Don’t Go to Carnaval in Cancun

Carnaval in Brazil: The real deal. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Carnival is one if those legendary parties that conjures up images of bronzed, feather-clad goddesses shaking their brazilian assets on moving stages while the throbbing proletariat mob bounce in booze-soaked unison. For a week. Non-stop.

It’s sultry, sweaty and spectacular – a unique breed of chaos that lures the sex-crazed, the dance junkies, the cocaine ravers, and the comparatively innocent alcoholics. It’s all sex appeal and excess. My kind of party.

Obviously, the best place join the madness is Salvador, Brazil, but this broke backpacker couldn’t make it that far south this year. I happened to be in another party mecca during Carnaval: Cancun Mexico! Everybody knows that Cancun is a Spring Break heaven for 18 year old North American party maniacs. They descend on this city in frenzied flocks to drink their faces off at Senior Frog’s, only to end up screwing some stranger in a sandy mess on the beach, culminating in bribing a Mexican cop to not take them to jail for public indecency. (Or was that just me?)

When I got word that there would be a Carnaval event in Cancun, I laced up my drinking boots checked that I still had one, ancient condom in my wallet, and made the treck into town. As I stumbled towards the parade, clutching my flask of dirt-cheap tequila, I took note of something horrifying: there were children. Everywhere.

Carnaval in Cancun is the prepackaged, shrinkwrapped, knockoff version of the original- approved for gringo consumption and children of all ages.

A smiling, gleeful, hand-clapping child, watching a parade is one of the only things in the wold that can make gawking at half-naked women and guzzling tequila seem wrong. Furthermore, the parade itself was pathetic. Some floats were blaring music from cracking, buzzing speakers while the dancers shook their fists and elbows while thrusting their pelvises in the kind of asynchronys calamity that only a group of feral children on cocaine could have recreated. And this, while other floats showcased lackluster princesses in floppy feather headdresses and tacky neon tights, often flanked by Mexican men in street clothes, who clung to the float railings for no apparent reason, except, perhaps, to render null any shred of sex-appeal that those sad, cellulite-ridden women radiated.

There was no throbbing, sex-crazed,booze-soaked mob. Instead, there were Mexican families and pale tourists snapping meaningless photos.

There was no exalted Brazilian queen, flanked by extravagant backup sluts. Instead there was only the pockmarked shell on an ex stripper, shrouded in gaudy, florescent feathers.

The worst part of this whole fiasco? There was absolutely no culture. The whole, sad scene was devoid of any kind if significance whatsoever. It was like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of the original. The content was there, but the lines we’re blurred and the edges had long since been lost. Carnaval in Cancun is the prepackaged, shrinkwrapped, knockoff version of the original- approved for gringo consumption and children of all ages.

Carnaval has it’s roots in excess. It was originally a party held to use up all the meat, dairy and booze that people had, in preparation for the fasting of Lent. It was your last chance to party, so everyone wanted to make it a good one. Since those early years Carnaval grown to become one of the world’s greatest parties, celebratingboth a “carne levare”, or “removal of meat” and other rich foods, and alcohol from your everyday diet, as well as a celebration of “carne vale”, or “farewell to the flesh,” a metaphorical shedding of one’s skin to become a wild and free participant in the festive chaos.

I like to think that in Brazil you can still feel the roots of this event. That for some of the people, Carnaval still means something, and that the vibe if the party doesn’t seem forced. It should seem necessary- like a cultural imperative to binge on excess and cast off the woes of the working year in preparation for new beginnings.

The moral of this story? I guess there are two. 1- when the world picks up on something good and tries to franchise it and sell it back to the tourists, it never works. And 2- don’t go to Carnaval in Cancun.

Louis Woodruff

About Louis Woodruff

Louis Woodruff is the anti-traveler. He's jaded, unforgiving, and snarky. He's been around the block and isn't afraid to tackle sensitive or taboo subjects. He writes with passion and honesty about the world as he sees it. Louis is Gonzo Travel at its worst.