The Carribean 27 – The best of the rest

The best of the rest (7)

Toonik Tyme

Where? Iqalit, Canada

When? April         

How long? 1 week

Every year during the last two weeks of April, Iqalit (also known as Frobisher Bay), the tiny capital of the newly proclaimed Canadian region of Nunavut, throws off the hard Arctic winter with Toonik Tyme, a showcase of Inuit skills and northern life. Toonik is the mythical herald of spring, and as the festival gets underway, vague sightings of him are made around town – even if he does look suspiciously like a man dressed in caribou skins. Fishing and hunting sprees are central events, along with an endurance snow-mobile race over the icy plains surrounding town. If these don’t appeal, try your hand at building an igloo, using only traditional knives and the odd hardware tool to shape the blocks – the winning structure has to be able to support a man standing on the roof. After this vou might want to take in one of the ancient Broadway shows that come to town during Toonik Tyme, but those jn search of a more authentically Inuit experience may ,refer the traditional throat-singing competitions, where the singers’ voices seem to bubble up from the vocal chords, bypassing the mouth completely. The winner is of course, the singer who manages to reduce all the others to laughter.

Vendimia Festival

Where? Mendoza, Argentina

When? March

How long? 2 days

Nowhere are the Argentinian trinity of wine, colossal quantities of barbecued beef, and singing (along with the occasional tango) better indulged than at the Vendimia Festival, which celebrates the grape harvest each March. Held since 1936 on the first full weekend of the month in the small Andean town of Mendoza, this extravaganza celebrates Argentinian wine big-time, packing the place with hundreds of thousands of the world’s wine aficionados – and the occasional party- loving soak – who spend their time rollicking through the streets and doing their best to make an impression on the 1.3 billion litres of wine (mainly red, of course) that Argentina produces annually – it’s the world’s fifth-largest producer, and this is its principal wine-producing region. The main pageants are as commercial as they come, with a blessing of the grapes, parades of gauchos showing off their horsemanship, big flowery carnival floats, and a closing-night sound-and-light spectacular culminating in the election of the year’s “Queen of Wines”. But when the wine is this good, who cares?

Winter Carnival

Where? Quebec, Canada

When? January and February

How long? 2 weeks

Held for a fortnight from the last Friday in January, this bills itself as the biggest and best Winter Carnival on the planet, and, despite strong Scandinavian (and US) competition, it generally lives up to the title, with mad ice slides, skidoo races, dyed-snowball-fight competitions and some of the most raucous apres-ski you’ll find anywhere (®www. carnaval.qc.ca). Thousands of people take part in the fire- lit, night-time parades through the streets of Quebec that more often than not turn into all-night parties. Come dawn, if you’re brave enough – or just plain drunk enough – you can join in the traditional morning dip in the freezing St Lawrence river, which is guaranteed to cure any hangover. The carnival even has a mascot, a lovable snowman called “Bonhomme”, and after two weeks of snow-induced hysteria you too will be sobbing into your scarf as he waves farewell for another year.

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