Carnaval in Cadiz (Andalusia, Spain)

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We’re heading for Seville today because my grandmother arrives from Holland tonight. It’s only a couple of hours drive and Seville is Mum’s favourite city in Spain. So it’s tempting to just drive straight there. But Mum says “why don’t we just take a quick stop in Cadiz while we’re passing anyway”. And with that one sentence, we find ourselves experiencing what is reputed to be the second biggest Carnaval in the world after Rio.

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But we don’t learn that until we’ve been in the town for a little while. It’s still morning when we arrive and, other than a small busload of tourists near the cathedral, the town is quiet. We take our time exploring the waterfront, with its fortress walls. Cadiz was one of the first cities to be founded in Europe. The Phonesians established the city in 996, more than 1,000 years ago. It’s been an important port town since.

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The seagulls love it here too. These are big birds, not the little seagulls we have at home. In 2008 the city had to cull the population because it had grown to plague proportions. Over 10,000 eggs were destroyed. That’s a lot, but pales into comparison with the 45,000 nests that were not touched by the council.

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We walk to the fort that stands at the end of a long rock wall jutting out into the sea. When we read about the Battle of Trafalgar there was reference to the French changing formation so they could retreat to Cadiz. I imagine this fort would have been part of the defense mechanisms that they were hoping would protect their ships. It’s not difficult to imagine soldiers and sailors lined up on parade within the fort’s walls.

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Nor is it beyond my imagination to consider the countless times men looked through these windows out to sea to watch the Armada and other military vessels head in and out of port.

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There’s a sand sculptor creating his art near the end of the rock wall that leads back to the town.

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It’s still quiet in town … I still believe an orange tree is worthy of a photo. Mind you, orange trees are very Spain and they are all fruiting right now.

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We reach the market area where seafood is being sold from small tables. There’s small dried prawns, oysters and sea urchins.

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But this is not a market. It’s Carnaval. Stalls are being set up and people in costume are just starting to arrive. We take lunch and then it’s all on. Music and laughter fill the streets. Cadiz has a ten day Carnaval and, despite it being Monday, the atmosphere is fantastic. No one is working; they are all partying and dressed up in costumes. Floats start to move around the city. Not in a single parade but each float takes a different route; allowing more people to see the spectacle.

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The musicians on the float play some music then drink some booze. The floats move, sometimes with music and sometimes with drinking. Mum explains the festival because it’s similar to what she experienced as a child growing up in Holland. She tells me it brings back memories to happen to be here for Carnaval.

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Alcohol flows freely. Some more freely than others, like these free samples of beer that are being given out by the cup full.

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In other places it looks like random individuals have bought alcohol in bulk to sell on the street from shopping trolleys and ice boxes. They call out their offerings and probably make a mint.

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We get into the spirit and buy some brightly coloured wigs from one of the many African men who have laid down their wares on white sheets. It’s funny now because people are taking photos of us too; just as we are taking photos of others who are dressed up.

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And dressed up they all are. This is not a festival reserved for children. Men and women of all ages, from young adults to the elderly are all taking part. It’s quite amazing really that we happened to come to the only town in Spain where Carnaval would take place during our stay. It’s a wonderfully fun afternoon of festivities and colour.

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