I celebrated my birthday on the beautiful island of Trinidad during Carnival 2014 from Feb. 28 to March 5!!! If you aren’t jumping up and down and grinning from ear to ear after reading that sentence then it must be because you have absolutely no clue what the Carnival celebration on the Caribbean Islands is all about. Carnival occurs around February or March every year preceding the start of Lent.
You can read more about the interesting history of Carnival from the Trinidad and Tobago tourism site. Many of the Caribbean islands have their own Carnival celebrations but Trinidad Carnival is known as The Greatest Show on Earth!
This was a trip that was a year in the making with one of my dearest friends/sorority sisters and it was absolutely one of the best times of my life!!! So many awesome things happened on this trip and I would not be able to do it all justice in just one blog post! You can look forward to multiple entries all dedicated to this absolutely epic experience.
Playing Mas in Trinidad Carnival: A Day in The Life of a Masquerader
The most anticipated events of Carnival are Carnival Monday and Tuesday. These are the days of the festival where the bands of masqueraders dressed in themed costumes parade through the streets of Port of Spain and get judged by panels of judges at various stages along the way. We didn’t come to be spectators along the parade route! We came to be IN the parade or as the locals would say we came to ‘PLAY MAS’ in Trinidad Carnival!
How does one even begin to prepare to play mas in Trinidad Carnival? There are many things to consider, but lucky for you I put together a comprehensive guide for planning a trip to Trinidad Carnival. Many people who come have roots on the island or friends with roots on the island who can make the arrangements for them to join a band. However if you’re a foreigner, like me, with no ties to the island you can do everything online.
“There is no way in hell I can wear this in public.”
We joined the Paparazzi Band through their website and paid our deposit via PayPal. While it can be costly to join a band, you are getting a lot for your money. The band provides all the necessities for Carnival Monday and Tuesday that a masquerader will need.
- Music truck(s)
- Security team
- Rest truck
- Medical emergency truck
- Swag bag of goodies
- Outfit for Carnival Monday
- Costume for Carnival Tuesday
- The ALL important wee-wee truck (traveling truck of port-o-pottieS)
- Some of your meals.
- Bar on wheels
- All the water, Gatorade, vodka, rum, chasers, and coconut water you can drink for 2 days.
As beautiful as all of the costumes were, my immediate reaction was more like “there is no way in hell I can wear this in public.” The costumes pictured on the models on the website didn’t leave much to the imagination.
I’m not a size 6 and there are certain elements of my body that only a plastic surgeon and a laser beam can address. LOL
Paparazzi band allowed us to submit our measurements and order a variation of the costume that you can feel comfortable in. I loved this benefit and I’m sure many people who haven’t been to Carnival aren’t aware the flexibility that you have.
I requested a high-waisted bottom in lieu of the traditional bikini style. There are also thongs, one-pieces, corsets, and boyshorts.
You can’t imagine the anticipation we felt waiting for over 6 months to see the finished product. We had to go and pick up the costumes after we arrived in Trinidad from the mas camp.
This can turn into a time consuming ordeal so make sure you allow yourself time to handle this. This took much longer than anticipated because the credit card machine wasn’t working properly for those needing to pay the balance owed by credit instead of cash.
I suggest bringing the cash to cover the balance of your costume. The issue was finally resolved and the staff was very helpful offering us drinks or anything they could do to accommodate the wait.
We even got to sample some local food that had been brought in for their staff. This is just one example of the generosity and kind spirit of the Trini people.
“They embrace the differences in shapes, sizes, and hues of all people.”
The costumes were simply beautiful. The hand stitched jewels and feathers and the colors were all stunning in person. I was happy with my selection and ready to embrace the island culture and get comfortable in my own skin!
Now about this Carnival Monday costume…shiny gold boy shorts and a tube top??? I was freaking out!
Another big difference in the island mindset is that they are not slave to this skewed image we have of beauty in American culture. They embrace the differences in shapes, sizes, and hues of all people. If there was a Trini woman who was self-conscious about her body, I didn’t meet her.
Initially I was going to chicken out and wear some of my own clothes on Monday, but my travel buddy and I decided that if we were going to do this then we had to commit 100%.
Thank God for the invention of flesh-colored dancer tights! They hide errrrythang!!! I also got a bit creative with my top so that I could feel more comfortable but I made it work.
Carnival Monday is scaled back in comparison and much more casual. It began around 10:30 in the morning. In typical Outdoorsy Diva style….we were late and the band was already ‘on de road’!
In other words, they had already started the parade route without us! As luck would have it we could see our band coming down the street when the hotel shuttle dropped us off. We managed to catch up with them and join the rest of the band.
One of the perks of being in a band is having a bar on wheels. You simply give them the cup they provided you with in your swag bag and they fill it with whatever your pleasure. Genius!
However let’s remember that it’s 80+ degrees, we’re in near-the-equator heat, and we’re walking many many many miles.
I chose water much more often than I chose rum. I suppose that’s a sign I’m over thirty! **Pats self on the back** I didn’t want to be that person carted off to the medical truck.
We danced and mingled but after passing the biggest stage in Queen’s Park Savannah around 3:30 in the afternoon, we decided we had better head back to our hotel and get some rest. After all we had been up since 2am participating in J’Ouvert morning and the day before that we had been awake for 27 hours (that’s another post) and we wanted to have plenty of energy for Carnival Tuesday.
This was also a test run for the Kmart sneakers and store brand shoe pads I brought with me. The sneakers matched our costumes perfectly but they aren’t exactly engineered for this type of strenuous activity.
It was a FAIL. My feet were on fire and I knew I would need to make some adjustments if I had any hope of completing the entire route on Tuesday. I decided to get 2 different types of shoe pads, name brand this time, and double up for the next day.
Carnival Tuesday we woke up super early. The band would be heading out at 6:30 am. I laid out my costume and just admired it. It was a work of art made just for me. I couldn’t wait to put on this new persona.
“I was beautiful, I was a goddess, and I was ready to step out into the world and dazzle anyone who laid their eyes upon me!”
Some people pay to have their makeup done professionally but I opted to save that money and do it myself. I’ve never done exaggerated stage makeup like this but I think I did a pretty good job of glamming myself up and getting Carnival ready.
Of course, my usual luck kicked in and I had to deal with a last minute wardrobe malfunction. I had to use a sewing kit for a few last-minute alterations to ensure there would be no embarrassing moments out on the parade route. My grandma would be so proud because this girl does not sew!! It’s amazing the skills we harness in moments of desperation.
When I looked in the mirror I was hit with this new wave of confidence. All inhibitions or concerns I had about my body image melted away. I was beautiful, I was a goddess, and I was ready to step out into the world and dazzle anyone who laid their eyes upon me!
I did have an unfortunate mishap of my jewels catching my tights before I could even leave the hotel but I didn’t even care. I was ready for the road! As luck would have it the shuttle made us late again but we did catch up to join our band on the route.
The energy on Carnival Tuesday is indescribable. Seeing the costumes from the other sections in our band, making friends, posing for pics with parade goers, the soca, the calypso, and the vibe of the people just made this an incredible day.
I was enjoying every minute of it! I was feeling the music, singing, dancing, and jumping! This was the Carnival vibe and I was riding the waves on a major high.
Playing mas in Trinidad Carnival does come with some inconveniences. The quickest way to come down from your high….the need to find the wee-wee truck!
The wee-wee truck is a flatbed trailer of port-o-potties. Climbing onto a moving vehicle, maneuvering in a dark smelly portable toilet, and dealing with your costume was a challenge to say the least. This was definitely the least glamorous part of the day!
As the day wore on it was so hot that I sweated out most of my water and didn’t have to go again all day. There’s also the times when the band is queued up and waiting for another band to cross a judging area. This time can be hard because you can be stationary for an hour or even more.
The cool part is that you can cross out of the boundaries and do a bit of shopping with vendors along the parade route, mingle with other bands, with parade goers, and of course pose for pictures with other sections in the band.
You can also go to the rest truck during these times and get some cool air and a cat nap. I did take a break for about an hour to give my feet a rest.
“Not only had I survived Carnival…I had lived it!”
The best part of the day is crossing the judging stages. The band displays each section one by one. The energy goes through the roof and you dance like a mad person!!! I can honestly say at every stage I brought it!
My section was Burlesque and we had an absolute blast at every judging stage! The largest stage is in front of the Grand Stand in Queen’s Savannah Park. It is a massive stage with TV cameras all around you. It was such an adrenaline rush to know that for that moment in time….the nation had its eyes on you!
We broke for lunch around 4:00 in the evening for an hour. My feet appreciated it the most and the food was very good! After that we were recharged (with a little help from a 5 hour energy drink) and ready for the nighttime half of the parade route.
This time we were on “The Ave”, a main street in Port of Spain packed with restaurants and bars and people. The energy was wild and crazy but all in good fun.
It rained on us for a few minutes, if you can really call it rain. It was more like a refreshing spray. It didn’t last long at all and it certainly didn’t hamper the parade. Just when I thought my energy was done, we received word from the music truck DJ that we were approaching our last stage of the night.
We danced our way across that last judging stand and it felt like I had reached the summit of a mountain. We had done it. Not only had I survived Carnival…I had lived it!
We were on the road from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm! This is the look of pride and exhaustion. I am proud to say that the Paparazzi Carnival Band of 2014 received 2nd place in the large band category for the Trinidad Carnival Band competition!
It felt so good to be apart of such an achievement. This band is actually new to the carnival competition, in just its second year. They worked very hard to provide us with a good experience and I certainly felt like I was apart of the Paparazzi family.
I’m a masquerader now. I have the feathered headdress to prove it and it has become one of my most prized travel souvenirs from all of my travels.
Playing mas in Trinidad Carnival was an adventure of a lifetime and I look forward to doing it again one day.
Read more posts about my incredible experience at Trinidad Carnival!
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