Monday, January 25, 2016

Carnival at Portsmouth, Dominica

Carnival in Portsmouth is a loud, exuberant, colorful celebration with a friendly, small town feel to it. Sunday at 4pm the whole town started lining the main street, visiting, laughing, and drinking while they waited for the parade to start. After two hours of waiting, even these laid-back folks were looking at their watches wondering when the parade would start. Finally around 6pm we could hear the music and see the trucks carrying the Queen and the Princesses coming our way. By then the sun was starting to set and the twilight made photos difficult, but in some ways these blurry photos perfect illustrate the excitement, movement and rhythm of the parade.

After the Queen came the costumed, stilt-walking characters and their protectors. The protectors were the only people at the parade who didn't always have happy faces. They take their job seriously and will do whatever it takes to keep people away from the stilt-walkers. Imagine the chaos if a spectator bumped into a stilt-walker; long fall, serious injuries, taking out another stilt-walker; not a pretty sight...

We were befriended by a local woman named Florence who literally took us by the hand and guided us to a good photo spot, explaining carnival as she went. She said this parade celebrates the freeing of the slaves here on Dominica and the costumes have roots in African traditions and dances.

As we squeezed between the writhing throng of humanity everyone was jumping (it isn't called a jump-up for nothing) and I was reminded of the chicken buses back in Panama. There's a certain nonchalant intimacy shared by strangers in these countries where the buses are crowded, the streets are narrow, and the people are more laid-back.

After the stilt-walkers came a truck with dozens of gigantic speakers blasting out music at a volume so high we felt it as much as we heard it. Behind the truck was a mass of people jumping and dancing along. Some of them were drinking, some of them were smoking, and everyone was having a great time.

Florence eventually led us back to the corner where she'd found us, wished us a pleasant evening, and went on her way. We wandered back to our boat as the locals were just starting to really party. At midnight I happened to wake up and the music was still going strong onshore. These people really know how to party.

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