Carnaval Celebrations Fill Streets of Limon

Ryan Felix and Mitzi Stark
The Tico Times

The rhythmic sounds of calypso and reggae music beckon to all ushering in the Carnaval in Limón, a port city on the Caribbean coast, which begins October 8th with the crowning of the Carnaval Queen.

The weeklong event, filled with vibrant colors, jubilant sounds and mouth-watering foods, promises to provide a taste of the Caribbean and something for all in attendance.

"Days are filled with singing and dancing in the streets, and not even the rain can stop the festivities," said Myrna Ortiz, a 66-year-old Tica who has attended past carnavales. "Days begin early at 5 a.m. when the simarrona play music and let people know a new day has started. The beaches and the food, everything is happiness."

A beacon to not only residents from across the country, Carnaval attracts tourists from all over the world in search of a lifetime experience. With a sea of people flooding the town, organizers have taken every measure to ensure happy memories.

"Security will be guaranteed with help from the Coast Guard providing a helicopter during the day of the Carnaval parade," said Jorse Rebello, executive director of the Carnaval Commission. "There will also be an increase in personnel at the events - a total of 430 (officers), who will be dressed in clearly marked uniforms."

Throughout the week, typical Limonese dishes, including rice and beans flavored with coconut and Caribbean spices and fired plantains, will be on sale and area artists will show their work.

October 10th is the Día de las Culturas, or Culture Day, highlighted by singing, dancing and calypso. The festival honors the Spanish, Indigenous, African, Italian and Chinese who live in the area.

Limón's famous carnival dress dates back to 1949 when Alfred Henry King returned home from Panama where he worked on the canal locks.

"Panama had carnival and so did other countries, but always close to Ash Wednesday. We chose to have it Oct. 12 to celebrate Columbus Day," King said.

Carnaval is a tribute to Columbus, an Italian working for the Spanish crown who came to Limón in September 1502, and to all the immigrants who came later from China, North America, Europe and especially Africa via the West Indies to work on the railroad and the banana plantations (TT, Oct. 10, 2003).

The first carnivals consisted of comparazas or groups dressed as skeletons and kings and queens who trotted down the streets to drum beats. They were called Sinkits, a corruption of the name St. Kitts, the island home of many residents. There were also carozas or floats to carry the king and queen and their court. Back then, it was mostly an area festival.

Today, Carnaval attracts bands, comparazas and crowds from all over, but King, at age 86, sits it out. He still cuts hair at his barbershop in the lower lever of the Black Star Line building in downtown Limón, once the warehouse and offices of Marcus Garvey's Black Star shipping line and now a restaurant bananas and an Afro-Caribbean cultural center.

Founded in the late 1800s as a port for exporting bananas and grains, Limón has steadily grown and a recent influx of tourism businesses - including cruise ship lines - has helped attract travelers from all over the world, adding to the diversity off the city.

Limón a cultural mecca, is home to about, 90,000 people most of Afro-Caribbean descent. Not the most scenic landscape in Costa Rica, Limón makes up for natural shortcomings with a colorful, artistic, eclectic mix of people and personalities.

If you are lucky enough to take a Costa Rica trip during this time of year, you can experience the weeklong event by using the main road to Limón from San Jose, Highway 32, or the Guapiles Highway, it is about a two-hour trip by bus or car.