For me, the term “El Carnaval” conjures up scenes of a huge street party – hips swaying to latin beats, beads flying, shirts lifting, drinks flowing. But I’ve never been to Rio or to Mardi Gras or any Fat Tuesday celebration. So, although Mitch and I usually avoid crowds like the Plague because Mitch believes if he doesn’t, he will catch the Plague, I was excited to see that our caravan itinerary included a stop in La Paz specifically to attend El Carnaval.
La Maranatha RV Park in La Paz was our meet-up location for the caravan after our 15 days of freedom. It was fun to catch up with the others. A few of them had spent time in Cabo San Lucas, one couple had gone on a 7-day kayak tour out of Loreto, one couple had stayed in La Paz the entire time using it as a base camp for exploring. All reports were fantastic except for Cabo – no one really cared for Cabo.
Our wagonmasters, John and Becky, had reserved taxis for the group for the final night of El Carnaval. Since we arrived on Sunday, we had time to do some exploring. We’d heard the beaches around La Paz were beautiful so we decided to check those out.
I’m adding this as a word of advice to future travelers – if at all possible, don’t go to the beaches of La Paz on Sundays. All of La Paz goes to the beach on Sunday! For the beach that we had heard the most about, Playa Balandra, we couldn’t even get close. Cars overflowed the lot and parked along the access road all the way out to the highway. It was the same for El Tesoro. El Tecolote was huge enough that there was plenty of space for parking. And quite a number of RVers were dry camping there. We watched the scene for a few minutes – loud trucks driven by men holding beer cans in their left hands, the steering wheel in their right using beach volleyball games as weaving cones, unleashed Rottweilers and pit bulls frolicking in the waves – before deciding that maybe we should use the rest of the afternoon to stock up on groceries and do laundry.
On Monday we drove about 45 minutes south to the town of La Ventana (the window) to look for some mountain biking trails listed on our Trailforks app. It is another big kiteboarding area and so it has a lot of restaurants and campgrounds and Americans and Canadians. As usual, the trailhead was not marked but, once we found it, the main trail was easy to follow and was really, really cool! It was flat but it wound back and forth around and through stands of cardones and other crazy desert flora. Someone had even taken the time to label some of the plants. Of course, as fast as I was running, they were all a blur (completely kidding – the problem I have with stopping while running is that there’s a darn good chance that I might not be able to start again!).
Finally, Tuesday and El Carnaval – parrrtayyy! We were dropped off a couple of blocks from the parade route which was along the La Paz Malecòn (boardwalk). It looked like a fair midway with carnival games, food booths, kiddie rides, and stages. But the backdrop was pretty spectacular – a sunset over the beautiful Bahia de La Paz. It wasn’t very crowded at all. Some people from our group had gone the first night of the festival and had said that it was so packed that you could barely move.
We strolled along the malecòn, taking in the sites, until we came to an area of restaurants that had tables set out right beside the parade route. We asked a server how to go about getting a table and he said that as long as we agreed to spend at least 500 pesos ($20 dollars) we could have a spot on the balcony overlooking the parade. Perfecto!
So we sat at our table, the server brought us drinks, we met a fun bunch of people living on yachts in the bay, a nice young, local mother with her two kids, shared nachos and pizza with all of them, and had the perfect view of the “crazy” parade.
The thing is, it wasn’t a crazy, drunken, free-for-all at all. It was very much like a Midwestern county fair with great Latin music and dancing. The floats had young beauty queens in formal costume gowns smiling and waving (wrist-wrist-elbow-elbow), or bands with irresistible horn sections (the semi driver pulling one band joined in by letting off his air brakes in rhythm with their music), or school-aged dance teams. Being Mexico, there were some revealing costumes and one float had women doing pole dancing routines (to which the guy from the yacht said, “You’re not gonna see that in the Macy’s Day Parade!”) The risque-est of them all was a float with costumed adult “women” dancing – and only because we were informed by the young mother, in a whispered giggle, that they were really “hombres” (men).
After the parade the streets became a little more crowded but not bad. Kids zig-zagged around us, fathers carried toddlers on shoulders while mothers held tightly to small hands which gripped stuffed animals, glowing sticks, and lollipops. One of the most entertaining events of the whole evening was watching the kiddie Ferris wheel. It was only about twenty feet tall but it looked like it predated the Mexican Revolution. The operator manually advanced the wheel while loading. It appeared that the rule was “Under three years old had to be tied into the seat with a sisal rope knotted under the kid’s armpits. Over three – kid’s choice.” It took awhile to get all the seats filled – some kids started crying, some stared forlornly out at the crowd, others smiled and waved at their parents the entire time. Finally, it was loaded. The guy gave it a few good whirls as if he were spinning the wheel at the Price is Right until finally the motor caught and took over. I watched with my eyes partially covered, waiting for one of the none-tied in kids to get launched or slide out the bottom. But, other than the few that had been crying from the start, when the ride ended, all customers seemed pleased and alive.
It really was a perfect evening – good food, great entertainment, fun happy people, and we were back in at our camper by 9:30 pm.