Carnaval El Callao
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Carnaval El Callao
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medio pintos del carnaval el callao
        Carnaval of El Callao, Venezuela. This traditional festival celebrated all over Latin America before the onset of lent holds a special importance for the town of El Callao, in the south east of Venezuela. Each year the carnaval is visited by thousands of tourists who come to enjoy this unique festival with its own customs, characters and rhythms that have evolved from  afro-caribbean roots.

‘La Negra’ Isidora Agñes (1923-1986) –above- , was the principal figure who founded the calypso Carnaval, celebrated to this day, and whose presence is still felt amongst the colorful ‘madamas’, one of the many groups of characters that make up each comparsa (sound system plus entourage). The madamas represent the respect and tradition of carnaval, dressed in elegant and colorful costumes during the parades.
Among the other characters are the red, black and white diablos (devils) who lead each comparsa adorned with masks and cracking whips to make space for the costume parades. These are followed by the Calypso group with the sound system, which is slowly pushed throught the streets. Behind follow the mass of revelers, dancing or playing various percussion instruments like the tambor or charrasca. Each comparsa winds a different route through the town.

There are also the ‘medio pintos’, young men who paint themselves black with a syrupy mixture of panela (unrefined sugar) and charcoal and run around town after midnight dancing for the tourists and demanding ‘medio o pinto’ (give me a coin or I’ll paint you). By four in the morning you can’t tell the difference between the revelers and the medio pintos, all blacked up and  gyrating, bottles of rum in hand, to the latest calypso rhythms.

Every night during the carnaval at around 4 am, those that are still awake meet up in one of the streets to wait for the ‘Agricultura’ comparsa. As it moves through the streets till dawn, the revelers dance holding up branches and large fronds to the sky to celebrate the sowing of the seeds.

At dawn the benches in Plaza Bolivar, pavements and tents in the football stadium are available for rest to those without lodging. Later on you can see the queues for the public showers and the restaurants serving the popular chicken soup, a sworn hangover cure, to recharge the batteries for the coming day and night of partying, bottle of rum still in hand.

The relation between the revelers and the sound systems at this carnaval make it more participatory than most in the continent. You only have to know how to play one of the instruments used in calypso to play along to the lead set by the groups, or if you simply want to enjoy the atmosphere of the comparsa you can do that too. Most important is to let the Calypso rhythm move your body and you’ll enjoy the four days of the most vibrant and joyful carnaval in Venezuela.
Tuesday is the last day and at exactly midnight the sound systems are shut down and the silence, after a week of rum and Calypso, says goodbye to the partygoers who disperse like ants amoung the streets of this mining town. Plaza Bolivar, the centre of the partying for four days, is still there waiting quietly for the coming festivities of next year.

José Miguel Zamora

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