Carnival Days–Valsayn Fete and Carnival Monday on the Road!

Whew.  I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime since last Friday’s Soca Monarch!  No words will ever do justice to the sheer awesomeness of my Carnival experience, but I’ll try my hardest, going slowly and in order.

Which brings us up to….

Carnival Sunday:  Jamboree Fete

We hit the Jamboree all-inclusive food and drinks fete in the neighborhood this year, as we did last year, because it was a great time last year and some great acts played.  I wore my Carnival fete creation–I draped and folded and pinned and crossed my fingers, and voila, it’s the first dress I’ve ever made without a pattern, woot woot!  I was beyond happy with the result:

I chipped (shuffle-wine-dance combo) down the road to warm up for the fete:

We arrived unfashionably early, which meant we could grab a good table in a prime spot before the crowds arrived.  I didn’t mind in the least–we amused ourselves quite nicely taking in the thumping beats and gorgeous setting in the park and did our best to get our all-inclusive money’s worth in food and drink (in that order):

Mini bake and shark

Pholourie (spicy seasoned chickpea flour fritters with pepper sauce and mango and tamarind chutney)

Mini lamb gyro

Food and drinks tents

The rum setup table--note the amount of rum per cup, which meant that rum and Cokes were basically rum with a splash of Coke for color

After all the food I could handle (including an unpictured plate of fried chicken and fries) we got down to the business of mingling and dancing to the ever-louder music:

The DJ was great and warmed us up to a nice and frenzied pitch for the three musical acts–who NEVER SHOWED.  No Bunji Garlin, no Faye-Ann Lyons, no Shurwayne Winchester.  Nothing, nada, zilch.  Oh well; truly annoying, but at least I got some good Trini food, drinks, dancing, and a mean hangover for my troubles.

Carnival Monday:  Hitting the Road and Warming Up for Tuesday

So, about that hangover…. Ach. I woke up feeling like death warmed over and was surprised that my crazy eating (both at the fete and afterwards at home, where I housed toast, eggs, and leftover Indian spinach and sweet potato hash) didn’t soak up the moderate excess (ha!) of alcohol consumed.  However, nothing was about to stop me from having a good day so onwards I persevered, downed some oatmeal and ibuprofen, got dolled up:

After which we finally hit the road!

Monday mas is a big party warm-up to Tuesday’s full-costume extravaganza, so it’s more casual in terms of start times; though bands set off at 9 or 10, most people don’t arrive until 11 or so.  We arrived in Port of Spain around 11 and set off to find the band, which took off from Charlotte Street downtown at around 9 am.  It took us about forty-five minutes to find our band and on the road and we marched the entire parade route, around half of Port of Spain, at a fairly fast clip until, thirsty and grateful, we found them.

Never have I been happier than I was after crossing those security ropes and downing a bottle of water, after which we got our party started.

Our band on the road! Crazy mass of people partying, basically...

Note the huge trucks on the side--those are the drinks and music trucks

When we arrived, we took the sights in and got a feel for the setup.  The band had three music trucks blaring soca at a million decibels from huge speakers on it, about three bar trucks serving premium mixed drinks, beer, and soft drinks, an express bar that had soft drinks, water and beers, a couple of snack trucks (with chips and the like), a “wee wee truck” (with portapotties on it–damn, I wish I could say I used it just so I could say I peed on a moving truck, but sadly the urge or desperation to do so never struck), plus an ambulance truck.

The drinks truck--note the Spice-logo coffee cups, which we were all given to use for our drinks

I was floored by the sheer amount of security personnel, which would make sense later when I found out that the band had about 2,500 masqueraders/participants.  There were security personnel who held up ropes to fence the band in as we wound along the streets, security personnel who guided the trucks along the route and ensured that masqueraders were kept safely out of the way of the moving trucks,  and a particularly hardcore, very mean looking “extraction team” which consisted of huge men with big batons who pulled out any stormers who dared cross the ropes and join the band/hassle band members/try anything funny in the much-feared extraction team’s presence.

After wining and chipping and dancing for about a couple of hours, we wound our way to the rest area for lunch . The band scored major points for setting up the lunch and rest area at the Queen’s Royal College grounds for lunch and we were most grateful for the shade, chair and tent setup, and beautiful setting of the country’s poshest secondary school:

QRC grounds, food tents in the background

We quickly found chairs, grabbed lunch from one of the lines, and ate while chatting about the morning’s sights.  I had stewed lentils, rice, salad, macaroni pie, and barbecue chicken.  It was all very good and very well-organized, so we had plenty of time to rest a bit–and re-bandage any emerging foot blisters, which were beginning to set in.   Had I not overcompensated for possible blistering and wound a band-aid around my pinky toe so tightly as to cut off circulation, I might well have been fine, but as it was I ended up giving myself a blister from the bandaid instead.  No matter, though–nothing that some beer and adrenaline wouldn’t take care of:

From left to right: Carnival Kristy's foot, husband's furry leg, my poor forsaken foot

After lunch, we paraded and jumped and wined our way along the rest of the route through Woodbrook and back to downtown.  I saw lots of crazy wining, lots of VERY skimpy Monday wear, and an astonishing number of wedgies on girls who did not have the desire–or foresight–to wear tights with their boyshorts, bikinis or thongs.  True, the tights might be scratchy and tight and give a muffintop to all but the most toned, but they do shape and firm, prevent wedgies/wardrobe malfunctions, and gave you a strong protective barrier from dust, dirt, sweat, and the advances of uninvited winers.

As the afternoon went on, the mood got more frenzied as we all got to know each other (well, by face or backside mostly!).  The band was large enough to feel like a real presence on the road, but not so large that we ever felt crammed or claustrophobic.  It was a great vibe in terms of band composition too–not so young to be acting like children out on a first outing, not so old to be disapproving of dancing and drinking, and friendly and ready to get down as a group.  The band was very well-organized and we had no problems getting drinks or water; they even sent around staff with popsicles after a few hours in the sun and threw baggies of chips into the crowd a few hours after that to keep energy levels going.

I wish I could give more concrete anecdotes, but I hope you’ll take my word in that I had an awesome time drinking (mostly water–Port of Spain in dry season is hotter than hot hell so way more water than beer was consumed), dancing, and partying with my Spice peeps:

This young lady in orange wined on the burglarproofing/metalwork on this building, which happens to be the Ministry of Finance and Inland Revenue--take that, taxes! As you can see, Ministry security is not too fussed about it...

Wining the day away...

Wining on Independence Square...

A winer safely wining in the presence of the much-touted and ever-present Extraction Team member

Well-deserved break on Brian Lara Promenade

We danced until the truck stopped playing music at around 8:30 or so and then did the loooong walk/drag back to the car, running into some friends and some food on the way:

Yeah right! I didn't eat that (but will, someday, just to say I did)

Corn soup--much more like it

Your girl got home, showered off the dust and grime, and tried to get some sleep for Tuesday!  Thankfully, I was so tired–and SORE–that I fell asleep pretty easily for my 4:30 am wakeup call for Tuesday.

I’ve got to hand over the laptop (and good thing, too, as the internet is being slow as turtles right about now and making uploading pics a real pain) but I’ll be back with the final, biggest, bestest, most photo-y recap of  Carnival Tuesday tomorrow….  Stay tuned!

I Survived Soca Monarch!

It needs to be said and bears repeating:  me (and my camera) survived Soca Monarch.

Soca Monarch is one of the so-called “fetes of the people,” since prices are on the low side of the fete ticket range ($200 TT=about $30 US, in comparison to more chichi, non-all inclusive fetes that start in the 350 TT range or even all-inclusive–food and drink, that is–fetes that go from 400 TT to 800 TT).  Add to that the fact that this one is held at the HUGE Queen’s Park Oval stadium in Port of Spain, and multiply that by the fact that all the main soca performers will be there doing there big hit songs, and you can see how this translates into a less affluent, younger kind of crowd.  Plus, when the performers big up the crowd by calling out for some noise “if you’re from San Juan/Arima/etc” and the biggest crowd response comes from Laventille, Morvant and Belmont (the most dangerous, favela-like neighborhoods), you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.

In other words, I was warned not to go by coworkers and was requested to email them that I got back safely–exagerated precautions, maybe, but only just barely exagerated.

So I headed out witha  tiny purse carrying contact lens solution, hand sanitizer and lipgloss, and nothing else.  When we arrived in Port of Spain we caught up with some friends, took in the sight of ladies in spandex and tiny shorts (shortpants, as they call them here) and young guys in polos, jeans, and all kinds of bandanna, and went through security:

After getting VERY well frisked, we were handed rags to wave and glowsticks :

And found a spot front and center in the standing-room-only, silver (aka cheapest) area.  I had every intention of taking a few pictures at this point, but sadly, the only one I got to take was of the massive police presence in our section–bullet-proof gear on, helmets propped, fingers on automatics at the ready:

That was the last time it felt safe to take pictures, so away went the camera.  Sorry, peeps–I’d love to have given you a better view, but I just didn’t want to lose the camera or worse.

The show was great–intense, loud music and some very good stage acts.  Shurwayne Winchester, a soca artist who looks shockingly like Marlo on The Wire, did a great act for his entry song “Murder” that started with him getting carried off screen in a gurney, then going “rewind” and showing how exactly he got, well, dead.  It was a wining murder, apparently–a lady of large proportions came out and wined so violently on him that she killed him with her moves and big behind, oh my.  It was a shocking display of un-PCness but hey, at least the crowd cheered at the wining murderess in her tiny lingerie set as she wined Shurwayne to death.

There was also a very witty video intro for Shal Marshall and Screw’s “Police,” in which they did a Law and Order: Soca Victims Unit sketch as part of the musical act.  And, of course, there were all sorts of acrobatic wining feats by big-bootied ladies featured throughout, busting the kind of moves that made me think long and hard on what would be the necessary proportion of fat to muscle to be able to swing your asscheeks in opposite directions, while turning in circles, in unison to the song (stil haven’t figured it out).

Faye-Ann Lyons, reigning Soca Monarch, came out and did two great numbers that would have put Miss Beyonce, much as I love her, to shame, showing off her incredible singing skills (and physique–I didn’t think ladies could have such six-packs and toned curves, much less after having a baby less than a year ago).  Towards the end of the night, as the crowd was getting more riled up and rougher, the song “Palance” (whose title is taken from Jamaican slang for hanging out and having a good time with friends) came on, and the dance craze it’s created (going left to right with your arms to each side while wining crazily) kicked off.  I have been in some mean moshpits in my day, but NOTHING like this–I got caught in the middle of two groups who were palancing in different directions and kept getting crushed.  Eventually (because the song was dragged out to fifteen minutes for maximum crowd frenzy) they got their directions in synch, so I was ok as long as I went along with it (which I happily did) and didn’t mind getting lifted off my feet in the crush of people (which I didn’t mind).

After that, the crowd started to thin out and the more dodgy elements were left, with plenty of drunk aggressive serial winers (they come up to you and wine close and don’t take a hint unless you actually walk off fast) and those looking to eyeball some stealables or a fight.  That was it for us, and once the live acts ended and the DJ came on to await Soca Monarch results, we were out.  Time of departure: 3:45ish.  Despite the dodgery at the end, though, we did have a great time, and it was a great wining warm-up for me–it takes a fete or two for me to get used to wining again (kinda like base-building with running

Needless to say, today has involved a lot of sleeping.  I slept till 10:30, woke up, drank some water, read for a bit, and fell back to sleep till 12:30. Then we got up, had breakfast (I didn’t take pictures of the eggs in a hole because they were TOO ugly, but see here for my last, prettier, rendition), and slept some more until around 5, when we made a go of having part of a day and got woken up by a very loud puja (Hindu prayer ceremony) going on in our neighborhood.

Being half-asleep all day made me pretty listless and undecided about what to make, and I changed my mind about a million times before settling on Indian sweet potato hash:

I really wanted to make the Most Fabulous S’s Sri Lankan sweet potatoes, but when I realized I wouldn’t even come close I veered off into more familiar Indian ground, with cumin, coriander, chili, fenugreek, and other spices in a sweet potato and spinach mix.  Served with tomatoes and onions and some rice (white because there’s no getting brown rice around here for love or money lately), it definitely hit the spot.

I will try my hardest to stay awake until my usual bedtime because I need a good night of sleep tonight!  I’m going to a daytime fete tomorrow and can’t wait to cut loose in my self-made fete dress–tune in for the big reveal….