¡Los Carnivales!

Tyler Wigington is a a student at Texas A&M University and an official API Student Blogger. Tyler is studying abroad with API this spring in Madrid, Spain.

This past weekend (February 24-26), I ventured to Cádiz, Spain with several of my friends for Carnavales! Carnavales are typically celebrated in primarily Catholic countries (although there are exceptions) and are held during the month leading up to Lent. Every year, there are carnivals all around the world in countries like Spain, Brazil, and even the U.S., where they’re collectively known as Mardi Gras. These celebrations typically involve public parades, street parties, and crazy costumes/masks.

Although Spain’s most popular carnival is held in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, we decided to stick to mainland and head to southern Spain to take part in the country’s second largest carnival. Thus, we left Madrid bright and early on Friday morning to take an 8-hour bus ride to Cádiz, a coastal city that is supposedly one of the oldest settlements in Europe.

On Friday night, we were understandably worn out, so we relaxed for a bit before leaving to explore around our hotel. Since Carnaval is better on Saturday opposed to Friday, we just went to a local bar that evening. That being said, I still semi-dressed up for Carnavales, with a moustache and a toy gun. During Carnavales, it is typical to see people wearing costumes or masks on the street, in bars, and in restaurants, so I decided to embrace the culture!

The next morning, a few of us took taxis to the beach and enjoyed some sun and (very cold) water. Being a native Texan, I am like a little kid on Christmas morning every time I see a beach! The beach was absolutely beautiful, with white sand and slow, rolling waves. Although I didn’t bring a swimsuit, I just rolled up my jeans and walked through the chilly water, in awe of the fact that I was walking on a beach in Spain. One word: unreal.

After the beach, we made our way back to the hotel to get ready for the main event: Carnavales in downtown Cádiz! After a lot of consideration (a whole twenty minutes in a costume shop), I had decided to attend Carnavales as a Jack Sparrow-like pirate. I went all out with a long, tangled brown wig (complete with a strand of beads and a bandana), a striped red & white shirt, a hook, a sword, and a moustache/beard combination. I even let one of the girls talk me into letting her give me Jack Sparrow’s trademark eyeliner-stained eyes. Needless to say, by the time we were ready to leave the hotel, I had transformed into a swash-buckling pirate.

We took a bus from the hotel to the main downtown/beach area of Cádiz to begin our Carnaval experience! Once I stepped off the bus, I knew I was in for a great day and some crazy celebrations! The center of Carnavales was in front of the centuries-old cathedral, which was somewhat ironic (parties outside of a church?), but also appropriate considering the carnavales’ connection with the Catholic Church and Lent. We spent the day walking through the streets around the downtown area and beaches, taking in the sights of street performers and looking at some of the funniest, most outrageous costumes I have ever seen!

Smurfs, Twitterbirds, nuns, pirates (shoutout), chickens, Lady Gaga lookalikes, and belly dancers alike celebrated Carnavales together in this picturesque little Spanish beach town. It didn’t matter if you were young, old, a guy, or a girl, it was truly a sight to see!

Despite all of the craziness, Carnavales really gave me a good glimpse into the Spanish culture. The celebration embodies the idea of harmony, love for other people, acceptance, and a passion for life. Everyone was outrageous and having fun, which bred a sense of community and celebration among all the Carnival-goers. For me, this fiesta was a literal representation of the Spanish culture and the people’s friendliness and colorful lives.

So, after a long weekend of costumes, exploring, making new friends, and taking part in one of Spain’s greatest traditions, we headed back to Madrid. Fortunately, we had a long bus ride back, so I got to catch up on sleep a little bit before getting home. My Carnival experience in Cádiz was one of my favorite weekends in Spain thus far, and I definitely would recommend to other study abroad students that they take part in their country’s pre-Lent celebrations if they have them!

Hasta la próxima vez,
Tyler

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