Come to the Carnival

Seven months ago seems a lifetime now, and revisiting two very special days in February brings us great warmth and grand memories. Come with us now and revisit the Carnival.

The winter of 2020, we settled into an oceanfront condo in Spain, on the Canary Island of Tennerife.  Excited, and far from home.   About two weeks into our trip a sandstorm struck the island and humidity and haze hung like a steamy red sheet surrounding us, perilous for asthmatics, and making for zero visibility, and treacherous driving.  The locals call it the Calimo.


We hunkered down for one full day awaiting clear skies again. It was not possible to go outside and breathing became a bit stuffy in our small condo.  It seemed a good chance to catch up on calls home.  A close friend back in Aylmer was losing her mom, and our conversations were very dear to us.  She was suffering, and it was difficult to be so far away from her.  Nearing the end of our deep long talk, she asked if we planned to go to the Carnival in Santa Cruz.

“Oh Gawd,, no, you know I hate crowds” I responded.   She then, somehow, from 3200 miles away, convinced us it was mandatory.   “Go for me”, she said.    “It will be a blast” she said.

When our call was over, it was decided, we simply had to go.

Santa Cruz morning

The next morning, when the storm had cleared, we shuffled through inches of sand and took a two-hour bus ride.  Although not the largest city on the island, it is the main cultural hub with a very busy port and a bustling metropolis.  The Spanish architecture is stunning, the restaurants full and loud, abundant wines, and there are gorgeous fountains, gardens, cacti and plazas, every corner one turns.  We found it delightful.

The Carnival de Santa Cruz began in the late 80’s and is the second largest carnival in the world, the largest is in Rio de Janeiro Brazil.  It is a huge boost to the Santa Cruz and indeed the entire island’s economy.  Wigs, boas, masks, makeup and costumes are sold everywhere.  Entire costume shops are open year-round and are on every block.  Dress up is for everyone, visitors and locals alike.  The carnival attracts an estimated 250,000 tourists every year and everyone gets into the spirit of it.   The minute we arrived we saw people all over town dressed up in wigs, sequins and glitter.   

Ready for anything

Men dressing as women is commonplace. We spotted temporary drag queens eating lunches in the park, buying their groceries, walking hand in hand with their children.  It was quite comical, and for the first day we could not stop laughing.  It was like we had entered a circus tent that had no beginning or end, no rhyme or reason, just pure fun and silliness. We ate lunch beside a man dressed as a butterfly and walked behind a group of older men dressed as cheerleaders, while a giraffe and chimp sauntered out of our hotel lobby.  After a few hours it seemed perfectly normal to be served by a waiter in a ballet tutu.

Drag is everywhere

Officially the carnival is the month of February, however, the drama and preparations begin in January and the fun does not stop until the end of March, easily

All over town are musicians, jugglers, and choirs, all dressed in costume.  Every corner, every plaza, entertainers, all free.   We were told that the opening parade was already over, and that the winners were already awarded, and so decided to attend the closing parade on our second night.  Our first night was spent wandering around, checking out the street signs and lights and general carnival atmosphere.  Everywhere one looked there were people laughing, gathering, eating, drinking, and goofing around. 

We decided to find masks and my husband, forever the good sport, dressed in drag.  He wore one of my dresses and got a feather boa and a pink wig.  He had a bit too much fun.

A bit too much fun !

The parade route and all festivities were within walking distance and we arrived early.  Chairs and benches lined Avenue Fransico La Roche, down by the harbor for at least 15 blocks.  We sat and waited.  There were cafes open all up and down this main drag and we snacked and got some Carnival cocktails and waited.

Waiting for a parade in a crowd, is not really like us at all.  If anyone asks us to go the Canada day celebrations on parliament hill my usual response is.  “I’d rather stick pins in my eyes”.   Heat, noise and people in large drunken numbers do not appeal to either of us.   This night in Santa Cruz, all dressed up like goons was so very much fun.   Thinking back on this evening now, I realize it will always be a lifetime highlight. 

Brilliant visuals, amazing music, floats the sizes of barns, children, seniors, disabled people, all races, all genders, dazzling, glittering and all the excitement has bled together the colours, sounds and smells in my memory. That night is one big flamboyant blur.  I am so grateful for the pictures I took in order to relive and revisit the Carnival.

There were cowboys and Indians, mermaids, a team of 100 children dressed as airplanes, Tweedledee’s and Tweedledums, Michael Jackson made an appearance, nuns and priests, typical Spanish dancer ladies, dragons, monks, Elvis, and beautiful women.  We clapped, we laughed, we danced, we kissed and got kissed.  This was decidedly pre- Covid 19.  On holidays, far from television in our native language, we were blissfully unaware of the brewing pandemic.  This was February 26, 27.  It is quite possible we dodged a few bullets.

I was so very impressed with the commitment of the people of Santa Cruz in order to pull this off every year. The costume designs were stellar, and everyone was in full makeup with details right down to the shoe buckles. Preparing for this annual event begins as soon as the Carnival ends.  The Carnival is the lion share of economic stimulus for Santa Cruz. Year after year, no one seems to tire of it.

The official ending is the final day which is referred to as “the burial of the sardine”.  It is not an actual funeral service, but the entire town dresses in black and weeps for a day.  We left that morning, before the mourning.

I wanted to revisit these amazing two days in our life that seem so very long ago.  The moral of this tale is to jump at life when you have a chance, try something outside of your comfort zone.  When times are tough, down the road, you can always look back on and savour the memories.   I wish you had been there with us.

Jennifer Currie