It’s Wednesday night, and from what I can gather from the pagans, we’re supposed to be going to an indigenous house in the morning to take yage, some kind of “spiritual medicine,” which means we shouldn’t eat, drink alcohol, or engage in other unclean activities. Instead, we’re playing a roulette drinking game with three of Daniela’s school friends. Ugh. Aguardiente! Needless to say, we wouldn’t quite make it to the indigenous ceremony the next day. During the game, Gus, one of the school-friends, asks me a question that gets me a little excited.
“Karaoke? I love karaoke! I used to live in Korea, and we’d do it all the time.”
“Ah, no! Carioca! It’s different: like shaving cream. You’ll see.”
The next day, Dani took me aside for a serious discussion.
“You need to buy some glasses and a poncho. People are going to make a cake on your face.”
Pasto’s Carnival of the Blacks and Whites is a festival shrouded in history, mystery, and clouds of powder. It’s also a lot of breathless fun. There are a few things you need to do it right, though.
First of all, you need some weapons. Two canisters of that foam, carioca, is a good start. A shot or two of aguardiente will always help as well. A shopping bag of talc powder will really put things more in your favour, and perhaps a few tubes of special paint to seal the deal. Armour is required, too: at the bare minimum, you’ll need a pair of big glasses to protect your eyes. A poncho will help protect your clothes a bit, while a big hat could protect you from overhead attacks. Some opt for surgical masks, but I find these get clogged ridiculously quickly, rendering them not only ineffective, but actually a hindrance.
Once you’ve got your armament together, it’s time to move out onto the streets for battle. The 6th of January, or Whites’ day, is when war really breaks loose. Small armies of friends range the streets around the parade, looking for worthy foes. Spectators who managed to find commanding positions for viewing the floats desperately defend their positions from marauding packs of passers-by. You have to be on the alert for random sprays of foam from the crowd, packs of organised youths with kilos of powder, and little kids with foam canisters that just don’t know when to quit.
It may all sound a little brutal, and late on the 6th, it definitely is. Your eyes will end up stinging from the foam, your lungs will struggle against the powder, and there will be talc everywhere – for days. I’m still picking crusts of white out of my ears. Yum! However, it is a whole lot of fun, as well. There’s something about dousing a complete stranger with party foam that is not only hilarious and liberating, but makes you feel like an intimate part of the carnival and the city’s population. Carioca and talc end up being the glue that binds all the participants together in an intoxicating cloud of revelry.
It’s the sort of thing that I feel would be a good outlet of expression for any city. I miss stalking the streets, half-hoping for a gush of foam to blast from around the corner, so I can counter-attack myself. With this in mind, I managed to bring a full canister of the stuff back home with me to Bogota. Consider yourself warned.