Getting Painted at Carnaval in Ambergris Caye, Belize
This past weekend was the annual Carnaval celebration on Ambergris Caye in Belize. I had been planning a “work” trip down in February, which coincidentally just happens to be my favorite spot in the world.
What I didn’t initially realize was that my trip coincided with Carnaval so I was eager to learn what made up their local version of our Mardi Gras style celebration. I heard a lot of stories and read a lot of articles, but only two things really stuck out in my head.
Rotten eggs and paint.
I was warned that people bury eggs in the ground for several weeks and then lob them at passersby throughout the three-day celebration. Are you kidding me? And then there was the paint. After the rotten eggs description, I was not sure I wanted to know more about the paint aspect.
As I figured, festival-goers wind up being the canvas as children and adults transform each other into a walking rainbow of water-based paint colors.
At this point, all I am still thinking is rotten eggs + paint = destroyed DSLR equipment.
A little further investigative chat with my friend Dorian, the owner and editor of Ambergris Today newspaper, revealed that perhaps I would be ok as most people only end up with paint if they choose to participate.
Being the chicken that I am, my friend Krysta, who I was traveling with, and I set out on the first day with old clothes and a constant eye over our shoulders. We saw kids covered in paint, but we were almost invisible to them. Krysta finally asked if someone would paint her and the first kid looked absolutely terrified and just tried to hand her paint so she could paint herself. He seemed to gain some confidence when his companion offered to paint Krysta, telling her in Spanish, “get her in the face”. Ultimately, we set off with a few streaks of paint and went on about our day.
My friend Krysta getting painted by a local girl
I was warned that by the third day of the festival, it was mostly adults painting and things could get pretty rowdy. Thankfully I was leaving that morning so I just had to survive day two. And how bad could that be?
Day two started off with multiple mob scenes of kids chasing each other up and down streets with everyone nearly covered from head to toe in about five colors of paint.
Kids covered in blue paint
Another group of kids completely covered in various shades of paint
Things were definitely heating up a notch.
While walking around and photographing all the festivities, I managed to stay completely color-free. Later on in the afternoon, one of the staff members of Ambergris Today, Gerry Badillo, and I shared a couple streaks of paint after giving several local kids permission to paint us.
The kids who gently painted my cheek yellow-green
Gerry Badillo and I with our few spots of yellow paint
By this time, I was quite confident I had escaped the worst and was enjoying my introduction to the local Carnaval celebration with the tiny streaks of yellow paint on my cheek.
What subsequently followed was a mess…a hot pink mess.
We ran into Gerry from the paper again, only this time, he was out of his work attire and completely covered in varying shades of white, pink, and purple paint. He and his crew were carrying a giant paint can filled with hot pink paint and eggs.
The can of hot pink paint with bobbing eggs
One would assume the alarms in my head were going off, right? Apparently they were on snooze.
Agreeing to a “little” paint on my only my face resulted in my entire face, neck, and crownline covered in this thick oozy hot pink paint, and one of the guys was kind enough to add some white stripes to finish me off.
I couldn’t see out of one of my eyes, my hair was matted to my face, but hey, at least they had warned me to close my mouth, otherwise my teeth would’ve been pink too!
While some women can wear pink, I’m definitely not one of them. I was told I resembled an oompa loompa, a pink version of a dive flag, and by the end of the night, the paint had cracked in such a fashion that one bar owner took a picture of my forehead because it was a dead ringer for the Minnesota Vikings logo.
Gerry Badillo and I after his masterpiece was complete
It ultimately took five shampoos to get almost all the pink out of my hair, but I have to say it was totally worth it. Despite looking like a hot pink oompa loompa strolling around town, I had the time of my life and can’t wait to get back down next year for Carnaval again.
Just watch out Gerry…2013 Carnaval is payback time!