I’m not Catholic, and I’ve never been to Mardi Gras (I know, I know!  I lived 6 hrs from New Orleans my whole life and my Granny went every chance she could…I just never did) but I do know that around this time every year Carnival begins.  It’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival in the Latin world, but either way its one big ol’ street party.   Some places do it up bigger and wilder than others.  Some places have parades and festivities every day for a whole month while others hit it hard in just a few days and call it done.  Here in Costa Rica there was a week’s worth of outdoor concerts, street vendors, block parties, dances, and general festivity in Puntarenas.  The last Saturday of the week was the “big” events…the biggest concerts, the massive parade at noon, the most people.  And me.

Carlos and I brave the sun at Carnival.

We chatted about it, and a group of the vol’s from the sanctuary decided we’d all go.  The original plan was for us to leave around 7:30 to catch the 9 a.m. ferry over and spend the whole day, so I was up early Saturday, packed up and waiting for their call… Then the plan was to leave around 9:30 to catch the 11a.m. ferry so we could see the parade and spend the afternoon… And then maybe, they decided, we’d  just leave around 11 and catch the 1p.m. ferry.  After all, they all planned on spending the night on the beach and catching the morning ferry back, so why go early and spend all day?  They managed to make it to Cobano around noon, where I picked up my group and our two carloads of volunteers from around the world headed toward Carnival.  The 3p.m. ferry was much less crowded than the others would have been, I suppose.  Although I’d have preferred to go earlier and see the parade, at least we went…and because we went later, Carlos was done with work and was able to join us.   Yay for me!

Ida gives Kimber a half-mask in shades of blue and pink to match her dress.

On the ferry ride, we painted ourselves to get ready for the celebration.  There were 15 of us all together, and the plan was to keep everyone in the group.  Safety first, folks.  With all the paint, we were definitely easy to spot in a crowd, and we had a heck of a lot of fun decorating one another.  We drew a bit of a crowd, while we were at it, too, as tourists unaware of the celebration happening on the other side of the bay stopped to wonder what on earth we were doing.  With as many languages as our group spoke, no one had to wonder for long.

Once on dry land again, and clearly a unified whole, we were off to see the sights.  We had, unfortunately, missed the parade, but we didn’t miss the concerts or the crowds.  The street along the beachfront was blocked off from vehicle traffic, and jammed with shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of revelers.  There were normal fair rides, from merry-go-rounds to tilt-a-whirls, foods of every possible imagining, half a dozen stages set up with live concerts going on, drum circles on the beach, boats zipping by on the water and helicopters over head, police watching the crowd in tight-knit groups of 6 (backs to each other so they could see everything), kids and grown ups and teenagers, street vendors selling everything you could imagine, and probably more ‘fun’ than anybody should have happening all over the place.

It was so crowded, we couldn't get any closer to the stage than this.

We parked ourselves in a clear spot on the beach for a while, within earshot of the biggest concert stage, although it was so crowded we couldn’t really see what was happening on stage.  We drank a little, laughed a lot, talked and danced in the sand, waded in the surf, and eventually Carlos and I decided it was time to go wandering and let the ‘kids’ play.  I wanted to see everything, rather than just stay on the beach.  We walked for several hours, stopping at the various booths and looking at this and that.  We grabbed an early dinner at one of the open-air restaurants which I love so much (they’re all open air down here, and I adore eating outside).  Eventually we watched the sun set over the bay and went back to join the group.  We hit up several street parties throughout the evening, all of which blended into one another as the crowd shifted up and down the street.  We danced, played, sang, and laughed, and then Carlos and I headed to the ferry.  It was the last boat out until sunrise and I wasn’t interested in sleeping in sweaty clothes in the sand surrounded by strangers and kids.

Carnival in Costa Rica wasn’t like I’d expected, but I really hadn’t known what to expect.  More than anything it was amazing to add one more new experience to my repertoire and spend some time with friends.  No matter how relaxing and good my day-to-day life is, it’s also awesome to break the routine and do something different.  And do it with good people.

7 Countries, 5 Languages...and the gang's all here.