Cozumel’s Carnaval is in full swing and all it took for this island newbie to get into the spirit was a mere walk in the park. Everywhere I looked there were enthusiastic participants in full costume either performing, or posing. Although I knew there would be a parade tonight, complete with floats and music, I still couldn’t pass up the chance to try and capture some of the excitement in the air while the sun was still shining. Besides, I knew that all the parades would be photographed by the professionals, so I’ve been working around the edges, so to speak. And, I am so glad I’d decided to do that since this has continued to be an unforgettable experience.
I started my day with a cup of coffee while sitting in front of the computer. I’ve been frequenting a Facebook page for Cozumel enthusiasts, “Cozumel 4 You,” and I’ve been able to keep up with most of the events by reading the postings written by those “in the know.” This morning, one of those posts mentioned that children would be performing a dance with a Tahitian theme and the author encouraged islanders to show support for those who’d be taking part. I took note of the time and location, packed up a bag, patted my dogs, and headed to el centro to see what I could find. What a good decision since it turned into a three-hour photo extravaganza. And, yes, I will try to include as many as I can fit into this format.
The posting was correct. There was indeed a group of girls in Tahitian costumes, although they were much younger than I’d expected. I pulled out my camera and started to take a photo of one, but then her friend ran over, and then another. The picture you see on the left was the end result. Apparently they were quite certain that they wanted a shot of the whole group, and who am I to argue? Soon afterwards they began to dance and I have to say that they had some surprising moves for such a young group. But, it was all in good fun and those of us with cameras just kept clicking away. After the first song ended, they took a break for about three seconds and then another song began. When all was said and done, these girls danced their hearts out to at least five songs, I think.
Before they were quite finished I noticed more girls, a little older this time, had begun to gather. They were helping each other with their costumes and headdresses and I went off to capture the moments. But, that group was just the beginning. Within about twenty minutes there were, at least, well over fifty participants, male and female, wearing every neon color imaginable. They were climbing out of a bus, getting off of mopeds, or just walking into the park with family members. The park was getting filled and it was becoming apparent that the day had merely just begun.
After a few moments of last-minute costume adjustments, they began to move towards the giant stage set up in the middle of the park. Not one to miss a shot I went right along with them. It was sort of like riding a rainbow express, if you can excuse my flight of fancy. But, at that point I didn’t know quite what their intent was so I just kept on going along. That was when they all began to gather on the stage. I was happy to, for once, be right in front and was excited. But, then my luck got even better. One of the staff members invited me to join the other photographers on stage and I dashed around to the stairs on the side. Once there it became clear that the whole gathering was strictly for photographic purposes and that was when the real fun began.
I’d started to just grab a couple of casual shots while the stage direction took place. And, let me assure you, those directions became quite a complicated process. There were groups in coordinated costumes that obviously belonged together. First those in the bright orange and black ensembles took to the stairs, which, by the way, are painted in a bright, glittery red. The whole scene was quite the eyeful. After about five minutes of adjusting by the professional photographer who was obviously the man in charge, the pose was perfected. Then the next group came up and it started all over again.
Those dressed in blue came next. Their headdresses reminded me of the crown worn by the Statue of Liberty, although I doubt that was the intent. They were carefully arranged, the pics were taken and the next group was called up.
These were all young men, boys really, dressed in neon soldier outfits. With pride they struck their pose with faces that were fierce with determination. They were playing their roles to the hilt. Next came the girls in shades of greens, blues, and purples. No color was to be ignored. Again they were moved, moved again, and the shot was taken. But, once they were done it became clear that the manager still had a few more ideas. They started singling out individuals, regardless of the costumes and colors, and this was when I wished I knew more about their roles.
Following the stage manager’s directions, a group of young men in silver surrounded one woman with an impressive headdress. They took a protective stance for the shot and then made way for a couple who just looked regal. I can’t think of any other way to describe them. The sun was straight overhead by this point and all I could think of was their dedication. With complicated headdresses, layers of cloth and boots, no less, they had to be sweltering, but they just kept smiling.
After that photo opportunity the stage went from almost isolated to completely overwhelming. It had been decided that there was to be that one shot of all of them put together. To be honest, it was almost too good to be true. No way could I describe, in words, the combination of themes, colors, and determination. In this case, a picture really would be worth a thousand words, if not many, many more. And, this, too, was when I decided I needed to simplify and start focusing on a few of the individuals. I just knew that if I continued to look at them all together for too much longer a time period I’d start to see spots. So, as the posing and picture-taking continued I started to zoom in for some closeups.
A girl with jewels on her face, a boy with a star over his eye, a small group of girls in mixed costumes, they became my newest targets. That was when I started to notice that they were indeed getting tired, hot, exasperated, and who could blame them? This week is the culmination of months of work and, regardless of the level of enthusiasm, no-one can smile forever, although they certainly tried. But, in my humble opinion, it seemed like a good idea to focus on the pressure these kids must be feeling.
Once I’d made that decision I started to get some shots that I knew wouldn’t be the typical images seen in a brochure anywhere. And, I certainly mean no disrespect. In fact, just the opposite. Regardless of how they were feeling they didn’t stop doing what was expected. Kudos to them! But, before long the photo shoot for the pros was finished and off they went.
At that point I’d assumed they were finished for the moment, but I was wrong. Now was when the performance in the lower part of the square began. A pickup truck with a huge sound system was waiting and the dancing began. The same kids that had just stood on the stage in the hot sun for an hour were going to go that extra mile. And, this is when I’d like to mention that there was one individual boy who I just fell in love with while snapping away. If you look closely you’ll see him targeting me with just a bit of extra enthusiasm. I swear, he made me smile so much my jaw still hurts. I couldn’t help myself. I ended up tracking him for a while just to see if it was my imagination. But, nope, he stayed true to form.
There was also a young woman who was quite a talented dancer. Her movements and expressions told a story and she was fascinating to watch. And she wasn’t the only one. Another girl, dressed in an elaborate headdress was surrounded by dancers who continued to reach up to her as if she was their queen. That was yet another moment that made me smile. Her stance and deportment was clearly well rehearsed, or she was just an incredibly confident young lady.
The dancing continued for close to another half an hour and the sun was merciless. I know I had to keep wiping my face with a cloth I brought along for just that purpose. How they kept it up is anyone’s guess and I can only hope they realize how much their efforts are appreciated. By this time the place was packed with tourists who all seemed to have photographic devices. I almost started to take pictures of them as they leaned over, reached up, bent around, climbed up, anything to get a shot. But, finally the dancing came to an end and, frankly, I was exhausted for them.
I packed my camera away and started the walk home. But, as often happens, there was that one last shot that came my way. Walking south there was a group of men just hanging around in front of a local hotel and I couldn’t help but notice that they were focusing intently on something. A few steps further and I discovered the source. Two women, who were clearly dressed for more adult themed carnival activities, were standing in the walkway out of the sun. I took my camera out for the last time and they immediately struck a pose. As often happens to me here, my day took me full circle. It started out by taking a picture of a group of young girls and ended up with the shot you see on the right. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, it is Carnaval. Salud!
p.s. for additional information there are a variety of online sites. Check out “Cozumel my Cozumel,” “Cozumel 4 You, or the carnaval FB site itself…….”Cozumel Carnaval 2013: