Everybody waves for candy and shouts ‘Viva Pasto carajo!!!’ to the people dancing above the expressive and exaggerated faces and figures carved on every surface.
Pasto is the capital of the Nariño department and is considered the edge of the Andean world in Colombia. In Pasto and surrounding villages you can find a mix of Andean culture in the languages, dress, music and customs of the people. This is celebrated during El Carnaval de Los Blancos y Negros in the first week of January and has been taking place for around 100 years. We featured some of the music and atmosphere in Episode 31 of the podcast.
Our guides for the Carnaval are the Ledesma family, true Pastusos and generous hosts.
The final caroza trundles by and the fight that has been brewing behind us since the beginning breaks out into a frenzy. We all jump down from our viewing perches on stools, boards set on ladders, concrete barriers and chairs to either scurry away or join the battle.
January 6th is called the day of the whites and is the most important of the week. Along with the parade it features a raging street battle with white substances used as weapons.
The steep street that stretches up behind us is already coated in white, as though a building had been demolished. A quick look up and down the parade route shows the same. An apocalyptic scene of talcum powder and white foam flying in every direction. Groups attacking each other, seeking revenge and then allying to defeat the next gang of young Pastusos wearing hoods, ski goggles and kerchiefs across their faces. One man takes on our group of friends alone, he is mercilessly pummelled with handfuls of talc from our large paper sack. He pulls out a kind of enormous talcum powder bazooka and everyone flees. His victory is momentary, however, as they regroup and finally defeat him. He wipes the thick foam from his eyes and there are hand shakes all round.
It’s time for lunch and a reprieve from the hand to hand combat. We run for the family truck and jump in the back. We don’t have enough cans of foam, or carioca, to defend ourselves and at every intersection Señor Ledesma lingers, allowing passersby to spray us through the wooden slats. Once home, dusted down and sitting around the table we are safe and devouring our lunch. Karolina is joking with her sister and dad. Alba looks wistfully at her eldest daughter and tries not to think about that flight to London tomorrow. It is too hard and her eyes fill with tears. This time with her whole family together means everything to Alba and it is never easy to say good bye to Karolina and her son, Mateo, when they go back to their normal lives away from Pasto. She lives and fights for her kids but she knows they need to make their own choices and follow their hearts. Alba wishes it could always be like this. Her children around the table in the cosy kitchen, huge pans of food bubbling away on the stove and lots of laughs and teasing.
Back on the street the sounds of the drum and flutes surge, you can feel talcum powder in the back of your throat, crowds of poncho wearing people call Viva, the can of Poker beer is cold in your hand and the smell of chorizo and hot, salted potatoes makes your mouth water. These are some of the things a Pastuso misses in the first week of January when far away from home.