Have you ever been part of an environment where no one cares that you lost a big deal for your company last week, where people are not the smallest bit judgmental about how you dress, how much money you make, or what kind of car you drive? If you’re a young entrepreneur, probably not, right? There is one place, however, where you are encouraged to eat, drink and be merry to your hearts’ content. No one judges because they are all there to “play.” It is one big party where a small island nation shuts down and where visitors experience the vibes and pulsating energy of a totally pressure-free environment.
Carnival in Trinidad is an example of such an experience. Locals and party-goers from all around the world converge the week before Lent to emerge themselves in an environment where great music, dancing, drinking, total fun and a “no worries” mentality is the overall theme. The culture of the island itself is very diverse with locals of Indian, African, and Chinese descent. This creates an oasis for food lovers and an atmosphere in which locals are open and accepting of visitors of all races and religions.
Trinidadians actually warm up for the Carnival season during Christmas. (Talk about a nation that loves their partying!) “Fete” is the term used for a huge party where the best known Soca, Calyso, Chutney, and Reggae artists perform for thousands of people. Many Westerners and Europeans go one year to see what their friends have been talking about and then, they too, catch the Carnival bug and return year after year.
Anyone can participate in Carnival by choosing from one of many “bands” to play with. (No, you are not required to play a musical instrument!) A band basically is a group that participates year after year, with a specific theme, which is reflected through costumes sewn for people who pay to join them. It is like your own company—you all hang out together, classify yourselves as being of that company, and get the benefits and culture of that particular “company.” For example, one band called Harts is known as being the “foreigner’s band,” because many tourists from America and Europe choose to sign up to be part of their “company.” Their theme in 2009 was the Egyptian Empire. The costumes available for sale through this band reflected colors and patterns associated with the Egyptian Empire. During Carnival, there are dozens of bands which tourists/locals can “play” with. “Playing” means what it sounds like—everyone just getting together to have a great time and creating a fun atmosphere. The cost of playing with a band can range from $200 to $700 USD. Generally, this includes the costumes, breakfast, lunch, security, and unlimited drinks.
The actual “Carnival” in which you wear your costume and parade through the streets dancing and partying are held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. However, most people fly into Trinidad several days before the actual Carnival days in order to partake in the huge fetes. These parties cost between $70 USD to $175 USD. Many agree the price is worth the entertainment, the unlimited bar with every possible drink selection available, the food, and the security. These high-end parties usually cater to foreigners and upscale locals.
Monday morning at 2am is the start of the official festivities with an event called Jouvert (pronounced Joo-vay.) Multi-color paints are a big aspect of this event where people rub it on each other, dance, drink, and hang out until the sun rises. Once this event finishes at 8am, participants go back to their homes, take a quick shower to wash themselves of all the paint, suit up in their costumes, and hit the streets of Port-of-Spain once again at 10 or 11am. Dancing, drinking, partying ensues once again until about 9 to 10pm. Tuesday is the “formal” carnival day where each band is judged by officials at several sites along the parade route. What do these judges base their scores on? They are scoring based on how much fun each band seems to be having. The more into the music and dancing the participants appear to be, the better! So the job of participants is to be “playing” and having as much fun as possible!! (By the way, Tuesday is also a day-long event from about 8am until 8pm. )
Ash Wednesday, for those who stick around after the insanity of Carnival, is usually when people hit the beach to relax and recover, or take a quick flight over to Tobago to chill out on those beaches (about $50 Round trip from Trinidad.)
But of course, all good things must come to an end, and the reality of heading back to an office or work sets in. However, you are guaranteed to have an experience that you will never forget…and you are likely to start planning for next year’s carnival as soon as you get back home!Subscribe to the Podcast