Carnaval in Cadiz

Sometimes when traveling into a new cultural event, the best thing to do is take a deep breath and jump into the culture.

When I heard the word “carnaval,” I had no idea what to expect. Was it going to be a parade with floats and spectators standing on the side? Were the streets going to be filled with people walking with no rhyme or reason? Was it going to be performances on a stage? All I knew was that everyone told me I had to go because it is one of the most memorable and fun experiences in the Andalusian region, where both Cadiz and Seville are located.

I had already bought my ticket through a tourist organization Discover Seville for the bus ride down to Cadiz, about 2 hours away. Transportation – check! Now all I had to do was find a costume. From home I brought these colorful geometric leggings that are great for dressing up. One of my friends gave me the idea of being a lizard, or lagarto, so I bought glasses that look like bug eyes.

Carnaval, as I described to one of my friends, is a combination of Halloween and the craziest party you’ve ever been to. Basically everyone gets decked out in intense costumes and the entire town shuts down to have a huge party.

When my four friends and I disembarked the bus in Cadiz, we were told to follow the crowds that would lead us to where we wanted to be. As instructed we followed the throngs of people until they started branching off into different directions and we didn’t know which way to go. Suddenly we found ourselves still following people, but it happened to be a group of elderly men – a bad choice on our part because they were probably just heading home for the night. I could just picture it: five American girls following  a group of 13 elderly men up to their front door. After realizing they probably weren’t the best ones to follow, we found a group of four Spanish guys around our age, singing songs passionately as they drunkenly stumbled through the streets. They were obviously on their way to carnaval. We decided to stick behind them and before we knew it, we were back in the throngs of people after a brief detour into abandoned cobblestone roads of Cadiz.

Americans, sevillanos, residents of Cadiz and all others alike walked through the narrow streets of Cadiz. Vendors grilled meat on the sides of the road to sell bocadillos, or sandwiches, to desperate hungry people. People who knew where they were going weaved their way through the crowds with determination. We formed a chain of five girls as we felt ourselves getting more squished between people and the possibility of being separated. While we were all still connected, it was not pleasant to be so close to so many strangers in such a foreign city. At one point my feet were not on the ground. People around me had come so close that I had been lifted into the air. Then someone shoved me from behind so that I was two inches away from falling onto the grill of a vendor before my friend Brooke pulled me back. Once we escaped the throngs of people, we stood off to the side of a less congested street. We looked at each other and all took a deep breath, thankful that we survived but also laughing inside at what an experience it had been already, only 45 minutes after getting off the bus.

Instead of trying to get to the main area where everyone else was going, we decided to venture down a different road to see if we could find a less congested, less stressful area to enjoy carnaval. Before we knew it, we discovered a plaza where lots of Spanish people were hanging out. This felt like a better environment and less dangerous but still fun and lively. Immediately I spotted the port-a-potties and took a pit stop. When I came back out, I found my friends talking to some Spanish guy who previously had been singing loud songs with a group of about 15 other guys his same age and dressed in the same all white outfit with a red bandana. I immediately introduced myself with the classic kiss on both cheeks and learned that he was from Seville as well and was just down in Cadiz for carnaval.

Much of carnaval was just this – meeting random people, talking to them in Spanish and enjoying oneself. Other than Chemy from Seville, I met a guy named Thiago from Brazil and his friend from Italy who are both studying abroad in Seville until June. Then my friend Joe, who had been in Seville for one month before the program began doing his own independent study, introduced me to his sevillano friend who introduced us to a handful of sevillano girls. Talking to all these sevillanos was such a great experience because I got to meet locals, practice my Spanish and learn about the lives of people from the area.

While carnaval in Cadiz was not was I expected even though I have no idea what I imagined it to be like, it was a culturally immersing experience that I definitely recommend to anyone who comes to the Andalusian region. In general whenever you travel to a different city, state or country, you truly get to know the culture and the lifestyle by immersing yourself into the holidays, celebrations and customs of the area. As my friend Sarah said, you can’t just put your foot into the local sevillano life, you have to jump!

A student at Lehigh University, I studied abroad in Seville, Spain, during the spring semester of 2012. I posted about my adventures and cultural experiences at SenseSeville

Next time, I'll discuss my travels to the nearby town of Ronda. 

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