Carnival season begins as early as July when masquerade bands start launching the year's costumes and new soca music floods the scene. Party goers are wild and wotless and its revelers are unabashed and party nonstop. Carnival, or more accurately pronounced, cahneeval, translated loosely to mean a farewell to flesh, or meat. It marks the last chance to celebrate before a period of restraint for the 40 days of Lent.
There are no tourists in Carnival
Much like the NYC subway, where a big shot banker might be riding beside a vagrant, Carnival is a great equalizer. The foreigners and locals, the fortunate and less so, all fete in unison. Tourists won't find anyone fawning over a funny accent or offering special treatment and when a masquerader decides to thief a wine (wine behind you unexpectedly and without asking) your bamsee (rear-end, buttocks) could be just as viable as the next.
Managing a Carnival fete (party)
From the sophisticated waterfront fete at the Hyatt Regency to the wild and aptly named Bacchanal Wednesday to Rise where you bring your own beverages in a cooler, there's a fete for every fancy. Many are all-inclusive, meaning you pay a flat fee for all you can consume, so it's best to eat and drink your money's worth. Once inside these well packed parties, with Machel Montano onstage belting the hottest tunes and the smell of chicken roti stimulating your taste buds, you'll wonder which of your senses to answer first.
A breakdown of J'ouvert
When you wake in the darkness of 4 a.m. to find yourself being dragged into the streets to party, you'll wonder if the madness ever stops. It's time for J'ouvert, the early morning opening of the Carnival celebrations. For J'ouvert, revelers channel the nation's history and folklore in what was once a rebellion against slavery. Some come dressed as devils, or "Jab Jabs" while others get slathered in oil, mud, paint or cocoa. Wear clothes that can be thrown out (including undergarments), get dirty and let go of every inhibition. Rub baby oil on your skin before this predawn party to ease clean up and have you ready in time for Carnival Monday.
The costume isn't enough
Playing mas means you've chosen a masquerade band to participate with and you'll be chippin (a march/shuffle/dance combo step) alongside mas goers with similar costumes. There are more than one hundred different Carnival bands that vary in themes, popularity and cost. Costumes can range in price from $200 to more than $1,000. Sites like Trinidad Carnival Diary offer information on popular bands like Tribe, Island People and Yuma. While your costume may come with a box full of adornments, the main bikini or shorts, the feathered headpieces, arm bands, leg bands and wrist bands, ladies still need more. Rip-resistant flesh tone stockings from Micles in Port of Spain will help you feel less naked and look more put together. Also, stop by Wonderful World in West Mall for face jewels and body glitter because it's not Carnival without the extra glitz.
There's more than mas
Should you opt out of playing mas, you'll never be low on things to do the week before Carnival. Mas can be just as fun to watch from the sidelines where you'll get to see more of the goings on than the actual masqueraders. Food and drink vendors line the streets so you can eat corn soup with dumplings or doubles (curried channa served between two pieces of fried bread) while you enjoy the parade and even take a wine on the side.