The Nine Commandments of Arrecife’s Carnival
If you’re on the island in February, put on your mask and get ready for a lively and uninhibited party.
I’d like to start this blog by asking a question: why is it we like transforming ourselves into other people so much? Why do we enjoy having new experiences behind a mask or under a wig?
Mikhail Bakhtin defined carnival as the reverse of conventions and stereotypes. Well, let me tell you something: in Lanzarote we have spent centuries proving how right the philosopher was. Our Shrovetide celebrations are cosy and uncrowded, but very intense and genuine.
These are the nine commandments of our carnival:
Thou shalt be a cheerful and tolerant little mascarita
Don’t forget that this is not just another party. It is a transgressive celebration, where social roles are inverted, and freedom takes precedence. The murgas use parody, satire and social criticism in their lyrics and the drag queenartists take unconventional overacting to the extreme. In Lanzarote we live carnival with an open and tolerant attitude. I can assure you that the soul is enriched.
Thou shalt live the experience in costume.
The second commandment of carnival involves cultural immersion, which inevitably involves wearing a costume. Anything goes. If you’re in Arrecife, a cowboy hat is all you need to get into the Far West, this year’s theme. The important thing is to get lost among the people, wander the streets in search of a street party, attend the gala election of the queen or the opening speech given by Kike Pérez, or take in the atmosphere of El Almacén, which is offering two duels under the sun in the iconic cultural meeting place created by César Manrique.
Thou shalt practice the zero-kilometre party
If you keep this commandment, you will improve your carnival experience exponentially. Try to stay in a hotel close to the festival and avoid travelling by car. It’s also a good idea to hire a bike during your stay in Arrecife, which will allow you to explore the beautiful corners of the capital. The seafront promenade runs along the entire marina, where you will find historical monuments such as the Castillo de San José and Castillo de San Gabriel, the Puente de las Bolas bridge and the commercial docks that speak of the history of this seafaring city.
Thou shalt not litter
Following this commandment is especially important on an island that is a Biosphere Reserve and a world benchmark for sustainability. Although the cosos (parades), festivals and shows occupy entire avenues and attract large crowds, our rule is to leave the place in the same condition in which we found it. Avoid damaging street furniture and dropping litter. In Lanzarote we enjoy things twice as much when we contribute to preserving our environment.
Thou shalt will love seafaring culture
“Desde que llega febrero los marinos van llegando y para los carnavales los buches se van hinchando” goes an old song that was sung decades ago with the return of the fishing boats for the carnival season. Although the local economy has changed a lot, the traditional atmosphere has not. A word of advice: if Los Buches appear, with their net masks, headscarves, sporting flowers on their chests, ribbons on their headbands and wearing white gloves, don’t run away from their loud but painless buchazos, which they inflict using their characteristic dried and inflated fish stomachs. It’s better to take the opportunity to get to know their seafaring shanties sung to the sound of timples, guitars and foritos (accordions). You won’t forget this encounter with the local heritage.
Thou shalt honour the island’s flavours
This is a gastronomic carnival commandment. Visit the ventorrillos (street stalls, formerly with palm tree roofs, where food and drink are sold). Among their delicacies are sancocho canario (traditional pork stew), Carnival tortillas with black honey and fresh cheese, carne de fiesta (meat), honeyed rum and fish sandwiches that will ” sentar las madres” (go down well). Another way of fulfilling the ritual is to immerse yourself in the daytime carnival, an authentic event that is centred around El Almacén plaza. And don’t miss the culinary offer of its Bar Picasso.
Thou shalt revere music
Yes, Lanzarote’s carnival is synonymous with murgas, street parties with live orchestras and concerts by great artists (this year Omar Montes is visiting us), who take to the stage in the marine area of Puerto Naos. But there is also music and dancing in the city’s streets, with batucadas and comparsas that will make your heart beat faster to their Brazilian and African rhythms.
Thou shalt pay your respects to the sardine
I’m sorry to have to tell you that even the brightest and most joyful festival of the year has to come to an end. You have more than fulfilled the protocol, you watched the murga competitions and the gala for the election of the carnival queen, you enjoyed the batucadas, the drag queens, the parades of floats… But now it’s time to bring it to a close. Put on your mourning clothes to pay your respects to the sardine (or the guachinango), whose funeral procession will take place on 14 February. But don’t cry, perhaps all is not lost.
Thou shalt follow the carnival instinct
I say perhaps all is not lost, because in Lanzarote the carnival is an ongoing festival that starts in Arrecife but continues in the other island municipalities on successive weekends. These local festivals hold unimaginable surprises. If you are a lover of tradition, in Haría, San Bartolomé and Tinajo the carnival celebrations are very friendly and inclusive. Or if you prefer a spectacular party, Puerto del Carmen, Costa Teguise and Playa Blanca await you. And on your return, stash your Lanzarote mask safely away – for a few days it was your passport to a creative and liberating world.