Carnival is Trinidad's equivalent to Mardi Gras except that people go to Mardi Gras to watch the parade and people go to Carnival to BE the parade! The days leading up to the traditional Lenten "fasting" have evolved into a serious country-wide street party that sees visitors and returning Trinis fill up the airport with hundreds of extra travelers. It has been an amazing experience watch all this unfold and to learn how it works.
The end of Christmas marked the beginning of Carnival preparations. The changes we've seen started on December 26th with the switch of radio music to SOCA -- a style that is an integral part of Carnival. The next big change was the start of carnival warm-up parties called Fetes which increase in frequency as the big celebration nears. People pay up to $400CAD for an all-inclusive Fete which may last 4-6 hours. Fetes happen at all hours and sometimes start at 4am! Other things that happened included: multiple Soca concerts, Soca Monarch competitions, Carnival Monarch competitions, Steel Band Competitions (that lead up to a massive championship that happens on the Saturday before Carnival), viewing areas and stages were built, concert areas were constructed and taken down, food / alcohol vendor huts were constructed... This whole thing is a major undertaking. It amazes me that it is pulled off with so effectively.
The Carnival parades start with J'ouvert which begins about 4 am on Monday morning. The only costume is seems to be a common t-shirt for the band. People mess themselves and others up with paint, mud and /or chocolate and dance around the city drinking profusely making a big mess as they go. J'ouvert is common for people who are new to Trinidad or who don't have the money, desire or time to "play in the Mas". The Monday Mas begins around 9am for some bands. Those that play J'ouvert usually go home for some sleep then catch up to their band. Monday is a warm-up day where players don't wear their full costume (lots of talk of women purchasing 'Monday sorts'). Tuesday is the full show. Everyone wears their costume and bands are sectioned off to parade their way to the judging and viewing areas around the city. The longest of 3 parade routes was 10.7 km.
We had lots of visitors during carnival so we went to a stage and found some seats so we could see the bands. What fun to watch.
Click this link to see a video that shows a few sections of just one of the bands:
There are lots more pictures in the Gallery.