Monday, August 4, 2008

The End of Carnival

As I stated in my last blog, Guanaja made its first attempt at a week-long Carnival here on the island. Dubbed “Carnival del Caracol” (Carnival of the Conch), it began July 26, 2008 with the crowning of the Carnival Queen (Ms. Shanelle Parchmon) and ended Aug. 3rd with a reenactment of the arrival of Admiral Christopher Columbus to the “Island of the Pines” by the Payan Indians.

My husband and I rode over to Soldado Beach (where Columbus landed July 30, 1502) to watch the festivities. I took photos of the event and wanted to share it with those who read my blog.
The stretch of beach dubbed “Soldado” is a lovely part of the island with a fresh-water cut flowing out from the land into the ocean. For a few years a building stood there as a tribute to this event but Hurricane Mitch wiped it out and nothing remains but a few pilings. The beach is a one of a few favorite spots where the islanders go to celebrate Semaña Santa (also known as Easter), which is one of the biggest holidays in the country.

In the afternoon, the flotilla of boats arrived at the beach led by a Galleon carrying Christopher Columbus followed by several other elaborately decorated boats and a barge carrying the Carnival Queen. I must say that I was quite surprised at the ingenuity of the islanders and the wonderful job they did on the decorations. Lucky for them the seas were calm so that nothing was blown away or so sprayed by saltwater and/or rain as to ruin the effect.

I was most impressed with the “ship” carrying Columbus and his crew but questioned the flags annointed with a skull and crossbones! Of course, they were offset by sails bearing the insignia of the Cross. This just gave a little more gaiety to the ship and their crew and certainly could be overlooked as not being an accurate representation of the Admiral’s true boat! The crew on the boat wore Pirate garb and was greeted by the sound of loud, booming cannons (sound effects provided off shore).
The barge bearing the Queen of the Carnival named “Isla de los Pinos” was decorated as a white, sandy beach with a large conch shell in the middle surrounded on the sides by various sea creatures. It was truly an impressive act of decorating and dedicated labor. The Queen was accompanied by her court who were all lovely young island women.

There was a boat representing the Island of Guanaja, one done up like a beautiful sunset, another donated and decorated by Island Tours, another by Hotel Miller. The one boat whose theme I did not understand had a huge barrel-like structure on the back and lots of lovely, young island girls standing on the deck. What it represented escapes me, but it was colorful and a lot of work had gone into its creation. Besides, the lovely young ladies on the front were dancing to the music piped off the beach and it was fun to watch.

A stretch of beach had been prepared for the re-enactment of Columbus’ landing with about 4 Palm Leaf huts and local children dressed as Payan Indians. They had painted their bodies and wore inspirationally-designed costumes of the era. I must say all the actors did a wonderful job and the play was very well-presented. Columbus’ ship was towed to the beach where our Mayor and all the volunteers were assisting the festivities. A woman in a lovely costume was the story-teller and conveyed a rendition of what the sight must have looked like when Columbus landed here.

Columbus was rowed ashore in a small boat, accompanied by a “priest” (an islander in costume) and a flag-bearer. Columbus approached the area set up as a village, greeted the Payan Indians and proceeded to claim the island for Spain by planting the flag on the beach.

There was a huge bonfire scheduled for later when the sun set and I understood that the floats were equipped with lights which would be turned on at that time. There was a generator brought in to run the huge speakers for the event and wonderful music of the islands and Central/South America was broadcast from them. There were a few problems getting the generator started but once it was running we had music! At one point, drummers and costumed individuals were rowed ashore and provided live entertainment.

There were refreshments available and the beach was packed with people relaxing, swimming, playing soccer and just plain having fun. Boats were run up on the beach and formed a water parking lot. We were lucky that the weather cooperated with beautiful blue skies and just enough breeze to keep people comfortable.

I might add that we were unable to make it to a lot of the events scheduled during the week as most occurred in the late afternoon going into the evening and we seldom drive our boat at night. There was, however, on Saturday evening, a fireworks display from Bonnaca town and it was delightful. I have not seen fireworks since the year 2000 when the island ushered in the Millennium and was able to view the lengthy spectacle from our front porch. What made this event even more beautiful was the fact that there was, coincidentally, a thunderstorm taking place on the mainland and with the combination of the fireworks and lightning displays on the coast, we had two shows for the price of one!

I want to congratulate all the people who took part in the organization of this Carnival. The Mayor and his fine staff and volunteers did an amazing job. As the Island’s first attempt it came off quite well and I am sure that with the knowledge learned from this event, next year’s Carnival will be even better.

The island has now returned to its calmer, more relaxed self but Carnival will be talked about for a long time to come and, I am sure, that even more fun will be planned for next year. So, if you don’t have any plans for next summer, think about coming to our lovely, tranquil island and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us!
See ya next year!

1 comment:

  1. I get it! I get it! The big thing on the back of the Hotel Miller boat is one of those fake plastic pineapples. The whole boat is an homage to the tropical rum drink (with umbrella). LOL, how fitting! Even the girls on the bow (who don't look old enough to drink in most countries) are sporting frozen coladas of some sort.

    Great story and great pictures, Sharon. Actually, I'm surprised that the island was able to pull it off (not that they need an excuse to party or celebrate - which they seem to have turned into a profession). Kudos to Mayor Whatsisname, who could have at LEAST worn shorts instead of his "uniform."

    Got to admit that the participants captured the spirit of the occasion pretty well.

    And as for Columbus arriving on a pirate ship...well...I guess it depends which side of the history book you're viewing things from. To Guanajans and islanders everywhere, perhaps Columbus appeared to be a pirate to them? Maybe they didn't want to be "discovered" (and still don't).

    I hope the carnival idea takes hold and flourishes. And maybe as it does it will attract tourists and others who don't actually live on the island already. Preaching to the choir is one thing...