St. Barths’ Carnaval

Yes, I was there…bronzing in the sun yet cooled by ocean breezes, stimulated by pounding music yet mellowed by smooth rum…smiling ear to ear as I danced down the streets of Gustavia in this year’s St. Barths’ Carnaval parade. I’d been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans during college, and while I knew that type of debauchery wouldn’t be duplicated in. St Barths, I was worried that this Carnavale would be so small as to pale in comparison to the grand daddy of all Carnavals.

No worries, the way the day unfolded was perfection…an intimate gathering of two dozen or so floats and a few hundred colorful and animated marchers, with a modest agenda of stepping out of our workplace shells to live a little larger just this one day. The floats and their crews assembled on the quai in Public – overlooking the ocean and St. Martin in the distance…then made the short march along a waterside road that gracefully curves into the harbor of St. Barths’ capital of Gustavia. Crowds slowly building on both sides, music getting louder, our troop dancing with more energy as they fed off the crowd. It reached a crescendo at the tight corner where Bar L’Oublie and Le Select Bar face each other. We were marching behind the Nikki Beach float, and they stopped there for 30 minutes and put on a pulsing dance party that was right out of an Alphabet City rave party. We were serving rum punch to any one in the crowd who would have one, the music was fun and loud, time stood still, we were all so in the moment, so happy.

The parade slowly wound clockwise around the harbor, until we reached the Wall House restaurant at the far end. There the parade stopped for an hour, everyone grabbed a beer, or two, and wandered along the line to take in the other floats and appreciate the music that each offered. New friend John King darted in and out of the floats, taking hundreds of pictures of the characters lining the route. Old favorite Andy Hall of Hideaway Cafe fame came dressed as Elvis and treated the crowd to a rousing medley of the King’s tunes – hands down the best float in this year’s parade.

Refreshed, and slightly more mellow, the parade reversed course and retraced its steps along the harbor. There was a big party outside of Baz Bar – a harbor-side restaurant where Jimmy Buffett occasionally drops in to jam with the band du jour – and we squeezed through, bleeding off a few marchers who peeled off for drinks. By 8pm we’d wound our way back to the quai starting point, and made plans for dinner. Can’t wait till next year.