You can check out my personal blog at TheMusingsOfMattHayes.blogspot.com.
>>Originally published March 10, 2011<<
I’m in Canoa now, enjoying the small, rural beach side town w/ a decent surf break and a community of ex-pats from around the world. The town is about 9 square blocks with a normal population of about 700 and one paved road running perpendicular to the beach. Most of the nicer hostels and many of the gringo owned businesses are on the beachfront street. Though it’s the main commercial street its not paved and honestly the packed sand seems to do just fine.
However, this weekend was Carnival, and even though Rio de Janeiro and some other cities get the majority of attention for this holiday all of South America goes completely mental for the event. Canoa was expected to see 40-50,000 people over the weekend all looking to dance and drink on minimal sleep. The following is a recount of my Sunday night.
It started out innocent enough. I went to the restaurant where I’m working to see if they were going to be open or not. Since we had lost power 9 times the night before and ended up cooking for a party of 16 by candlelight, they decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and didn’t open. I struck out to find the gringos figuring they’d be at one of a handful of places. I met up with Colm and Damien, two Irish lads, walking down the street who showed me where everyone was.
We sat in the front room of a hostel mixing half and half rum and cokes and introducing ourselves to everyone else. Our crew of about 15 represented Sweden, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, the States, Ireland, Germany, and Holland and conversations were going in different languages depending who was or wasn’t paying attention. The owner of the hostel was hesitant at first but eventually joined with our party while the rest of his family looked on with reservations. It quickly got too hot in the room and soon we all picked up chairs and moved the party out into the street facing the beach. There were people walking up and down, cars w/ sound systems worth more than the vehicle driving by, and two stages and three bars all trying to play their music louder than the rest. The car with the biggest sound system lit by blue LEDs parked across the street from us so we took turns walking over and making fools of ourselves trying to dance to reggaeton and salsa while screaming broken Spanish introductions over the noise. Pitbull owned the music scene this year with Bon Bon and Maltido Alcohol, both of which seemed to be on repeat. When the rum was depleted we struck out looking for whatever was next.
We stopped at a bar next to the Surf Shack and somehow two Irish (Colm and Dave), the Kiwi (Jack), and myself got separated from the rest. As we were walking down the street to try to find them a double-decker party bus inched past us attempting to make it though the crowds of people in the streets. There was a dance party on top and that was all the reason me and Jack needed to scale the outside of a moving bus. Colm and Dave took a slightly more conventional route but managed to meet us on the roof shortly thereafter where our dance party was intermittently disturbed by low hanging power lines. Near the edge of town the driver announced he was going to Bahia, a town 40 minutes away, where we had no intentions of going. We quickly scrambled off the back of the bus (there was a ladder this time) and hopped down before the bus took off.
Walking back down the main street the Irish got separated. In an effort to find them Jack and I walked to their hostel where we found the couple they were traveling with had 1) passed out early, 2) left the door open, and 3) left shaving cream in plain sight. Either one of those, or maybe even two, would have been fine, but the trifecta didn’t work out well for them. As Damien convinced us to leave, 3 girls from Guayaquil walked up to the door and introduced themselves. They were staying in the same hostel and had to wake up their friend before we could go back out. I don’t know if every room in that hostel is small, poorly lit, and smells like 4 people have been partying constantly, or if that was just the case for the Irish and these girls, but either way we left there as soon as we could. The girls barely spoke any English but alcohol consumption had put me at that perfect equilibrium where confidence is boosted but ability isn’t diminished too much so I was speaking Spanish like a rockstar. We walked down the beach front road until we found an adequately loud street party and danced there. I left for the bathroom and as I returned I simultaneously ran into Jack and met two people who introduced themselves w/ their names followed by “estamos trans!” (Spanish for “we’re trans sexuals). I don’t understand why people introduce themselves with “Hi, I’m (name) and I am (whatever)” because that whatever is usually their job or sexuality. Neither of those are small talk topics, and in Spanish they’re way above my vocabulary.
So we left. We lost the girls we were dancing with and walked all the way south on the beach front road looking for the Swedes and the rest of the gringos. Finally deciding to turn back, we saw the car with the blue LEDs and huge system we had been dancing with at the beginning of the night pull up. Their trunk was open so we jumped in and they drove us all the way back to the center of town, music blasting, picking their way through the massive crowds.
At this point we grabbed some street food which Jack professed was the best he’d ever eaten in an effort to get me to stop being picky. I still don’t believe him, but it was ok for the moment. We walked all the way up the main street looking for our friends and all the way back down. It was pretty uneventful until one block away from giving up we found them down a side road. We ventured into an improvised building doubling as a dance club and danced there until it closed.
Back out in the street there were local teenage surf pros playing on a balance board consisting of a piece of plywood sitting on a piece of cement that had been formed in a 2 liter coke bottle. I was pretty good at this at the Fruita Fat Tire festival a few years back so I took another shot. I was at least more successful than Jack, who took a running start at it and nearly landed on his head. I was speaking Spanish with more confidence than I have for most of the trip and dancing and having a great time. I met 3 new Americans and hung out with them for a bit before deciding to call it a night.
The streets were still busy, the music was still bumping, but I was done so I made my way back. After a short walk I arrived home and checked the time, deciding 5am is a good time to fall asleep. This is Carnival – people keep that pace for 5 or 6 nights in a row. And the next morning people are on the beach at 7. I doubt it’s the same people as those we saw at 5 but it could be because music is going at least 22 hours a day if not 23, there’s food and street vendors everywhere, and it would almost make more sense to go to sleep on the beach than to try and find a hotel when a town that usually houses less than 1000 people is suddenly inundated with 40,000.