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.
We motivated ourselves to get out of the hostel and go search for some caves we'd heard about. This was largely thanks to the efforts of one Aleah Willa Black, as all the rest of us were hungover and sleepy and the route to find these random caves was extremely uncertain. But through a series of impressive conversations with strangers, we eventually found ourselves en route to... where were we going again? Ah right! Las cuevas de Valeron. Sure! Lets go.
The bus driver dropped us off at a random bench on the side of a pretty major highway, and pointed vaguley in the direction on the other side of the road. We realized as the bus drove away that we were expected to just run right across that thing. It was basically an interstate, but we crossed it mightily!
Somehow we eventually found the caves. They are OLDER than Roman times, so somewhere around 2000 years old?! We had a picnic there then did some sneaky photo-shoot things (my favorite!) Thankfully Aleah is always more than willing to pose for me. We hopped a fence and got some incredible shots while Jean kept watch, and the boys climbed a treacherous cliff face across the way.
We left feeling sufficiently exhilarated from our adventure, and continued eating clementines and bananas on the walk back to the highway bench where we came from. We had the idea to make paper airplanes and write what we were afraid of on them then throw them off a cliff, and we laughed and laughed as they almost immediately slammed into the ground nearby, instead of soaring away. We passed through tiny towns of barking dogs and wild poinsettias growing by the street. We found our bus once more. And once more we returned to la Ventana Azul. I always have a crush and this trip I had my eye on the Canadian in the bunk below mine, whose occupation was "commercial gold pilot." This entailed flying gold bricks around the country of Maurtania, south of Morocco. What a dreamboat.
NIGHT TWO/ DAY THREE/ NIGHT THREE
The next two nights were a blur of shared glitter, costumes, hard liquor, beer, the terrace, and walking through the streets. Some of the hostel guests unknowingly arrived to Las Palmas during Carnival and were completely unprepared. We did what we could to help (Glitter showers.) Aleah and I had matching scantly-cald costumes we'd made together in Zamora, Zeek put on his infamous duck costume that I feel like he kept on for the remainder of the trip, and the enthusiasm was high all around. We kept singing a song called "Zeek's gotta beak", over and over. We pregamed on the lovely terrance of our hostel, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, then rolled out with a krewe of around 20 people. The first night we went out into the night and almost immediately lost our dear Jean. We spent a blurry couple of hours looking for her on a wild goose chase, whilst people watching, climbing trees, kissing people, and dancing.
We went from drinking in the streets to swimming in the ocean at night to nursing hangovers on the outside terrace beds by day, to drinking once again in the afternoon. As it should be during Carnival. We marveled at how compatible we five were. We all got along swimmingly and were easy to please and constantly enthusiastic, supportive, and loving.
I swam in the ocean without fear for the first time in my life. I decided this year I would try to conquer most of my fears (maybe except snakes) and just went for it. Las Palmas has a pretty lenient policy on being clothed, so I did it mostly naked as well. Extremely liberating!
Aleah and Evan had to leave before the rest of us because they had a different ticket than we did. We were all really sad about this because the last night was the most anticipated one. It was the day of the famous street party of "Los Indianos" which mocks the people of Gran Canaria that went to America to get rich, then came back acting like Gringos. Everybody shows up dressed in "fancy" white clothes, then pours talcum powder all over the place while drinking heavily. We were all running low on steam and sad to have had the family split up, but determined to get a fourth wind.
We'd met another auxiliare a few nights before who was staying a different hostel and decided to go with her crew the last night instead of ours, thinking our hostel probably needed a break from us. We adopted an older Italian guy named Edoardo, who seemed to have eye problems and an all around bizarre approach to life. He didn't have a white costume and we had to wait as he located enough white things and "goggles" to protect his eyes. He asked for assistance putting eyedrops of some kind in, which we hoped wasn't actually LSD. He ended up being the glue that held us together throughout the extremely debaucherous night, though, and I'm not sure what we would've done without him.
Thank goodness for Edoardo!
We were quick to make friends at the other hostel, which was further away from the beach but had an amazing roof-top terrace, then we were lead by a guide with another massive group of people onto a bus which would take us to the party. We were completely out of control, singing, drinking rum, falling all over the place as the bus drove around. It really made me feel like I was back in New Orleans for the entirity of the 10 minute ride.
It's a complete miracle that we didn't lose each other this night, because there were thousands of people packed tight in the crowd. Edoardo sheparded us, and I think he was able to keep track of us because my costume consisted of a feathery umbrella that I was holding over everyones heads as an accidentally-brilliant beacon.
I woke up the next morning to find Jean missing from her bed once again. When I found her, she informed me that she'd had to "Drown my phone on purpose, dude." This was one of the funniest things I'd ever heard. Apparently her phone went rogue in the middle of the night and began to play music, and dear Jean, naked in her bed, had no choice but to wrap herself up in her sheets, take it downstairs, and try to turn it off as to not wake the others. It would not stop. It began calling her ex-boyfriend's mom. She took the SIM card out, it apparently kept calling. She tried to hit it with the nearest volcanic rock, to no avail. Eventually, dear Jean had no choice but to drown her iPhone in the sink. One of the hostel volunteers woke up to get water during this fiasco and walked in as Jean was practically naked, wrapped in her bed-sheet, slamming a rock into her phone, and they were accustomed to seeing us be insane, they didn't even say anything.
On our last day, actual Mardi-Gras day, we ate paella. Zeek worked up the guts and energy to try surfing classes, and Jean and I walked around and watched him and marveled at the magnificent black sand on the beach. I got drunk calls from my friends in New Orleans. We bumped into random people that recognized us whom we'd befriended at some point over the course of the weekend, THREE SEPARATE TIMES. We felt like locals. We felt exhausted, and we felt extremely happy.
WE LOVE YOu,