The Carribean 23 – The best of the rest

The best of  the rest (3)

Calle Ocho

Where? Miami, USA

When? March

How long? 4 days

Over a million people turn up to Miami’s Calle Ocho (®www.calle8.com), the largest Hispanic event anywhere in the world; and they come for a roaring street party, fed by rolling rhythms from salsa to merengue. Held over the first two weekends of March, the final two days are the most interesting, kicking off at noon on Saturday when bands take over Bayfront Park and play on into the small hours. All of this is just a warm-up for Calle Ocho itself, on the following day, when Central and South America’s best performers play around thirty stages strung along 24 blocks of downtown Miami to extremely enthusiastic audiences. In between these events, don’t miss the sidewalk barbecues or the chance to pick up hand-rolled cigars and Cuban rum from street stalls. The official show winds up around 8pm, but don’t worry, plenty of clubs and parties pick up the slack, while a giant conga line winds itself all through Little Havana.

Cheyenne Frontier Days

Where? Cheyenne, USA

When? July

How long? 2 days

Calling itself the “Daddy of ’em All”, this is the biggest rodeo event there is, with nine daily rodeos ($12-25, depending on where you sit) spread over the last week in July ( www.cfdrodeo.com). But it’s not just about rodeos: there are hat acts every evening, various western-themed activities, and parades through the streets of Cheyenne.

Cirio de Nazare

Where? Belem, Brazil

When? October

How long? 2 weeks

The second largest festival in Brazil after the Rio Carnival takes place in the rambling colonial city of Belem near the mouth of the Amazon, on the country’s northeast coast – and it’s one of the bawdiest religious celebrations on the face of the planet. The Cirio de Nazare honours Belem’s Virgin Mary, the country’s most revered icon. The focus of the festival is the transfer of Her image (“Nossa Senhora de Nazara”) from the city’s cathedral to the Basilica de Nazare – a solemn process, which takes five hours, and during which thousands of barefoot devotees try to get as close to the Virgin as possible. Once the icon is safely installed, the huge town fiesta breaks out, with the kind of street partying that matches anything in Rio, and lasting virtually non-stop until the Virgin makes the return trip two weeks later. The great twist here is that the more you drink, the more you actually honour the Virgin. Don’t ask why – just get here, grab a beer and join the million people dancing to syncopated Amazonian beats in the name of Christ.

Fiesta de la

Virgen de la Candelaria

Where? Copacabana, Bolivia

When? February

How long? 1 week

This huge festival is held on February 2 in honour of an effigy of the Virgin Mary, which was consecrated in 1583 and which resides at Copacabana, a small town way up i the Andes on the shores of South America’s largest lake Titicaca. The religious tone of the event – part-Christian part-traditional – is completely swamped by the energy and euphoria of the locals, who like nothing better than to rig up open-air barbeques in the streets, and drink, dance and sing the night away: shamanic characters perform devil dances and tell fortunes, while Christian priests are on hand to bless anyone and anything (more often than not the miniature objects – houses, cars, and so on – that many people wish for in the year ahead). The rainy season is well underway in early February, with a daily downpour guaranteed, but this does nothing to dampen the spirits, and people flock to Copacabana from all over Bolivia, giving the town a bazaar-like atmosphere. Tourists aren’t all that common, but are still made to feel incredibly welcome.

French Quarter Festival

Where? New Orleans, USA

When? April

How long? 3 days

As the self-proclaimed Birthplace of Jazz, New Orleans hosts three essential events in the first half of every year: the Jazz Festival, the legendary Mardi Gras and the French Quarter Festival (®www.frenchquarterfestivals.com), which is the least-known and, perhaps because of that, maybe the one to catch. The Vieux Carre, as the city’s French Quarter is known, was left relatively untouched by Hurricane Katerina, and is given over to exuberant crowds intent on making the most of this huge celebration of the food, music and culture of the city. The madness is concentrated around stages along Bourbon Street, which shake to the traditional sounds of Dixieland, ragtime, Creole, and, of course, “Nawleens” jazz, while riverside Woldenberg Park stomps to more freestyle zydeco and R&B. Once the live music dies down, you can spend the rest of your time staggering from one street party to another.

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