their own simple floats, and to coordinate a small group of neighborhood musicians: mostly drummers, a trumpet, a clarinet, maybe a flute. They create their own banners and they come to march in the parades. To march in the heat, under the sun, and to march for four to five hours singing and dancing and laughing and playing all the while. Miles of walking and dancing and being alive.
It’s not the Rose Bowl or the Macy’s Christmas Parade. There are no brass bands. There are people, everyday people, some very young (3 and 4 years old all dressed up in costumes and made up. Adorable) and some very old (ageless old men and women bent by the gravity of age and by the rigors and pains of a hard life) and there are all those in between. They march. Celebrating life. Proud. The very young move haltingly, the very old slowly, not always sure of their step or balance, and the rest move with zeal. They all move with celebratory grace.
We sat in our bleacher section along with family and friends and a whole bunch of strangers. The parade was supposed to begin at 1:00 but in true Colombia style, at 2:00 we were craning our necks looking for the first signs of an actual parade. But it really didn’t matter, we were all engaged in our rituals: drinking Rum disguised as soft drinks, eating grilled chorizo or chicken or pork with a certain type of yucca that looked and tasted like potato, and of course talking and laughing. Suddenly from somewhere behind the bleachers among the charcoal and wood burning grills, music would pound its way out of gigantic speakers and just as suddenly people were on their feet dancing, swaying arms, gyrating hips. The bleachers rocked.
When the parade final began passing by all our attentions turned to the street. With each neighborhood group we’d stand, applaud, and shout. When a group of old women passed by dancing wildly, the crowd went wild. When a group of children with Downs Syndrome marched by sort of dancing yet not quite remembering all the steps and moves, everyone leapt to their feet and the crowd roared. Tears flowed.
We spent three days at the parades. Each day was a gift of beauty, a gift reflecting the undaunted human spirit, and a gift expressing the richness, the compassion, and the love of soul. I came away in gratitude and in humility. I came away with a new and a renewed sense of enchantment and what it means to seek an enchanted life. I was touched in ways I cannot yet describe and in ways that I suspect I won’t want to describe. Ineffable. I thought I was going to a colorful carnival. It was so much more.