One of the great parts of living in Latin America is the festivals. Compared to the US, there a lot of festivals that draw huge crowds of people. These are festivals that get the entire city out in the streets and draw thousands more from other parts of the country. And more so, the traditions in Latin America are typically very different than anything you’d find in the US.
When traveling in Latin America, the topic of the city’s festivals is usually brought up by locals in normal conversation. People are very proud of these and want you to experience these. “Will you be here in August for the celebrations?” is something a foreigner may hear while here in Granada. When traveling, it’s typically just by chance that you’ll experience a popular festival. Unless you specifically plan to be in a city at a certain time for the celebration, you’ll probably miss it by days, weeks, or, most likely, months. I felt this disappointment while traveling in South America. Being in Latin America in February means one thing, Carnival. I somehow managed to miss the continent’s biggest celebration, even though different cities plan their fiestas at different times. The timing never worked out and I barely missed the experience in at least 3 different cities.
Living in one place for an extended period of time has this great advantage; you are almost guaranteed a grand festival. In my case, it’s the August festivals in Granada.
Running of the Bulls
The celebration started last Sunday, August 11th, with the Tope de Toros, the running of the bulls. People started lining the streets around 2pm in order to get a good viewing spot of the show. About 6 bulls were released at the La Polvora fortress on the west part of town, and they made their way through the city center, around the Central Park, and all the way to the lake. I took up a spot with other volunteers on a covered sidewalk on the outskirts of the Central Park, waiting anxiously to see how this was going to go down. Several different times, people from up ahead of us would start running our way (away from the bulls). This would cause a bit of chaos until everyone realized the bulls weren’t coming yet. I was prepared by taking cover behind a support beam of a building.
Finally, one bull came sprinting through and actually went off the road and directly into the middle of the Central Park. This wasn’t expected, as a bull ran free by itself. From what I could see, the bull didn’t do any damage. About 10 minutes later, a herd of people came running through, both on feet and on horses. Quickly afterwards, 5 bulls sprinted through the street, just 20 feet from where I was posted up. They followed the road around the Central Park without any problems. Just like that, they had passed and the crowd slowly dispersed.
From what I heard, a bull impaled a horse earlier on in the course. But I did not hear of any other injuries. Overall, the Tope de Toros was not as exciting as one might imagine. However, I am very happy that I was able to see the people out in the streets and experience this part of the culture.
This past weekend was the celebration called Hipica, which is a celebration of horses. Saturday was the Hipica Carnival. I have still not figured out why they call in Carnival, as Carnival typically occurs right before Lent. However, here in Nicaragua, it takes place in August. Yesterday, construction began in the Central Park to build stages, and food stands sprouted up every few feet, selling food, beer, and the typical guaro (a cheap sugar cane liquor). A funny part of Nicaragua is that no one ever seems to know when things start, even an important event like Carnival. Asking around, I heard many different answers ranging from 4pm to 7pm. That’s how Nicaragua works; it’s unorganized but somehow it all comes together and functions.
Along with a Spanish guy and a girl from Belgium, we took a place along the street just west of the church La Merced to watch the parade. Little by little, the streets filled up as the parade continued. The parade consisted of different groups of dancers and bands, mostly percussions including several types of drums. The people in the parade were mostly people between the ages of 10 and 35 years old, dressed in various costumes and dresses. The dresses and masks were colorful, unique, and some were more scandalous than others. Carnival is typically a celebration where you see extremes. For example, there were many “floats” boasting the candidates for Miss Nicaragua Gay 2013. This is a side of Nicaragua that I had never seen. I feel like this Carnival was still pretty tame compared to what you may see in Rio de Janeiro, but this was still more than I had expected to see. By the end, the streets were absolutely full with people taking in all that is Carnival.
Finally, Sunday brought the festival they call Hipica which is celebrated throughout the region. The municipalities host their own Hipica at various times. But the theme is the same, to celebrate the horses with a parade. I took the chance to take in the festival in Granada, one of Granada’s biggest celebrations of the year.
There was a buzz in the city, which started early in the morning. Music was blasting from every which direction, stands were set up along the street for the parade, selling anything from chicken, plantains, and rice, to beer and rum. The bars along La Calzada, the main pedestrian street, had constructed platforms outside and had decorated immensely. There was even one bar that had constructed a two-story platform where they later had a DJ playing. The Central Park was lined with vendors of food and beer. It was pretty incredible to see such a large setup for a parade.
To start off the festival, I went with a few friends to the second floor balcony of a restaurant called Nuestro Mundo, located on the southeast corner of the Central Park. We hung out there, taking in the views of the Cathedral and the rest of the park as the streets filled up. When it finally started, we walked right down into the crowd to experience what is Hipica and to snap a few pictures.
The parade went pretty much as one would expect, as people rode their horses slowly through the streets as the crowds looked on. Afterwards, I heard there were over 400 horses in total. From what I understood, anyone with a horse is welcome to ride in the parade. The best part was seeing the horses dance; and that’s not a joke!
The environment of the entire festival was great. I loved seeing the streets full of people out to see the horses and enjoy the celebration. The party continued throughout the evening, as the crowd dispersed to La Calzada and to the bars near the lake, about 8 blocks east of Central Park. No doubt that people in Nicaragua know how to throw a party!