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Article by Tor Pinney                                                                                                                                        Back to List of Tor's Tips

                  

CRUISING TO CARNIVAL IN CADIZ
1991 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved

 

For Mediterranean-bound mariners, the southern Iberian Peninsula - Portugal and Spain - is a likely place to wait out the winter. There are excellent, all-weather harbors to ride out the gales that plague the region during these months, and plenty of fine cruising in between. And just when you've had about enough of the cool winter weather, there's an event that's guaranteed to warm the hearts and revive the spirits of everyone aboard. It's Carnival in Cadiz!

Carnival! The very word conjures images of bacchanalia - festive music, wild costumes, drinking and dancing in the streets. A celebration of life in the flesh; a time to lighten up and let loose! Cadiz offers all this and more!

The Spanish coastal city of Cadiz (pronounced "Kah'deeth") boasts one of the biggest Carnivals in the world (after Rio Di Janero and Trinidad). Built centuries ago on an island which is today a peninsula, Cadiz is a compact city, in many ways typically Spanish with its shady plazas and parks, somber fortress walls and stalwart statues. Throughout, the streets and alleys of the Old Town twist and turn like tunnels in a rabbit warren. In summer, tourists flock to its broad ocean beaches. But winter's Carnival transforms this tranquil seaside city, drawing crowds from near and far, filling the hotels and hostels to capacity.

Of course, hotel accommodations are never a problem for the lucky cruising sailors who come for the party. Within Cadiz's protected commercial harbor are two inner harbors where visiting yachts may dock. One is the Real Club Nautico (the Royal Yacht Club), a tiny basin filled with the boats of its members. They can usually be persuaded to squeeze you in somewhere. For budget cruisers, the inner fishermen's harbor allows yachts to raft up to the local fishing boats at the wharf for free. Another option is to stay at Puerto Sherry Marina just across the bay from Old Cadiz, and commute by bus, ferry, or fast dinghy for the Carnival festivities. In fact, Puerto Sherry - a clean, modern and convenient marina - is an excellent place to winter and/or haul out.

Traditionally, Carnival is a final fling before the austerity of Lent. Carnival in Cadiz lasts for 10 days in February, ending on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. In Spain, it has been celebrated in the towns and villages since time immemorial. In Cadiz, the evolution of Carnival is a unique blend of many influences.

During the 17th century, Cadiz prospered from the enormous wealth brought by Spanish galleons from the New World. But these ships brought more than just gold and silver. Their multinational crews brought to the wharves of Cadiz their own unique music and dances to contribute to the fiesta: African and Creole songs, habaneras (Cuban dances), sambas, rangueras, rustic Colombian music - all mingled with the local Andalusian jaleo dancing and the traditional hand-clapped flamenco rhythms of Spain. Furthermore, trade with Genoa and Venice imported a touch of renaissance art from Italy, and the lingering Moorish influence lent a mystical spice to the sights and sounds of this very special Spanish citadel - and, especially, to its Carnival.

Today, Cadiz's rich history combines with electric lighting, amplified music, and motorized parades to create a spectacular array of street entertainment for locals and tourists alike at Carnival time. The serene city explodes with unbridled revelry. In particular, the streets of the old town fill with costumed revelers, many formed into groups wearing elaborate, matching outfits. They parade through the narrow cobblestone streets to the driving rhythm of a bass drum and a snare, often accompanied by merry singing and comical, nasal-sounding kazoos. The groups are likely to stop anywhere, be it street corner or tavern, to put on an impromptu performance, singing their chosen Carnival songs for an enthusiastic crowd.

There are scheduled performances as well - lots of them! Most days they begin in the early afternoon with La Tronada (The Thunder), an ear-shattering explosion of fireworks in Plaza San Juan de Dios, down near the fishermen's harbor. If you're anchored there you can watch it from your cockpit! After that the action doesn't stop `til dawn - all over town! Competing for first honors are scores of singing groups with up to 35 vocalists backed by guitars, lutes, and drums. They've been rehearsing since September, and all are excellent. Outdoor stages seem to spring up in every plaza. Choruses, comedians, costume competitions, and children's shows abound. There are dances, scheduled and unscheduled, and riotous costume parades winding through the crowded streets, sometimes featuring decorated, tractor-propelled floats swaying with the music of the singers and musicians on board. They even have a couple of rock-n-roll concerts in the great Plaza de Catedral, where several thousand cheering youngsters greet the most popular Spanish rock groups. Everywhere are smiling faces, dancing, drinking, singing, glitter, confetti, streamers, and music.

Although Carnival in Cadiz lasts a week and a half, many come just for the weekends when everything really revs up into high gear. One Spaniard, arriving by bus from Seville, was undaunted by the fact that there might not be any available hotel rooms in Cadiz. "Oh, I'll just stay up all night partying, and catch the bus home in the morning," he said. "Why sleep?"

A grand fireworks display signaled the end of the Carnival celebrations, and the next morning all that remained - besides a city-wide hangover - were several tons of confetti and empty bottles. For us aboard Sparrow, it was time to find a quiet berth at Puerto Sherry Marina across the bay, to watch the approaching Spanish spring fill the fields with wild flowers and to prepare for a summer in the Med.

Carnival equals Life just for the fun of it! For any cruising sailor who finds himself in this part of the world in mid-winter, it's an experience not to be missed. "Viva Carnaval!"

~ End ~

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