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A Caribbean Festival For The Not-So-Faint-Of-Heart

If New Orleans’ Mardi Gras 40+ days before Easter doesn't fit your getaway schedule, consider a jaunt to the Caribbean carnival on the island of St. Kitts in late 2014.

Sometimes bawdy; always loud. All exuberance.

The on-street shenanigans in broad daylight amongst some revelers would make Miley Cyrus envious.

For years, I heard about the antics of the famous Trinidad carnival and its exploits, so we cats got curious to stake out any comparison during the December holiday.

Natalia Janetti
Natalia Janetti

Unlike many festivals that reach their zenith in the very late night, this one began about 4 a.m., peaked under a warm morning sun, and wrapped up at 11 a.m.

The streets were jammed with painted-up or masked partygoers, floats blasting Caribbean music, and happy HAPPY spectators.

One guy wore a live rooster on his head. Another a heavy bucket of something. Thick amplified drum beats throbbed against the rib cage. One float pulled up to readjust its speakers, which didn't blare loud enough to interfere with the beating heart.

Float/trucks moved slowly through streets of the small downtown of Basseterre, the national capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. Behind and in front of each were throngs of merry-makers, often rhythmically swaying around or participating in some dance machinations. Mostly, the floats were old open-bed trunks built up a level or two. Some carried bands actually producing music. Others had two or three players strumming or drumming to recorded music from their amp-loaded trucks, or singers up high (perhaps in more ways than one)

The local populace did most of the dancing as passengers from three mega-passenger cruise ships in port gawked from the sidelines.

It wasn't your daddy’s Rose Parade, darling. More like Duck Dynasty Caribbean style.

Natalia Janetti
Natalia Janetti

The high-spirited carnival, centerpiece of a celebration that runs from mid-December to early January, was well policed. Only once, when the crowd surged because of some unseen rumpus, did the cops rush in to quell whatever it was that was happening. The swarm swept us unharmed in the opposite direction so it still remains a mystery.

Along the routes, locals set up well-used barbecue drums, wafting the aroma of tasty chicken, warm garlic bread and grilled steak straight to the nostrils.

Bob Marley T-shirts were popular, along with Heineken beer, brewed under license in St. Kitts and a local favorite with sponsorship of many Caribbean events.

It was an exuberant introduction to island culture for cruise ship visitors or those staying for a few days at the far more sedate Marriott Resort just a few miles away, or the elegant Four Seasons Resort on the close-by island of Nevis.

While enjoying the quieter beach, we learned one lesson, fortunately not first-hand: don’t wear expensive rings while wading in the ocean. One young woman did, and the current swept it right off her finger. She then spent hours sifting sand in hopes of finding her diamond, to no avail even when other sympathetic sunbathers flocked to help out.

Like the carnival, it’s a treasure for future generations to find.