La Feria Isidra
La Ceiba’s Annual Festival is Decadent and Depraved; and I Can’t Stay Away!

May 30th, 2012
by Robert Armstrong

La Ceib’as Carnaval blends commercialism with cultural traditions. Right: A model promoting a brand of cornmeal hams for the camera. Left: Two statuesque beauties ride a float promoting beer consumption.

Jumping on the ferry to photograph the Carnaval in La Ceiba was at the top of my “to-do” list when I bought the Voice in March. I always liked La Ceiba. Sure, it may have the highest crime rate in the known universe. But it has a sultry charm about it that screams “the tropics!” I had wandered its streets many times, gone places I shouldn’t at hours I should have been in bed, and nothing bad had happened to me, at least not of a life-threatening or financial-ruin-inducing nature. But I was in for an unusually weird adventure this time.

I got to La Ceiba Friday afternoon, in time to photograph the Roatan women’s volleyball team in action at UNITEC before heading to Barrio la Isla to catch the nighttime carnival there that precedes the main daytime parade. It was as hectic and crazy as I remembered, with stage acts and dancing in the streets and elbowing through torrents of humanity like salmon swimming upstream to spawn (one humanity spawned with my wallet). After getting my quota of pix, I decided to call it quits about 11 – ridiculously early by Carnaval standards.

Before going back to my friend Pepe’s house I stopped at a bar in the Zona Viva for a nightcap and review the photos I had just taken. No sooner did I sit down and pull out my camera than a very large and very drunk man started pounding the bar and shouting at me menacingly, thinking I had snapped his photo. He sent over a minion, also very large but not as drunk, to verify I had no images of his jefe, who by now I was pretty sure was a drug kingpin, on my memory card. It reminded me of the opening scene from the Godfather when Barzini sends a thug to snatch the film from the camera of the wedding photographer.

After Al Capone’s body man got a sneak preview of many of the photos in this issue and satisfied himself I hadn’t blown his boss’s cover, he let me be. The manager, embarrassed, said my drink was on the house. I downed it quickly and got out of there before offending any more crime bosses.

Glad to have got out with my skin, I grabbed a cab back to Pepe’s, only to find when I reached for my wallet to pay the fare that the wallet was gone. Fortunately, I had left most of my cash at Pepe’s before going out. Unfortunately, I had neglected to remove my debit card. By the time I called my bank Monday to report it missing, someone had spent more than $10,000 with it.

Undeterred, I got Pepe to drop me the next day at the nearest accessible point to the parade route for the Carnaval’s culminating event. I was in position at 1:30 for the 2 O’Clock start. I was in for a long wait.

v10-6La Ceiba Carnaval-Garifuna

I distinctly remembered the last time I had been to the Carnaval I had seen a representative sample of floats and still caught the afternoon ferry to Utila. This time things seemed a little slower getting started. For two and a half hours all that went by were a few hotrods and a lot of guys in Marlboro hats on horses, with long pauses between. People with balcony seats amused themselves tossing Mardi Gras beads to scrumming children below.

Now, I like horses as much as the next guy. Well, maybe not. Come to think of it, I don’t like horses very much. But even an equestrian connoisseur would be bored with this display. It wasn’t like they were doing tricks or anything. Some of them walked funny. But mostly they just walked by and pooped on the street – for two and a half hours! I was about to give up and leave.

By the time any interesting floats came by, and by “interesting” I of course mean floats with nearly naked women riding atop, it was nearly 5, the sun was getting low and the light was bad for photography (disclaimer). But the decadence didn’t disappoint. The commercialism was a bit over the top, with floats touting everything from beer to banks. But there was homage to cultural themes as well: the Maya, the Garifuna, the Moskitos, world peace, etc., and the odd foreign entrant.

I ducked out just after dark this time and headed for the ferry first thing Sunday to get back to Roatan, having acquired nearly 300 images but lost $50, a debit card and a Virginia drivers license that I hope some thief is using to drive a hotrod through Hell.

Hondurans say San Pedro works, Tegucigalpa spends and La Ceiba dances. La Ceiba danced a wicked tango with me on this trip. But I’ll be back – probably for next year’s Carnaval. I’ll just remember to leave the debit card in my room next time.

Carnaval La Ceiba 2012 photo gallery click here…

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