For four days in the first quarter of the year a magical thing happens in the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla, Colombia. These four days, that precede the beginning of Lent, are the moment of Carnavales; a festival that inspired me to embark on my first South American journey. This festival is based upon an allegorical fight between life and death and in turn is surrounded by a peripheral world that bubbles with this wild, triumphant life.
Carnavales sparks an infectious buzz throughout the city. Conversations transform from tedious questions of "What do you do?" into "What is your costume?" and "What is your performance?" as the streets erupt into vibrations of colour and movement. The headlining parade, the Batalla de Flores, cascades through the Via Quarenta and ends in an all night test of endurance to see whom will be the last man or woman, engulfed in glitter, dripping in sweat, stomping around on the dance floor.
In a brief ten days that seemed to span for months, I wandered my way through the labyrinth of Barranquilla, neighboring beach towns, Porto Colombia and Santa Marta, and the wonderland National Park Tayrona. I learned very quickly that the aliveness that characterizes Carnevale doesn't necessarily source from the festival itself, but rather that it is a spirit that is stirred up from the cracks and crevices of the country. It is hidden away in the ramshackle fisherman town of Bocas de Cenizas or is plucked from the central market downtown; sold to you for 2000 pesos in a plastic bag of just ripe mango by a man whose full faced smile is speckled by his few remaining teeth, meanwhile his friend stood by trying to convince you of the benefits of buying a tiny black market monkey for 75 USD.
It is a place that both rumbles with the quickness of urbanity and oozes with the slow simpleness of resilient cultural history. This is where the wildness remains, this is why we travel.