San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Color, Rhythm, Tradition: Carnaval in Limón

LIMÓN – In the early Saturday morning hours, the people of Limón slowly pool into the streets, with the sun still low against the palm trees bordering the edges of the city. Street merchants begin placing wallets, sandals and jewelry onto large blankets as agua de pipa (coconut water) vendors organize their posts and warm up their vocal chords to attract the crowds.But this Saturday is not like any Saturday. This Saturday, Oct. 14, is the high water mark for Limón’s annual Carnaval, a two-week celebration that culminates in a grand parade through the streets of the Caribbean port city – a 56-year-old tradition that exemplifies the most colorful characteristics of the region’s distinctive culture.The wildly popular Carnaval brings thousands of Costa Ricans and visitors from all over the world to Limón year after year. This year, however, the tradition is missing for the first time the presence of its founder, beloved community leader Alfred Henry Smith, better known as Alfred King, who passed away in May (TT, May 20).AS Carnaval patrons slowly mill about, some of them snacking on bags of freshly cut fruit, others sitting in neighborhood sodas eating gallo pinto, the parade participants who will make the streets come alive prepare for their big moment.“I think it’s stupendous. Everyone is coming,” says Darling Ivarra, 26, operator of the Barco Pirata pirate-ship ride, as he wipes down the seats of his Carnaval attraction with a wet towel as the sun begins to heat up.And heat up it does. As temperatures reach well into the 90s, more and more people flood the streets and stake out vantage points as parade participants begin the final rehearsal of their routines.Foot by foot, the sidewalks of Limón begin to pile up with people, all trying to situate themselves for the best view of the festivities. Bare feet poke through steel bars as limonenses (people from Limón) relax in wooden patio-style furniture on second-floor balconies, and wooden shutters above restaurants open to reveal wrinkled faces leaning over windowsills to see into the street – a distinct advantage over the hordes of people below.The cries of the street vendors selling ice cream, agua de pipa and meat skewers grilled over charcoal from thin wooden stands begin to get louder. Brothers and sisters, parents and children, tourists and residents pack the streets, the conversations increasing in volume, matching the rising bellow of the bass drums of the many percussion groups that gave started to warm up.AND then it begins – a parade slated originally for noon – a little after 2 p.m. The drums pound louder as the first group of dancers pivots around the corner. If one of the cultural traits of the people of Latin America is that they love to dance, on this day Limón could be the capital of their world.Tassels shake, drums crackle and cheers rise through the air as the parade gets in full swing. Agroup of dancers slowly coming up the path of the parade route comes upon another troupe making its way to the end of the line. As the first group continues to dance, the girls dressed in sequined blue velvet, the second jumps in, shaking maracas and cheering on the drummers. For a few moments the two different groups have become a fusion of sounds and colors, a perfect mix of rhythm and excitement.The parade continues as dancers, floats and musicians, each group remarkably different from the next, perform for the masses. None fails to get a rise out of the crowd Indigenous groups sporting body paint and spears dance alongside men in Los Angeles Lakers basketball jerseys. Women in massively high heels, men in costumes perched atop stilts, a woman dressed up like a dengue-carrying mosquito – young or old, shy or overt, thin or large, it doesn’t matter who you are at this parade. Everyone participates.Even a sudden downpour doesn’t put a stop to the roll of the drums and the cheers of the crowd; people simply pull out umbrellas or, more commonly, take off their shirts. The drenching rain seems to further inspire the crowd, as parade participants continue to march and dance with even more energy.SITTING inconspicuously at a bus stop, seemingly miles away from the excitement, Percy Garnet, 91, dressed in a green felt hat, neatly pressed pants and immaculately clean white shoes, watches the origination point of the parade, where the groups prepare for that first step into the route. The lifelong Limón resident says he has borne witness to every Carnaval since the very first, organized by Alfred King 56 years ago.Garnet personally remembers King as a “highly respected and very well-liked man.” He says he doesn’t know what Carnaval will be like without him, but is positive that it will continue well into the future.When asked what his post-parade plans are, the venerable Limón resident calmly says – over the shouts of rowdy Carnavalgoers, the beating of drums, the shaking of tambourines and the cry of street merchants – “I’ll go home and sleep.”

Comments are closed.