Logistics for the Negros y Blancos Carnaval in Pasto

I'm not sure quite how we ended up here, but as you can see we had a good time. It seemed like a good idea, despite the fact that we don't like large events or big crowds. We are often in New York at Thanksgiving and I'd never think to go to the Thanksgiving Day Parade - so why go to a South American carnaval?

Well, it sounded like fun and  we were  heading to San Augustin and Tierradentro for the archeological sites - so why not keep going south? Everything I read  (and there wasn't a whole lot) suggested that this was a great local event, very popular in the region and really something worth seeing. Several sites mentioned it drew a large number of foreign tourists but I couldn't find many of them talking about it and from what we saw this was perhaps what the local tourist agency is hoping for- rather than what's currently happening! We knew that the carnaval was clearly  something special, as in 2009 the five day extravaganza was declared by UNESCO to be a, "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity". You've got to love these UNESCO titles :).

Here's how UNESCO describes the events, "The main days of the carnival are the last two, when people of all ethnicities don black cosmetics on the first day, then white talcum on the next to symbolize equality and integrate all citizens through a celebration of ethnic and cultural difference. The Black and White Carnival is a period of intense communion, when private homes become collective workshops for the display and transmission of carnival arts and a wide range of people come together to express their views of life. The festival is especially important as the expression of a mutual desire for a future of tolerance and respect."
The experience is a little less academic, I'm sure the symbolism is there but much of the time you're having black paint smeared in your face or you're trying to avoid people throwing flour or spraying white foam at you. It may be about the "Intangible Heritage of Humanitybut it all feels very tangible when you're on the groundThe carnaval creates a liminal space where people can behave in transgressive ways and where social boundaries and classes can be crossed. Everyone who comes out of their houses and onto the streets is fair game and by leaving the domestic sphere you become a participant. It's a world in which children can freely go after adults and where you have to take the "attacks" in good humor. Yes, it's a kind of madness and we found it contagious. Convivial may be an opportunity for transgressive behavior but we felt perfectly safe in Pasto.
We arrived in Pasto on the evening of the "Negros" festivities and as you can see above we were quickly marked with paint, though I have to say the assailants were  quite respectful and generally waited for an indication before reaching to smear the paste on your face. When we made it to the first of two squares featuring large stages and live music we met some locals who immediate recommended we buy face masks. The also suggested surgical masks for the flour. That dodgy looking ski mask may have been the best thing I bought in Colombia though it barely survived the  two days of carnival! As you can see most people were wearing ponchos. Hats, sunglasses and bandanas were also popular.
It was difficult to take any pictures because you had to be vigilant and look out for anyone coming towards you. At the concert where there was a wonderful Tropicale band playing we stood towards the back and avoided a lot of the chaos. But there is no way you could come here and avoid it entirely and that's the democratic spirit of the carnival's chaos.
It's difficult to describe how much of this white foam is sold in southern Colombia around New Year. The quantity sold in Pasto was mind boggling.
By day two we were ready for the main event and even better prepared with ski masks, hats the plastic poncho and more. However as you can see D. was looking pretty dubious, what were we thinking? More to follow including lots of incredible picture of the floats.
Tips: Bring sunglasses, a hat, scarf and a lighweight waterproof jacket, ideally all things you're not too worried about. We stayed at La Maison, Hotel Frances in Pasto not far from the parade route but a little outside the center. I booked our room about two months in advance and it was very reasonably priced, at about $40 USD. The staff were incredibly accommodating and our room was comfortable and modern. The breakfast was among the best we had in Colombia, see the fruit plate below.  I highly recommend staying here if you make it to Pasto. 


Unknown said…
Y'all look prepared for some stormy weather.