Saturday, February 25, 2012

From Silly to Sublime


I've never posted about Mérida's Carnaval, this year's rendition of which ended last Tuesday. I guess that's because it's been covered many times, and also because I like to post good photos, which can be hard to get from behind a huge crowd, which is generally the position from which I've observed the parades in the past. And after a few years of participating fairly heavily in the activities, I cut back on my personal involvement in Carnaval. It's fun, it's an important part of the culture here, and I enjoy it, but now I appreciate it in smaller doses. I've gotten to the point where a solid week of daily parades, loud music and partying is more than I care to experience.

The parade route passes only a few blocks from my house. Even when I stay home, the noise and congestion are evident. So after attending one parade at the beginning of the festivities, I decided to leave the rumble and blast of Carnaval behind, and cut out for an overnight stay at the beach in search of a little peace and quiet. The contrast hardly could have been greater.



Upon arriving at one of my favorite beaches, I was immediately caressed by a perfume quite different from the normal salt-air aroma we always expect along the Gulf of Mexico. The stark, white sand beach smelled like a flower shop. And the source was not readily apparent, although I finally tracked it down to this fringe of tiny white flowers in full bloom right above the high-tide line. The lime-green of the foliage created a brilliant contrast against the sand in the glare of the sun.



I'd borrowed keys to an empty beach house, so the next morning, after a restful sleep in a hammock hung there, I headed out early to the nearby estuary. In this season the mangroves and brackish shallows here are home a great variety of migratory and indigenous birds. I climbed a palapa-roofed observation platform that permitted me to watch a distant grouping of feeding flamingoes, along with many species of ducks, egrets, herons, cormorants and pelicans.

Every so often a flock of flamingoes would pass over, yacking incessantly as they headed away from the sunrise in search of feeding areas. As each flock passed over, one or two pairs would suddenly wheel away from the group, and make a spiraling descent in order to join their fellows already wading and dipping their hooked bills in search of breakfast. The feeding assemblage of hot pink birds slowly grew as more and more joined in.

Ducks, congregating in large, tight clusters to repeatedly dive and surface in the shallows, created boiling disturbances on the black water as they pursued feed in the depths. Occasionally a large number would startle and take flight together, calling and creating a wet rushing sound as they flapped and surface-stepped briefly in order to gain sufficient speed to become airborne.

When I returned to Mérida on Tuesday, the party was still on.



There were the beer floats, with twelve-foot-high bottles of Sol and bikini-clad girls shaking for all they're worth to high-volume music. A float sponsored by a bottled-water company sprayed a fine mist of water on the sweltering crowd. Bands of drummers pounded away and the bass beat vibrated our insides. Fanciful, tall creatures walked by on high stilts. Thousands of costumed revelers entertained an estimated 800,000 persons along the parade route.

My view of the final Carnaval parade this year was somewhat different than usual. My friend Paul offered me a place in his palco, or box of eight seats, along Calle 60. This afforded a shaded, front-row view of the party.

Sitting in a front-row palco offers a lot of advantages. The view is fantastic. You can see everything, and many participants in the slow-moving parade love to interact with the crowd, so it's possible to talk with them, shake hands, and get them to pose for pictures.

Then there is the food. Carnaval sponsors toss out lots of treats, mostly snacks, trinkets and T-shirts. When you are standing in back of the throng, there's lots of competition, but from the relatively comfortable folding chairs of a palco, it's possible to catch them without a scuffle. There was plenty, and we shared with our neighbors. I ate a cheeseburger (snatched out of the air and handed to me by Paul, who's not eating much meat these days), a variety of cookies and candy, and drank a Coke. Not exactly health food, but it was all part of the party.



So it was a good Carnaval for me. I enjoyed it more than I have in the past couple of years.

Lesson one: Spending part of Carnaval week in a serene place away from the hullabaloo allowed me to appreciate the craziness more when I was back in it.

Lesson two: Have a good friend who offers palco seats to you. Or reserve a palco yourself (and be that friend to others).


19 comments:

  1. The colors in the Carnaval photographs are amazing. An interesting contrast with the beach... both breathtaking in different ways.

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    1. Yes, the colors at Carnaval are spectacular, and you are right, they are made all the more dramatic by the contrast. Thanks for commenting.

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  2. Wow. Your photos really capture the enchantment of both scenes, and the contrast between them really sharpens the effect.

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    1. They are both great experiences, and I think they complement each other for that reason. The beach in the picture is the same one we visited together awhile back with other friends. The beach has widened somewhat, most likely to the detriment of some other coastal stretch nearby.

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  3. Sounds like you got the best of both worlds. Carnaval sandwiched between a self-created Lent and the real thing.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where there isn't much carnaval action.

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    1. Yes, it was very nice. I appreciate Carnaval more this way, I guess.

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  4. Great idea to take a quiet beach break in the middle of Carnaval.
    I'm salivating over the estuary shot. Gorgeous.

    John

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    1. I attended the beginning and the end of Carnaval. It was not a bad way to do it.

      I need to get back out to the estuary with a longer focal length. I only had my point-and-shoot, which has a very limited zoom range and is no good for distant wildlife. It's a beautiful spot and pretty much a solid bird traffic-jam this time of year.

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  5. Sounds like you've figured out how to make the contrasts complement each other. Thank you for telling us about the palcos! I wonder how difficult they are to acquire.

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  6. Lee, I don't believe it's difficult, although it involves a bit of line-waiting and you have to be here right before Carnaval when seats go on sale. Paul has bought palcos for the past several years and knows the ropes. When I learn more, I'll let you know. It might be nice to get several friends together to go in on one, since you have to buy a whole box of eight seats. The cost would be very reasonable that way.

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  7. I think I know the estuary you're speaking about. When we had our daughter and her friend with us a year and a half ago, we stopped at a place that had a palapa'd platform. (I know that's wrong but palapaed just doesn't look right). Unfortunately, there wasn't much to see in Nov.

    Your photos capture the acute difference between the chaos of Carnaval (not that I've ever gone, but I can imagine the horrendous cacaphony) and the serenity of the beach.

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    1. Barb, you'll have to plan to be here during Carnaval at some point. It's definitely a lot of fun.

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  8. Palco info: Palcos (boxes) go on sale usually right after January 1 from a storefront on Calle 56 between 57 and 59 across from Banamex. Initially you must buy a box of 8 seats (30 pesos per seat) for the entire parade schedule (5 or 6 days depending upon your Palco's location and whether it is part of the Children's Parade's abbreviated parade route). So a Palco can cost as much as 1440 pesos for the six days. A few weeks later you can buy a Palco for an individual parade day. That will be a cost of 240 pesos. Several weeks after that you can buy single tickets to single days. Your selections are pretty slim by that time.

    This year I went to the Palco office three days after it first opened and most of the good palcos in the shade and with no one behind you were 95% gone. I got lucky and got one of the last ones.

    If you are interested in the evening parades mainly (they are cooler), then all Palcos are pretty good. You don't have to be concerned about sun and heat. Daytime parades are a much different matter.

    Front row seats make the parade experience more special. As Mark indicates, there is the opportunity to personally interact with those marching and to take special pictures. Because you have a reserved seat, you can also arrive at the parade route much later. This year I got to my seats at least an hour after the parade was scheduled to start. (It took maybe an hour and a half for the parade to journey from the Monument to my seats near the Plaza Grande.) You also get lots of stuff thrown to you, including cheeseburgers.

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  9. Thanks Paul, for providing the information on palcos. And thanks for sharing yours at Carnaval.

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  10. Ever been to an island called Holbox? I think it's somewhere near you. It's the most beautiful and tranquil beach I've ever been to--and a great antidote to the Carnival ruckus.

    al

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    1. Al, funny as it may seem, I have not yet, after almost nine years around Mérida, been to Holbox. It's not terribly far, but there is so much to do nearer to home that I haven't yet made it there. Yes, I hear it is a wonderful and peaceful place. I'll make it one of these days.

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  11. Another great description of recent happenings in Merida. Sometimes a good balance is best and it seems you found the right mix. The palcos are so much better than jostling around all over.

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    1. Yes, I am sold on palcos. I'd gotten so that I did not attend many events during Carnaval, but the palco experience has revived my interest. And as Paul indicated in a comment above, palcos are really not terribly expensive...especially if you share with friends.

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  12. Marc,
    Catching up on blog reading. (Being in Merida kinda beats reading about it!) But I always enjoy your observations.

    The idea of mixing serenity with participation in the culture is very appealing.

    Being my first ever carnaval, I was surely glad I thought to bring ear plugs!

    ~eric.

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