“‘Twas the night before Lent, and all throughout Sitges, every creature was stirring, throwing glitter on beaches. Not a child was safe at home or in bed, for all the parents had lost their damned heads.” If Clement Clarke Moore had to write a poem about Carnaval I’m almost certain it’d have gone something like that.
I should have exclaimed “Let the wild rumpus begin!” loudly one Tuesday night a few weeks back, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We had decided to go to the final hurrah of Carnaval, a week-long celebration of debauchery right before Lent begins. This, commonly known in America as Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, or the night no parent wants their child within a 50-mile radius of New Orleans, is celebrated throughout Spain, most famously in Tenerife. As we weren’t about to hop the train to the south for a night and several of us had work the next day, we decided to go to Sitges, a nearby town. Food and I had previously been to Sitges, famed for it’s beaches and also as the figurative gay capital of Catalonia, but our experiences the two different times were by and large entirely opposite each other.
Now, then, I’m going to preface this with a word to my mother, grandmother, great-grandma and so on to the nth degree. Neither Food nor I imbibed nearly enough to get even remotely close to tipsy. How I wish that was not the case, but well, two beers weren’t going to cut it and I was being a responsible citizen – or something of the sort – while covered in glitter, funfetti, lipstick from like five different drag queens and… I’m getting ahead of myself.
We’re trying to portray our experiences as accurately as possible on here, so let’s just start with this. Carnaval was insane. Packed, crowded, jammed. Our previous time in Sitges had been quiet streets, polite people, good food. This time, the train doors opened and we were greeted by policemen. How’s that to make a girl think about everything she’s ever done wrong in her life? “Sorry, officer, one time I cut all my Barbie doll’s hair off so it would be a boy then blamed it on my sister.” It was a long time ago, and also how would he know? Thanks, brain. There was a checkpoint where all incoming alcohol was put in large plastic jugs. Think He’s Not blue cups. And Franklin Street on Halloween but better/worse depending on your version of hell. If your hell is other people, this may well be your personal Field of Punishment, but if you thrive on chaos, please, grab a glitter gun and join in.
We weaved our way through crowded streets and a multitude of costumes, which we had (conveniently, in my case) forgotten, and into the midst of probably the best parade I’ve ever been to. And I’ve been in New York City on St. Paddy’s Day. Shots fired. Get at me, Big Apple. As best I can decipher, each club, bar, restaurant, business, organization, or what have you in Sitges and probably all of the surrounding areas, dresses up a couple dozen people – or really, to be more accurate, undresses them – gives them bags of glitter, confetti, face paint, a dance routine, and copious alcohol, and then they join with a large group of similarly undressed people and parade around for hours upon end. I used to feel sympathetic towards cheerleaders during parades, but now I’ve seen both men and women wearing significantly less, heels, and dancing the heck out of some Pitbull (ft. Christina Aguilera), and next time I’m telling the sniffling middle schooler to buck up.
Within a few minutes I’d seen at least five people wearing horse masks, a girl who was actually Cindy Lou Who, another who may well have been Taylor Momsen present-day, and a man that looked like a stripper version of Planet of the Apes, with whom we chatted to discover that the inspiration behind his costume was 2016 being the year of the monkey for the Chinese. Emily, a friend who you can check out here and here, is crazy outgoing and super personable, so immediately befriended several of the parade dancers, whom we would routinely see. Pro-tip: Looking like you’re having an amazing time and gregariously waving at everyone will make the dancers come up to you and then you can get a million photos and just as many unnecessary kisses/hugs.
Anyhow, after a few hours, and after our pores were oozing glitter, we decided to make our way indoors. We ended up going to what is fondly known as the street of sin, or the area where it seemed all the youths of Spain and a few dozen other countries had gathered. We pushed through the masses, stopping to periodically take pictures and/or talk to anyone who caught our interest. We popped in and out of clubs, bars, and restaurants until 5:00 AM, at which time we were all hungry, so we paused for a bocadillo at pans. Now, I don’t really like pans – not a huge fan – but no bocadillo has ever tasted better than the one eaten at 5 AM after Carnaval.
5:30 rolls around and it’s finally time for trains to start chugging away towards Barcelona. Food and I were on the first one back – sorry, I can’t hang – and Alex and Emily stayed until the third or fourth. We later learned Alex and Emily fell asleep on the train and were nearly in Girona before they realized they’d missed Barcelona altogether. The tales those two could tell.
It was a 7 AM bedtime for me, and, sweet heavens, waking up the next – or really that – day was misery, but, at least, I’ve got some great memories of a more grown-up version of Where the Wild Things Are.
For more Sitges and beaches, but a tamer time, check this out. We’re headed to Italy in a few days, so stay tuned for a throwback to Amsterdam and Florence, Venice, and more! XoXx Fernweh & Food
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