Negros y Blancos Carnaval in Pasto
It's difficult to describe the local character and the grandeur of carnival in Pasto. The preliminaries may be all about covering the gringos (and anyone else) in flour or foam, but once the parade begins it's mesmerizing. I think the best way to convey it is to let you know that our camera/phones ran out of juice about half way through. We were sure it was almost over but the largest floats hadn't even begun! We had no sense for the scale of the event and it was far larger than we had anticipated. Luckily a very kind woman in the seat next to us sent me her photos, many of which you'll see below. Thank you Clara, I particularly love the one below of one of the characters who were on huge stilts!
The parade is made up of of multiple small groupings and floats, musicians, drummers and dancers. Themes varied from animals, indigenous myths and the natural world, to famous South American literary figures. We sat and cheered while it all passed us by. This extraordinary peacock, which opened and closed, was perhaps my favorite.
The aesthetics of the carnival were very particular, with a neon palette on most of the floats and larger figures. There was a cartoonish and somewhat fantastical aspect to most of the characters. Brightly colored and assertive, they demanded attention; I thought perhaps they would glow in the dark! There was something fairly ominous and dark about them.
Here you can see the range of the representations of women, which reflects the diversity of the population in Colombia.
My expectations were shaped by images of the famous carnival in Rio, but Pasto was quite different. With a single exception, the women were not wearing the distinctive skimpy, bejeweled and feathered carnival costumes with their large headdresses. While the floats may have displayed half naked women, the majority of the real women were dressed quite modestly. Clearly not all carnivals are the same.
I loved these more muted characters; these are the leading South American artistic and literary figures I mentioned earlier. We were ashamed that we were unfamiliar with all of them. It really is appalling how little we read in translation in the English speaking world and how little we know about other artistic traditions. The carnival struck so many cords: mythic themes, education, magic, environmental issues and much more that we missed in a glow of passing noise and neon.
We had rented seats right at the corner where the parade turned, a well spent $3 per person! It was an excellent spot - well, pretty good until the tourists from the nearby city of Cali decided to cover me completely in foam. I was a sitting duck; we were waiting for the parade to begin and D. had gone for a stroll, smart man!
Of course we hadn't bought any foam to fight back with- as the whole thing looked like such an environmental nightmare! Finally, I uttered a weak, "No mas!" Everyone laughed at the pathetic gringa, but cut me a break. It was all in good fun and later they passed us a shaved ice in the colors of the Colombian flag! Another of our neighbors (Clara who sent on the photos) bought us a can of foam for our own defense! As a tourist you couldn't have asked for a better reception, I love the Colombians and we loved the south.
There were lots more floats and people; they just kept coming, and getting larger and more elaborate. What was wonderful about the entire day was how local, and predominantly non-commercial the whole event seemed to be. There were no corporate images or electronic bill boards to be seen.
There were so many different creatures represented in the costumes, from the birds and the bees, to the ocean (whales, octopus and fish) and the farmyard.
As you can see there were plenty of fantastical characters too.
Many of the characters had a distinctive South American aesthetic, reminiscent of familiar archeological images with headdresses, pectorals and earrings. They have a particular fierceness about them as you can see below...
There were so many characters and floats to look at and they were passing us for hours; there must have been as many people in the parade as watching it!
Here you can see some of the larger floats coming down the street. By this time the parade had exceeded all our expectations and we were completely wowed. Because our cameras had run out of juice we were just sitting and enjoying the whole thing, while watching out for incoming foam of course!
I highly recommend visiting Pasto for the carnival if you're nearby for the first week in January. Currently there are only a few foreigners going to this event but it's so much fun and you'll get a great welcome. "Que Rico!" as they would say in Colombia.