It was Tuesday, February 17 (Mardi Gras) when we landed at Iquitos, Peru. Reachable only by air or river, there are no roads connecting Iquitos to any other town or city! Our next stop was by boat.
Leaving Iquitos, our motor boat sailed 2 1/2 hours along the Amazon River and one of its tributaries to reach our lodge. The rainy season began a month ago, so the ground along the river bank is flooded. The thatched buildings are all raised on stilts, so the water flows underneath.
After lunch and a short rest, we, and the other two guests at the lodge, a pair of British backpackers went out with a guide to do some wildlife spotting in a boat. After an hour or so, we began to return to the lodge, but heard drumming coming from nearby. The guide detoured to the local village, El Chino, where there was great excitement.
A Carnaval tree had been set up in the center of the village. This consisted of a tall, thin tree trunk, with four curved branches made into two ovals at the top. From these ovals, brightly colored plastic dishes, cups, and containers were hung, along with cloth of every color, new dish towels, table clothes, and t-shirts tied to the tree. Beneath the tree, the ground had been saturated, to make a mud pit. The younger villagers, children, teenagers, and young adults were dancing around the tree, like a May pole, while the older ones watched.
As the drumming continued, the dancers circled the tree counterclockwise, holding hands in groups of 3 or 4. They went faster, and faster until people began to slip and fall in the mud. When the drumming stopped, the game was to pour or rub mud onto participants until they were covered. If a friend was spotted outside the circle, not joining the game, they were likely to be smeared in mud as well, with a great deal of laughing. When the drumming restarted, so did the dancing.
After watching a few minutes, we were invited to join. Dad and the backpackers ran right in, though Boy was a bit shy, and preferred to stand back and watch, so I kept him company and took the photos. Once completely covered in mud, Dad came over and gave us a big hug, sharing quite a bit of mud in the process.
We did not stay till darkness fell, leaving instead about sunset. Our guide explained this happens once a year to celebrate Carnaval, the party before the beginning of Lent. When it is too dark to continue, the Carnaval tree is cut down with a machete and the muddy participants scramble for the prizes, like a piñata.
It was like no other Carnaval party I have ever experienced.
Here is the village, two days later, after the mud has been cleaned up