Carnival or Carnaval, (both are correct spellings) is an annual celebration in about 225 Mexican cities and indeed around the world (most notable are Rio de Janeiro, Venice and New Orleans). Catholic in origin, the festivities typically occur just prior to fasting for Lent. One widely held belief is that the word “Carnaval” is derived from the Latin phrase “carne vale”, which means "farewell to meat” (at least according to wikipedia). Basically everyone goes crazy eating and drinking whatever they want before giving up meat and rich foods for the long 40 days of Lent.
Carnaval is just as renowned for rule-breaking and general debauchery as it is for food and parades. The practice of donning masks and costumes to hide the identities of Carnaval participants has persisted for centuries. While the major Carnavals trend towards sexualization and mega amounts of alcohol, Carnaval La Paz still seems quite family oriented and tame. I felt it somewhat akin to our Fowlerville Fair back home (minus the demolition derby).
In La Paz, Carnaval involves numerous vendors lining about a ½ mile of the Malecon along the bay, hawking their wares: blankets and toys, masks and colorful wigs for parade-watchers to wear, and of course beer and churros. The highlight is an evening parade with floats, dancers and bands. The theme this year was “Ancestral Plumage” so bird motifs and feathers dominate the costume and float designs. Carny games with huge stuffed animal prizes and rickety circus rides of dubious safety line the sidewalks. Free entertainment each night features famous singers, comedians and bands and the merrymaking lasts until the wee hours.
This is an important and highly anticipated event in La Paz, so we did not want to miss the action. Pacificos and yummy chocolate filled churros were required fare. As we viewed the parade, I noted that the crowd was very respectful - no rowdiness, no ostentatious screamers, kids were well-behaved and not running around like chickens. Of course there was a federale (federal cop) about every 5 feet so that might have something to do with it.
After the last float, all of us parade-watchers took over the street. It seemed as though the entire city was out that evening. There were so many people, we could only shuffle along shoulder-to-shoulder with not much breathing room. It was a very tranquil crowd, but neither of us like hanging out in large crowds, so we didn’t stay late. All-in-all a unique experience and we are happy to have had the opportunity to view the legendary Carnaval La Paz!