Carnaval, a week-long celebration before the start of Lent, is celebrated throughout most of South America. Because Cruceñas (people from Santa Cruz) love to party, it seems like they look forward to Carnaval all year long. During the 4 days leading up to Lent, all work stops; patients miraculously become well and hospitals work only on an emergency basis; and restaurants close, and even street food vendors disappear. Kids armed with water guns, teenagers with spray paint, and adults with cervezas flood to the center of the city to start guerras and loiter with old friends.

Once they reach their teenage years, boys join comparsas, composed of close friends. This brotherhood is a life-long bond, as seen here (Hugo Añez with his Picaflores attire dating back to 1988). Comparsas frequently gather throughout the year, both to catch up over a churrasco and to plan for upcoming carnaval debaucheries. Women, meanwhile, don’t form comparsas but will join in the fun with their husband’s or significant other’s comparsa (oh machismo…).

The Carnaval queen is selected almost a year in advance and is quite the local celebrity. Her face can be seen just about anywhere: the TV, billboards, and the newspaper. She makes daily public appearances the month leading up to carnaval, always dressed in stunning costumes. She makes her biggest appearance on top of a float during the big Saturday parade. My hot mama was Carnaval queen in 1979 and was featured in the local newspaper last week.

Despite my family ties to Carnaval, Dan, Alejita, and I decided to head to the more tranquil city of Sucre, where we dodged water balloons, but at least we didn’t return with blue-green, filthy hair!