The horse parade to open the carnaval
So with my plans to make it to Pasto
foiled I decided to stay in Popayan
for the carnaval which was supposed to begin on the 5th and 6th, with the 5th being black day and the 6th being white day. The carnaval has its origins in the days of slavery when slave owners would allow their slavees to dress up as them by painting themselves white and the owners would show their approval in turn by painting themselves black. From that evolved this mess of a carnaval where apparently the main objective is to get as dirty as possible. The festivities actually started on the evening of the fourth when there was a parade of horses around the main plaza and people inside the plaza square were spraying each other with foam and throwing flour at each other.
The masses of people
I stood on the outside and watched the horses move around, one of them got spooked and knocked over someone´s motorcycle. A few people were spraying things near where I was but stood near a group of soldiers and that seemed to keep me safe. The parade ended rather promptly when a police vehicle entered the square and moved the horses out and everyone dispersed pleasantly.
The next day was the real beginning of the carnaval. After meeting up with another American that I had met in San Agustin
we walked around a bit and had some lunch while exploring the town and trying to avoid the chaos that was escalating in the main square until a bit later in the afternoon. We hiked up to the top of the hill overlooking town while dodging some water balloons along the way.
The gang of Colombians plus one American
After that we headed into the main square. We bought some cans of foam spray so that we could defend ourselves and these came with a small bag of flour. Being tall and white made me the ultimate target here, that and the fact that we were the only two tourists there. But the objective is simple, you walk around and through the main square and spray people foam and throw flour at them while trying to avoid being hit by water balloons and with buckets of water that are thrown from the trucks driving around the plaza. Sometimes people really gang up on you and you just have to run away. At first I had no idea why so many people were selling sunglasses, but I soon figured it out. The foam to the eyes wasn´t bad at all, but a handful of flour to the face is really a killer, and a lot of the people are absolutely ruthless, they won´t throw anything at you until they know that you aren´t looking, and they always aim for the face.
There was also the people that would put paint on their hands and then come up behind and put their hands all over your head, face, and neck. Before long we were both soaking wet and covered in flour and paint. At that point we decided to sit across from the plaza and escape the craziness. Soon, a group of Colombians from Popayan came up and sat with us, we talked with them for a little bit and then they invited us to walk around with them. Feeling less vulnerable now that we were surrounded by a group of locals, and a substantial group at that, we ventured back out around the square, spraying people and throwing flour around. It was really quite a lot of fun once you submitted to being wet and dirty. But I would definitely need to bring sunglasses for day two, that was certain. Since we were the only tourists there we received a lot of attention, people were offering us chicha, which is some kind of beer made from corn, it was actually pretty tasty, and there was plenty of rum and aguardiente flowing around as well.
Black for a day
As the it got later, things started to wind down and we decided to head back home before going out later in the evening with Colombians to some place called the Colloseum. When we approached the hostel there was a woman with a hose standing one door down spraying everyone and everything that walked, cars, motorcycles, people, anything. This presented quite the problem as to get inside we needed to ring the bell and wait for the old woman in the hostel to come open the door. So I waited while my friend went to the door and rang the bell while he got soaked until he finally convinced her to open the door amidst all the comotion. We hurried inside, I´m sure much to her dismay after she saw what we looked like, and cleaned up and rested up a while. We ventured out later to find the Colosseum which was in the old part of town but by the time we got there everyone was still arriving and we didn´t want to wait around until midnight or so when everyone said things started up so we just went home after talking with some crazy people and eating some empanadas.
The plaza in the afternoon light
The second day of the carnaval was equally fun. Knowing that I would completely filthy again I wore my same wet and dirty clothes but with the invaluable addition of my sunglasses. The sunglasses proved to be very useful as only once was I hit with flour in the eyes. The people know how to throw it at such an angle so that it goes under your glasses anyways. This time we were able to recruit another guy to come out with us and together the three gringos stalked the streets of the plaza spraying everyone and getting sprayed and covered in paint. We tried to buy water balloons but by then every place was sold out. The second day was apparently more of the same as the first, as now there is little to no differentiation between the black and white days, although I think there was more flour being thrown on the white day.
Los Tres Gringos
All in all it was fun, but two days of it was enough for me, it was definitely something unique and nowhere in the overly racially sensitive United States would you ever find any event like this. Apparently the carnaval in Pasto has big floats and the same paint and flour but no dousing with water, and it continues all night rather than solely during the daytime.
Next stop: towards Ipiales
on the way to Ecuador