It is difficult to relate the absolute hysteria of Carnaval in Barranquilla. Most nations couldn't handle an equal event without soon collapsing into a frenzied state of all-out warfare. But Barranquilla does it, and does it well – pushing all possible boundaries of celebration.
Daniel and I joined the festivities late Saturday afternoon, quickly discovering what it means to be a gringo at Carnaval. We were heralded like politicians everywhere we went. Women handed us their babies and daughters and gleefully snapped off photographs.
We were covered in foam, doused in talcum powder, soaked with water and then fed rum from small wooden and ceramic cups worn from thin string necklaces. Kids painted black with engine grease surrounded us wielding sticks like guns saying "we are FARC!" and demanded ransoms. Others covered our faces completely with foam and tried to pick our empty pockets while the crowd looked on, amused. The welcome was intense everywhere we went.
Everything about Carnaval is sexual. Women parade by in scant clothing and wild, colorful peacock feathers. Men dance around in the bizarre elephant mask of Marimonda, a classic archetype of Barranquilla Carnaval. Marimonda represents the core of the average Colombian man – a raving horny drunk bent on dancing, sexual pursuits and having the most fun possible at all times. "Monda" is a vulgar term referring to the exaggerated phallic nose that swings from the freakish mask. Others wear the costume of the dark mulato woman with afro wigs and red polka-dotted head scarves.
As it turns out, a curiously large number of Colombian men look exactly like Barack Obama when placed in a suit and tie. As such, Obamas abound, smiling and shaking hands deliberately everywhere they go. And what parade is complete without transvestites? Broad-shouldered men saunter around in high heels and nurse outfits, blowing kisses from behind black masks with red, exaggerated lips.
Little black ceramic handguns were being sold everywhere with pinkish flesh-colored penises on the end. It tickled us to think that somewhere there exists a factory dedicated to the production of these ridiculous penis guns. Someone’s job depends on drawing the veins and details just so.
Later we met two Englishmen who had been robbed with the old concealed weapon beneath the T-shirt trick. They handed over everything, never considering the overwhelming odds that they were being accosted with a cheap ceramic replica – nothing but a life-like penis tip at the end of the barrel.
The official slogan of the event is "Mama Ron en Carnavales!" The verb mamar means to suck as if from the nipple. Suck rum in Carnaval! And suck we did, dancing insanely with beaming Colombian girls who blew our minds with the unfathomable alchemy of salsa. A parade of women in bright, 1980s renditions of the future of fashion spun by in wild neon dresses with stacked wire skirts.
Something in my mind clicked. Everything became lucid – my consciousness felt on the brink of something huge, something infinite. I licked eternity with the tip of my brain, a massive déjå vu condensation of approximate Everything.
And then, just like that, it was gone.