Chilecito's little Chaya

Chilecito Travel Blog

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Shoe polish and paint
On the 10th of February, being slightly annoyed with Cordoba, I made a trip back to Chilecito for the Carnival celebration called the Chaya. The province is famous for the Riojanan Chaya and I was able to see why. The celebration starts on a Sunday with a tapamiento, or covering, which take place in 4 or so different neighborhoods. Before heading out you have to get all covered up in the worst clothes you have, put a scarf on your hair, and take off anything that can get stained. The closer you get to your chosen barrio the more danger you have of getting hit my water balloons, buckets of water, and then flour. In no time you are covered in dough.

But wait there is more. Once you are there complete strangers come up to you and make sure you have shoe polish all over your face, and/or paint, mustard, mayo, salsa golf (mayo & ketchup mixed), honey, dulce de leche, foam, or anything else spreadable.
I am not really sure what the brown stuff is
The shoe polish burns a little at first, but the foam helps you clean it off if you are lucky enough to get some on the face.

In addition to this mess, the people put stems and leaves of basil behind their ears, apparently they give it a girl and if she accepts it then they go off together. In the mean time, the air is rich with the perfume of the basil, which is fantastic especially as the days go on and the flour and water start to sour on the ground.

The people of course also get drunk mostly with wine, mixed with soda water and sugar, sipped from the inside of a honey dew melon while the Chaya drum beats and songs fill the air.

The festival officially begins with an opening ceremony based on a story that goes something like this:

A devine young woman falls in love with a drunkard man who does not love her back.
She goes away in hiding after he rejects her. The people think he did some thing to her so they arrest him and banish him. She comes backs really upset and goes off into the mountains to look for him and never comes back. She crys in her search and that is why there is so much rain during this time of the year.

The festival is also based on the Greek and now religious traditions of the cultures that have come and influenced the festival.

Every night there is a parade with traditional dancing that are similar to those that we know as typically Brazilian. The Bolivians dance their dance and the Argentine miners dance theirs to the rhythm of the drums. Large floats come down the street and the same tapamiento type activities occur.

The annoying to me aspect of the parade is that there were even more little kids who do have any sense or do not care about throwing flour or spraying you with foam directly in the eyes. Not to mention that they come at you from below, you turn around to wipe out your eyes, turn around, and they get you again! But you can’t get them back because then their parents will get you to! For this reason everyone of all ages is out in full protective gear. I learned quickly and bought eye covers kind of like lab goggles.

Historically, the parade was held in the central plaza, but some citizens became annoyed with the sour smelling flour and water and other filth, so this year they moved to a newer plaza further out from the center. Everyone complained that it was not the same, too much light, no trees, more difficult to find your friends, so on and so forth. But I had a good time.

Still, that did not stop us kids from hanging out in the center plaza. Actually, the first night we all hung in the streets opposite the corner that is “the corner.” We managed to maintain the festivities there with music and all until 5 or 6 in the morning until the police came and shut us down. The next night they started the same way, but by the time Sol and I got there about 1am let’s say, the police were already there. The police directed the kids from the streets and into the corner of the plaza. Then from the corner of the plaza to the center of the plaza, where they stayed if they did not have somewhere else to go.

So this goes on for a couple of nights, then there is a break, and then it starts all over again for three more days the following weekend. No one is safe, if you go out you risk getting Chaya’ed.

I planned to stay for only the first few days, but I ended up staying the whole week because I love Chilecito.

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Shoe polish and paint
Shoe polish and paint
I am not really sure what the brow…
I am not really sure what the bro…
photo by: nili_adrian