Two Faces of Cádiz – Part 1: The Night of Carnival

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Two weekends in a row I spent out of my base city, in Cádiz. A 40 minute train ride will get you from Jerez to Cádiz for just 8 euros (return ticket).

Cádiz is the capital city of the Andalusian province of the same name. As an ancient port almost entirely surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, it has been a principal home port of the Spanish Navy since the 18th century, and it is, in fact, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain. Remember famous Columbus? Well, two of his voyages set out for the New World right here – from Cádiz!

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Carnival Craziness

My first time in Cádiz was a weekend night of carnival, the most dazzling one is Spain. Although Cádiz copied the carnival of Venice during the period of mutual trade in the 16th century, it is nevertheless second only to Rio’s in fame. It is famous for its amusing disguises, as some of the people tend to dress up as political figures, and satirical song groups called chirigotas usually cover current political topics and events. These performances can be seen everywhere in the streets, but also at the Gran Teatro Falla, where they compete for prizes. During the nights, big concerts in open spaces are also organized, and so the carnival in Cádiz is one huge party that doesn’t stop for entire ten days (February 12-22, 2015).

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All this sounds way too attractive to be missed, and so I hop on the train to Cádiz with my Italian friends on the first carnival Saturday afternoon. The train is more than 45 minutes late, as it comes and goes filled with rivers of people wearing all the costumes that you could possibly imagine. Groups of huge babies, clowns, chickens, men dressed as women and vice versa, pirates, princesses, doctors, fairies, Pippi Longstockings, crazy wigs all around, painted faces and colorful clothes – all headed to the great party of carnival. I myself am disguised as a devil, all in read – dress, stockings, red wig with horns and my face painted red and black. I am even carrying a trident, and black lacy gloves! Getting disguised has always been a great pleasure and fun for me, so I feel like I really belong in the crazy cheerful crowd.

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Once we arrive to Cádiz, we let the loud horde of people carry us through the crowded streets towards even more crowded squares whose names are not familiar to me in the fuss of the carnival. I look around and marvel at the splendor of costumes, music, laughter, people of all ages amused and crazed by this hedonistic party of the year. Even the misty rain that keeps falling every half an hour doesn’t seem to bother anyone too much. When it starts raining, people simply get in between the buildings, or seek shelter close to the high cathedral walls, and keep drinking and celebrating.

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We wander the city center randomly for a while just to take in the general feel of the carnival. Many a street is blocked by different kinds of singing performances, and the crowd gathers around to see and hear everything. Some alleys are so blocked that passing through seems like a highly ambitious task. A few times we end up stuck while trying to get through, simply waiting for the crowd to spit us out at the other end. Older people stroll the pavements in rich costumes, often with their kids dressed in funny masks. Teenagers and younger adults are standing around in small groups, chatting, singing, yelling, drinking, some also smoking pot, the smell of which can unmistakably be detected in the air. Eventually we get hungry, but since all the bars and taverns are cramped with people, we spend more than an hour looking for a place where we can sit and get dry after the rain, while having drinks and tapas.

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After the dinner, we wander the noisy, chaotic streets again, this time with some bottles of beer and wine. A part of my Italian group decides to get back to Jerez with the last train, so just the three of us are left to enjoy the huge carnival DJ party in the open, at the Plaza de San Antonio. In the heat of the loaded party, we drink more, we dance, and we let our noses follow the scent of weed in the air. As expected, I finally lose trident while waving around with it. We meet some new people, we party together, everyone and everything is crazy, the lights are overwhelming, and we keep enjoying it for the next few hours.

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Around 4 am, we head back to the train station, stopping every few minutes to ask people where it actually is, although everyone simply tells us that all we really need to do is keep going straight. We finally find it – it can be easily spotted as herds of people are waiting in front of it, most sitting on the floor completely exhausted, while the police is guarding the door of the station. Finally they let us in, and my friends and I are fast enough to get the seats in the train before it gets choked with people again. This time, people are sitting on top of each other, many also trying to sleep on the floor of the train, our masks half destroyed or lost, make up smeared all over our faces, hairs resembling bird nests.

The train is almost an hour late again, and I still have to do a 45 min walk to get home, but it was worth it. I try to take off my smeared red make up before sleeping, but I end up going to bed with some of it still sticking to my face. I hug my favorite pillow merrily, and spend the whole Sunday in bed – sleeping like a log.

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