One of the rules of Carnaval in San Pedro Town, Belize is “Respect the tourists, unless they want to participate.”
And if they do ….
Well, it looks like they are in for some kind of crazy fun.
Just wear some really old clothes.
Carnaval, like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, approaches the solemn Christian observance of Lent in its own unique way: Decadence before deprivation. There are five days of events that began Saturday. Every day since that has been a mix of, music and dance performances, food booths, parades, street dancing and lots of adult cross-dressing. It all culminates in the “Burning of Don Juan” at Central Park Ash Wednesday evening.
Poor Don Juan.
For the kids, the run-up to Lent began here on Sunday with a tradition unique in all of Belize, called “painting.” The adults got to join in Monday afternoon and evening although we didn’t see that many.
Tonight however, we’re told, the whole town turns out.
Just what it says. Last night kids and teens had all of Central Park, Barrier Reef Drive and the beach from Ruby’s Hotel to the Cemetery to chase each other with squirt bottles and cups filled with colorful water-based paints.
Judging from the outcome, there are some practiced paint-shooters out there. Kids roamed the “Paint Zone” in groups, seeking targets. They gathered into larger groups for counter-attacks or protection. They would surge, splatter paint and retreat.
We sat in the beach bar/restaurant Fido’s (fee-does) and munched on tacos and sipped Belikins as small armies of paint-smeared kids surged and retreated up and down the beach.
Here and there. town monuments and store signs were wrapped in plastic. Easy to see why. If it isn’t covered in plastic, it will get splattered. That includes people. Plenty of friendly fire and collateral damage.
A private school teacher I met, named Hector, watched over his young students in Central Park as they drenched each other.
“The tradition came here from Mexico,” Hector explained. “We’re the only place in Belize that has it.” The idea he said, is to enjoy a big celebration, fun before giving up the fun for Lent.
Best of all was the laughter. Anywhere in the world, kids need to be kids (and sometimes adults need to be kids) and when they are allowed that freedom, as they are here, then laughter, squeals of delight and screams of abandon fill the air. Along with globs of paint.
And when you have had enough? Jump off one of the many piers into the warm Caribbean waters and scrub down. I spoke with one mom who was standing as lifeguard over a dozen kids in the water.
“Hopefully they can get it all off,” she said. Adding, with a grin, “Then hopefully we can get through there — she nodded back toward the Paint Zone — without getting hit again.”
What were the chances, I wondered.