It’s 5am. I’m up, but not awake in the sense of fully functioning. We’ve made it ashore under the cover of darkness, lured by the incessant beat of the Jab Jabs gearing up in the distance.
It’s the morning of Jouvert – first parade of Carnival 2013 in Grenada. It’s a tradition that may very well date back to the days of slavery but I don’t think many know the details of the actual roots. I’ve heard there will be men covered in motor oil, devil’s horns and chains, prowling the streets, scaring children.
The sailing community is here in full force, the dinghy dock is packed and all of us hurry out from the relative safety of the yacht club, to the unknown beyond…
I could use a coffee or a few hours of sleep – given that the night before, the music onshore permeated the anchorage and bled right through to the morning.
Instead we hit the road, which is already covered in a thick slick of oil, and smells of a mechanic shop. It was no rumour. There are men and women everywhere, covered from head to toe in used black oil. They carry buckets and bottles and pour it in copious amounts over themselves and friends and even tiny children.
There are shopping carts and baby strollers and wheelchairs, all being wildly wheeled here and there, drunken revelers falling out into the gummy streets. Luckily these are all props and no babies or handicapped are injured in the frenzy. Many have linked themselves together with chains, dragging themselves along together, swaying with the heart thumping bass. The scene is reminiscent of the transport of slaves.
The whole thing is eerie and sordid and grimy and then again, a bit magical in the twilight before dawn. We are silent observers here, unbothered and uninteresting, watching as if invisible, trying with little success, to understand the mayhem growing around us.
But as the day emerges from the devilish spectacle, the colours follow in bursts and the street comes alive with an energy unmatched. We are now in the crowds, undulating, splattered with red and blue and silver and gold, the paint which at first is paraded in uniform coloured groups, starts to blend as people bump and grind and smear and hug and rub their way along. The Chocolate Mas truck, complete with huge vats of melted chocolate, which is poured over heads and down shirts and pants, adds to the pungent aromas…
We are a soup of calypso, with the songs playing over and over again, from one huge speaker laden truck to the next, the crowd is one whole, where there are no rules, no sense and no stress.
“I want a fat gal, I want a rolli polli” ,like an anthem, draws cheers and hands in the air, and hips everywhere gyrating. “Rolli polli – fat gal roll it”….
No woman is concerned about her figure, about muffin tops or tummy rolls here. It’s all celebrated and slicked with a rainbow of oily colour.
“Mas on de plane, mas on de train, mas on de road…” another of the 2013 carnival hits, serenades us all, urging the crowd over and over again to restore their energy, dance, dance and dance some more.
There are songs about rum and sex and dancing and forgetting all your stress and worries.
And by the end, we have all forgotten any judgments or questions and we have jumped in with both feet, sliding along the oily roads, singing along, hopping over one armed baby dolls, broken computers and defunct ceiling fans, all dipped in oil and being dragged along with the crowds at our feet.
And this is just the first morning. The next 24 hours will entail three more intense parade experiences – from the pretty Mas where groups with elaborate and wonderful costumes, display their colours and choreographed talents, to the lights parade in the evening, running to the wee hours, and finally to the last day where the parade is a mix of everything, the pinnacle of the celebrations, that despite officially ending around 6pm, goes on way way way into the dark of the still Grenada night.
These hours of parades and partying will be a unique and more than colourful experience. They will entail a display of Grenada’s party side – their biggest annual celebration, months in the planning and days in the rum soaked enjoying… and we are so lucky to have been witnesses, welcomed and embraced and fully enveloped in the Mas vibes.