Originally we had the idea that we would cross the Sea of Cortez and be in Mazatlan to attend our first Mexican Carnaval. But, after asking a variety of people around town which Carnaval is better, we received many mixed reviews. On the one hand we were told Mazatlan’s Carnaval was much better because it was 4 times as large, in a city twice the size of La Paz. (La Paz 2010: 215,178 vs Mazatlan 2010 438,434) Mazatlan had more money to spend on their Carnaval celebration. This translated into better concerts, more people, and a longer parade. On the other hand there were a good chunk of people that found La Paz’s Carnaval better suited because they had had the same celebration, on a slightly smaller scale, less people with better costumes. The same celebration but más tranquillo. (It’s a constant theme here.) We weren’t really persuaded one way or another but we found ourselves in La Paz when things on the Malecon had transformed into a bustling colorful celebration of life with family, friends, music, and food!
Carnaval (often incorrectly spelled Carnival) is most commonly thought of as one last celebration before the penitential season of lent. The term Carnaval is thought to be derived from the Latin term “carne levare” or “to remove meat.” Traditionally on the day before Ash Wednesday Catholics would hold large parties (a.k.a Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras) and eat all of the meat in their homes as they prepared for the 40 days before Easter where they would replace eating meat on Fridays with fish, a symbol of Christ.
Carnaval activities developed over centuries has become a mix of cultural and religious rituals celebrated all over the world. In La Paz, the six fun filled days of Carnaval started with the election of the King’s Court. Duties of the King’s Court include being present for every night of Carnaval, and visiting the local jail, orphanage and area nursing homes to deliver the spirit of Carnaval to those that can not attend.
Probably one of the most important traditions of Carnaval are the parades. We went to the parade three nights in a row and saw something different each time! At first we wondered why everyone in the parade appeared to be dressed as aliens until we figured out that Carnaval comes with a theme. This year’s theme, Infinite Universe.
Dozens of float riders, street dancers, and the King’s Court all made appearances in the parade, wearing elaborately decorated costumes with brightly colored materials, covered in shiny sequins. Sponsored vendors in this year’s parade were Fresca, Tostitos and Tecate. The parade alternated routes each day starting from the opposite end of town in order to give each set of visitors the opportunity to view the beginning of the parade.
After the parade the street celebrations continued with plenty of music, dancing, drinking and food! Multiple stages with many different types of music and entertainment graced the Malecon at strategically placed intervals. While the parade kicked off the festivities each night, the music on the main stage usually started at 11 PM, and the rest of the celebrations continued well into the morning.
Carnaval goers could test their skill on a variety of games, learn about the latest and greatest (as seen on T.V.) products or courageously get a cheap thrill by riding any number of fast spinning rides. Most entertaining was the blanket stand where you could watch and listen as a very persuasive fast talking hombre making ridiculous deals and offers to move his blankets. We watched as kids bought 6 packs of confetti filled eggs and had the best time throwing them at friends and family. We both agreed Carnaval La Paz was an exciting and colorful affair. Our favorite float, was the one with all of the Brazilian dancers, for obvious reasons!