I lived in New Orleans for three years before moving to Europe, and I'm still in love with its contagious enthusiasm for life... it's a place where people leap at any excuse to celebrate or dance… For its glitter and its dirt, for the life the city breathes into anyone that steps foot into its bumpy, sinking streets. My first real pang of homesickness happened during carnival time, as Mardi Gras is the most important time in the life of a New Orleanian. Mardi gras is as close to a religious holiday as I've ever had.
I recently learned a Portuguese word “Saudade”, which means a deep emotional state of profound nostalgia or melancholic longing for an absent something or someone (or someplace)- especially if one knows that something might never return. Another person described it as "the love that remains." I certainly have a lot of love remaining for New Orleans, and it’s true that I don’t know if I’ll ever live there again. Knowing I was missing out on all my favorite parades, celebrations, and people I love made me understand "saudade", which wasn't a surprise, so I searched for a European Carnival to attend.
I'd heard that the three best Spanish Carnivals were Barcelona, Cadiz, and the Canary Islands… After looking into all of them, and because I’d already been to Barcelona and Cadiz, I found round-trip tickets to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for 52 euros then set out to motivate a team to come with me. There are probably 10 of us in Zamora teaching English and 5 of us ended up going on this trip. I didn’t know any of these folks when I first moved here, but we felt like family by the time it was over.
We spent the night in the airport (my first time) because our flight left Madrid too early for us to make it the morning of. I went a bit earlier still and took the opportunity to finally meet up with one of my old friends from college (he directed the film I wrote and designed my third year) for the first time since moving here. We’ve both had crazy schedules that never lined up and it was so nice catching up with him! Hi Andreas! How lovely to see a familiar face and recap the last 4 years. We had burritos and I tried vermouth for the first time. When I arrived to the airport a little tipsy in the middle of the night, feeling proud that I’d finally mastered maneuvering my way around Madrid, I found all my friends sprawled out all over this child’s play area with a rubber floor. We slept restlessly amongst the noises of the airport, and groggily stumbled onto our flight a few hours later.
It was a bit cloudy when we landed in Las Palmas, but much warmer than where we came from, and we shared a taxi to the hostel where Zeek, Jean, and I were staying. WHAT A HOSTEL IT WAS! La Ventana Azul Surf Hostel. Wow. We love you. The location was fantastic, they organized cool events, they were extremely tolerant with us being insane the whole weekend, and they have an incredible terrace lit by string lights overlooking the ocean with covered day beds to cuddle on and nurse your hangover. Two thumbs up.
The hostel is directly on the beach (apparently so close that the wifi will reach when you're down there.) They put Jean and me in a hazardous room with 3-bunk-high bunk beds (both on the top bunk- which would later prove to be tricky for Jean in varying states of sobriety)
After an ATM ate Jean's debit card, we were somehow able to explain to her bank she needed to order a new one get take cash out now, which isn't easy for two people that don't speak fluent Spanish. We decided the success was reason enough to start drinking and celebrating, and headed to the cloudy, calm beach with a bottle of rum. We walked past immense sand sculptures that took months to perfect and found a spot next to a lovely trumpet player to sit and wait for the others.
Once we were all together, we drank and juggled and did cartwheels, then went home to siesta before rallying for the first night of festivities. The biggest Carnival Celebration in the Canary Islands is on a different island (Tenerife) but Las Palmas is known for having a massive production for the contest of the Queen and Drag Queen of Carnival. This year was Summer-of-love themed. Our dinner consisted of Rum and mangoes on the beach in our costumes, then we went straight to the show. I enjoyed watching these women parade around in costumes so humungous they had to be on wheels. We had a great time but were still somewhat disoriented from our travels and called it an early night by Spanish standards.