Carnaval was a mystical, heathen-esque party of tumultuous color, sound and steep tradition in my mind. Something to be felt and digested rather than passively admiring. I wanted to attend the Ponce Carnaval since we moved here but the timing was never right.
This was the year! My Dad was in town and we had no plans. Plus – I found reliable information online. This was a deterring factor in years past too. You’d think Ponce would be very clear about the activities but I had to rely on Puertoricodaytrips.com for my info. Although the city of Ponce did have a little poster which said Sunday’s parade would start at noon.
My Dad, the kids and I drove one hour to Ponce to arrive around 11am. The parade was supposed to start at noon so I already felt like we were cutting it close. After all, the little info I gleaned from online said 100,000 people attend Carnaval Ponceño annually. I had plotted out the supposed parade route on my google map. I was as ready as possible.
Sunday was the big parade so we planned for that. I tried calling the info line to ask how early we should get there to get a good parade seat. I’m so Midwestern – Wauwatosa‘s 4th of July parade is SO organized. The past three years I’ve gotten up predawn to reserve seats 3 hours before the parade starts. It’s a well-oiled machine, that parade, so that was my reference point. Plan ahead or be sorry.
We got a good free parking spot very close, spoke with a local woman who said the parade would start at noon, and saw a handful of people already seated. There were plenty of spaces to put down our two chairs in the shade. Score! Now just wait an hour for the parade to start. That’s not long. We located the nearest bathroom (in a bar) and bought a bottle of water so we could use the loo guilt free.
Noon came and went.
Ok. Maybe it’ll start a smidge late. That’s PR’s modus operandi after all.
1pm came and went.
There was a very heavy police presence. We stopped a cop and confirmed that the parade was supposed to start at noon. She laughed. And said it would start at 1:30.
Oye. Great. What’s one more half hour? Well, my kids were very ready to go home by then, parade or not. Mama had already invested this time and energy so no way. This was going to be awesome dammit!
2pm came and went. Kids wrestling each other. Mama starting to get angry. Another bar/bathroom trip.
The lady next to us comes to the parade annually but said that this turnout was much smaller than years past. Social media had been warning people to avoid Ponce due to recent violence. Oh. However, we have heard from other friends that all celebrations have been smaller and more subdued after the hurricane.
2:30 came and the parade started! Finally! Pickup trucks with giant speakers blared music (kids headphones were used again).
The Vejigantes are the masked people, supposedly beating away evil spirits with their balloons (originally animals bladders. Ew). They started the parade.
Then came the various floats of the Carnaval royalty, the school marching bands and antique cars. This particular Carnaval is 160 years old.
If the parade had flowed consistently it would’ve been about a half an hour. But each group stopped to take photos with anyone who cared to pose with them along the route. The high school bands didn’t advance forward while they were playing a tune, and took off their drums to drink cups of water, and even the float drivers would stop for people like me with big cameras should we put it up to our eye to take a photo. Dude, I’m waiting for the best lighting – don’t stop for me! Thanks for the thought I guess. The parade was about an hour long.
Midway through, a guy in the parade was waving to my kids and nudging his companion to look over at us. Now, my kids are blondies in a sea of dark hair so I assumed he was just gawking at their fair hair. Until my son said, “The guy who serves lunch at my school is in the parade” ah. It’s a small island I tell ya.
We thought it was over so we packed up and went for another bar/potty break, only to come out and see there was a bit of the parade still going on. I missed the iconic stilt walkers but oh well. We were hungry and had enough merriment.
I’m glad we went just to satisfy my curiosity. I can’t say I’d ever drag my kids to that again though. It was an ok parade. The photos of the costumed people make it look more awesome than it really was. But it would be a cool experience for people who don’t go to too many parades. Maybe I’d go with adults to check out the evening festivities at the plaza where the parade ends. And drink. Maybe next year we’ll stay home and make our own masks.