I was fortunate to be able to join in for five days of celebrations leading up to the culmination of several months of Carnival preparations and activities. Traditionally, Carnival kicks off on November 11 and the locals decorate the floats and costumes year round. This year, over forty events led up to the Grand Diamond Parade on Sunday, March 2nd.
As a tourist, it was a treat to experience three of many parades celebrating Carnival on the island. I was not sure what to expect as we headed out to the suburb of San Nicholas for the lighting parade. As we approached, more and more cars started funneling in and the streets started to line with locals. The feeling was like nothing I had experienced before. Music, flashing lights, dancing and street vendors filled the scene. Young and old, family and friends, tourists all standing together sharing and waiting in excitement for the parade to arrive.
Suddenly the street is filled with floats, hundreds of people in costumes with flashing lights, and Carnival music arrives. Happy dancing participants with vibrant colors and feathers showing so much pride in what they had worked so hard to create for this day. It was then that I knew the following days of Carnival were going to be very special indeed.
The following day we again headed back to San Nicholas, but this instead of a late night party, we were up before the sun for a “Jump Up” Pajama Party or as called on the island, Jouvert Morning. The festivities start at 3 am and you are encouraged to come as you are in your pajamas and bedhead! Again, thousands of people line the streets. As the parade comes by, the crowd joins in and soon everyone is dancing in the streets together. It is hard not to get swept up into the excitement as the crowd comes passing by.
Finally, the big day arrives. The day of the Grand Diamond Parade in Oranjestad. The street is lined with tents, chairs and bleachers a day ahead. Spectators start claiming their spots the night before and celebrate all night long. By daybreak, thousands more have arrived along the parade route and the streets are full of excitement and music once more.
The anticipation is worth the wait. A sea of colors, feathers, sparkles and smiles arrive with vibrant music that you just can not help but dance along with. As the 14 large groups cover miles in the heat, the spirit of Carnival is plainly seen. Despite the obvious exhaustion of some, they keep going, keep dancing and keep smiling. Spectators offer them drinks and snacks to cheer them on. You see young and old alike, some who have been participating for more than 30 years. In fact, four members of the parade celebrated their 31st year!
Now, sitting back at home, I still find myself with sounds of Carnival in my head, and I leave with a greater appreciation and admiration of the Aruban people of over 90 nationalities who come together every year to put on this fantastic event. One happy island indeed. I am impressed with the hospitality of all that I encountered on this great adventure and will end it with, “te oro” (see you later) as I hope to come back again to explore more of this wonderful place!