It’s my last full day in Valparaíso and the first day of October and finally the parade of painted bodies — the big finale of Carnaval Mil Tambores!
I wake up around 8 a.m. after just a few hours of sleep but I can’t go back to bed because I’m too excited. I made it home from the clubs around 4:40 last night and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I haven’t been so tired on the whole trip, not even after hiking up to the lake in Huaraz when i felt like would my blistered feet would fall off. Of course I didn’t try to stay up until dawn dancing to reggaetón music after the hike…
I spent most of the morning relaxing and drawing in my sketch pad until finally it was time to find out what the Mil Tambores parade was all about. After Judy gave Sandra and I some magic marker “face paint” seven of us from Hostel Po left to find the parade. We stopped at a store to ask and learned we were headed in the right direction — south along the coast and towards Playa Ancha, a beach just outside of the port and business district. After walking for about a kilometer we found the throngs of partiers again and they were all headed through some gates with loose security and down Altamirano towards the start of the parade.
I am blown away immediately! Bands of drummers slammed their snares and basses so fiercely to cause panic, it felt like a war zone. Women wearing almost only body paint danced a choreographed number down the street. Groups of musicians played horns and sidestepped in traditional costumes towards the beach. It went on for miles with tens of thousands of people crowding the streets, dancing, yelling, snapping photos and joining in the parade. Street vendors sold all types of necklaces and bracelets and weed pipes and tie-dyed shirts and every delicious smelling treat I’ve gotten used to seeing in Valparaíso: empanada de pino, sopapillas with a spicy red pepper sauce, Chilean Pizza, hamburguesas, sándwiches con jamón y queso, papas fritas and salchipapas, fire grilled brochetas with chicken and pork, sushi rolls from coolers (gross??), all kinds of marijuana edibles and of course the most famous to me now “completos Italianos!”
If the smells of Peru and Huaraz were so important, they couldn’t be more different but just as telling here. The tantalizing aroma of marijuana smoke and grilled chicken brochetas filled the air, only sometimes tainted by wisps of burning tobacco from mostly hand-rolled cigarettes.
It rained all day yesterday but it almost made the weather today that much better. There was barely a cloud in the beautiful blue and larger-than-life Pacific sky. Warships idled in the bay where the water is deep enough for ocean liners just as soon as you leave the coast.
As the afternoon went on the crowds became almost unbearable and it took me nearly and hour to leave — smashed up against a hundred-thousand other people and the parade groups marching, dancing and drumming down the street.
They all headed towards a stage at the end of the parade route where an emcee with a microphone makes mysterious exclamations about the different groups and their final shows in front of the biggest crowd of the whole parade route. At the end of the road there are more vendors and the most beautiful views of Valparaíso I have seen yet, overlooking the blue ocean and whitewater waves crashing against the sea wall that keeps the city from sinking back into the ocean. Over the sparkling blue ocean juts the mosaic of hills of this magnificent city.
I am exhausted when I finally make it back to the hostel around 7 and cook myself a dinner of rice and vegetables and relax and read for a while listening to the 1920s jazz playlist in the common area of Hostel Po. Everyone else here has seen what I have but nobody has much to say except “That was incredible” and “I’ve never seen anything like it” and “My legs feel like bricks and jelly.”
Everyone is drained from a weekend of long nights and jaw dropping days. Today is my last day in Valparaiso and I will catch a bus back to Santiago as early as I can tomorrow — hopefully around 6 or 7 because I have to find another 5-hour bus to Pichilemu and I would love to arrive in the sleepy beach town of just about 15,000 before sunset.
I will miss this charming and quirky port city dearly though and hope to make it back soon. If anyone reading this wants to visit, don’t hesitate to invite me along.
Goodby Valparaiso, until we meet again. But you dear readers, let’s chat again tomorrow…