An unexpected bonus of our visit to Arica was the Andean carnival that happened to be celebrated whilst we were in town, with lots of music, lots of dance, and a lucky break at the end. Brace yourself for too many photos!
What we had not anticipated, was the carnival in Arica. The Andean Carnival, which is celebrated earlier than the Catholic version – at least this year –, is more of a harvest celebration honouring mother earth, Pachamama, than that it is religious festival. Common in Peru, Bolivia, North Argentina and thus also in North Chile; Arica’s is apparently one of the larger ones, certainly the biggest one of its kind in Chile.
Having found probably the last hotel room in town, and some of the last seats on the bus, we arrived on the day the carnival started, the Friday. So, settled in the hotel, we had something to eat, and then continued to the festivities. An approximately 2 km long circuit has been blocked off in the town centre, around the plaza, with fences and half-high yellow boards to create space for the 64 groups that participate. It is very busy behind the fences, with lots of people watching, so we slip in onto the circuit, also because it is better picture taking there. My travel companion is stopped within a few hundred meters, and told to get back behind the fence; I quickly move forward, out of sight of the official, and settle in a bend of the circuit, with camera ready. Great spot, although occasionally I am so close that I cannot see anything else but legs.
Like any carnival, this one is a continuous parade of dance groups, accompanied by a band. Brass band with drums, or Andean flutes with drums. The groups compete in several different categories, the details of which are not entirely clear to the not-initiated like us. But it doesn’t matter. The explosion of colours, the sweeping music, the twirling dancers, they all combine to a great atmosphere. Some of the groups are more traditional, others make more of a glittering show, all contribute to a unique festival, one I have never seen before.
Next day we go back for more, in daylight. I have found another place to get close-up, and near the final 300 meters, where the stands have been erected, and the groups do their utmost best to impress not only the public, but also the jury. This is where it all happens, of course. I am quite jealous of the professional photographers with press clearance, and I actually manage to get closer and closer to the action… until I, too, get kicked out, like my companion yesterday.
Hmmm. The third day, Sunday, we find another spot along the circuit, but not a very good one. Except that we are right there when one of the sponsors is handing out bright red umbrellas, against the sun. Nearer the stands is impossible, far too busy. It is hot, the sun is relentless, despite the umbrella. We are tired. And you know, we have seen it all, actually, so we may as well get back to our hotel. The quickest way is to pass behind the VIP boxes, to the end of the circuit. And then it is there again, our usual dose of luck. I jokingly point at the VIP box, where there seems plenty of space. To which one of the ladies guarding the entrance invites us in, if we want to take some pictures, perhaps? Sure. Oh, and if we like, we can stay a little longer. Sure! Plastic chairs, third row, looking out on the persons who present the show, a little behind the action, but not bad at all. In the shade. Then there is another lady who suggests that we may actually want to go upstairs? Sure!!!
Long story short, we spent the rest of the afternoon, not in our hotel, but on a platform directly above the final stretch of the circuit, with uninterrupted view of the dance act of each and every group. In fact, we realised that we hadn’t seen it all yet. Great spot. Although I did miss the legs, so once in a while.
scroll down past all the pictures, to see two videos – which illustrate the atmosphere so much better than all these pictures can, of course.
next: the tour