Saturday, February 09, 2008

Carnaval Autlán 2008

Don't expect bikini clad ladies shaking their hips to samba music on the streets after reading the word "Carnival", it happens in Brazil and the one I went to was Mexican kinds. Autlán, a town in the state of Jalisco, was my destination for the long weekend and it was not for the usual hiking, adventure or photography but for a carnival - Carnaval Autlán 2008. It was an impulsive decision of going along with few friends, which was worthy in all sense. Before I say more about the carnival, let me summarize the carnival with 3Ds - Dance, Dames and Drinking.

Located about 150Km south-west from Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco, Autlán claims the fame of giving birth to, one of my favourite guitarists, Carlos Santana. The drive from Guadalajara takes unusually long time due to single lane roads, traffic and curves. Autlán has the most pleasing weather all year round and is just an hour and a half away from Barra de Navidad, the nearest beach. The town is surrounded by mountains and has umpteen farms of blue agaves, which is the main ingredient of "One shot-two shot- three shot-FLOOR" tequila, the national drink of Mexico. I had heard that women from Jalisco are the prettiest in Mexico, but during this trip the statement was proved QED.

Autlán carnival is held for 10 days before it gets terminated on Ash Wednesday and hence it can start as early as 25th January or as late as 1st March. The specialties of the carnival include rodeo and bull fighting, Banda music and dance and crowning of the beauty queen of Autlán. The sounds of Banda starts hitting the air waves near the town center as early as 10 in the morning, replacing the idle chatter of the crowd. Bands carrying brass trumpets and trombones, gigantic sousaphones, alto horns and drums crowd the street Callejon del Vicio, making everybody move their pelvises to the banda tunes. By evening, without any caste-creed-sex bar, the street is herded by people to the brim. It takes eternally long to pass the street just 200 meters long. There are beverage vendors on one side serving gallons of beer, whiskey, tequila and all the imaginable cocktails out of it, not a single person on street is empty handed. Even the dancer would have his beer while dancing. The bands are umpteen in number and you can get them to play a song for you, while you can hook up with a senorita for a round of dance. As I was passing through the crowd trying to reach the other end of road, I saw two ladies holding jars fitted with spray guns and inviting everybody for a shot. I couldn't hold myself from trying it, as I went and opened my mouth wide open a strong jet of tequila hit my throat and filled my mouth in no time. They don't stop until you close your mouth. As they say, free booze tastes better, it did taste a lot nice and I parted my lips once again for another shot, thanked them and went ahead.

I had a rare privilege to witness the delirious Rodeo (bull riding) show. The auriferous arena contained hatted horsemen making their horses dance rhythmically to the banda music. The frenzy crowd was cheering for the vaquero who was getting ready to ride the bull which was being aroused and chevied within the pen. As the gates were pulled open, the bull with all it's machismo and might started jumping chaotically and crazily trying to throw the vaquero down. It danced and sprang and leapt all over the arena until the vaquero was down on ground and running for his life. Then the horsemen threw their knots to control the bull and finally a man with a spear would poke the bull until it withdrew into passage outside arena. The more time the vaquero holds on to the bull, the better he is. Tequila and beer were profusely served for the audience. After a gap of 2 hours there was bull fight, but we couldn't watch it for time and cost reasons.

A less violent and more aesthetic event that pulled an enormous crowd was the crowning of La Reina, the queen of Autlán. The stage was well set with elevated grand thrones for the crowned ones, bottom lit ramp, lavish flower vases and colourful lights. The crowd was restlessly waiting for the event to start, after few glitches in the microphone the event kick-started with few live songs by an unknown artist, followed by ramp walk of the beauty queen contestants and finally crowning the La Reina.

The carnival also had many well known artists/musicians performing live, but we didn't have time for that. This is the first ever carnival of my life which would give sweet memoirs years down the line and I highly recommend this event, for not many Mexicans are aware of this carnival.

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