There are a number of different activities that take place leading up to the big parade on Monday and Tuesday, including a beauty pageant, a steel drum competition, and other popular entertainment events. I was fortunate that my host family wanted to attend the parade, so I got to experience one of the biggest parts of carnival yesterday (they actually conduct the same parade on both days).
There is a major four-lane road between Choc and the capital of Castries. Parade participants line up at Choc and then dance their way a few miles into the capital (using one side of this divided highway). Large trucks with their own generators and huge speaker systems provide plenty of music (some with live bands, but most seemed to be deejays using recorded music plus their own commentary). Also included are support trucks providing food and drinks for the revelers.
Besides the booming music, the parade is a cavalcade of bright colors. Elaborate costumes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. There are lots of feathers, ribbons, spray-on glitter, and sparkly things. This isn't just for the most beautiful women—there were lots of people of all ages and body types. It is more about taking part than it is about some sort of beauty pageant. Synchronized dancing is not even important along the way—just that you are out there doing something. Participating in the parade (also known as “jumping”) is a long tradition here.
Different groups organize their own music truck and food/drink support, generally with the help of sponsoring businesses. If you want to participate, you pay a fee to join that group. The fee covers your group costume and some souvenirs, as well as the food and drinks you consume along the way on both days. From what I understand, the participation fee can run as high as a $1000 (in U.S. dollars, this would be between $300 and $400 dollars).
We watched from a grassy knoll that was close to the shopping center where the Peace Corps office is located, which is nearer to the starting point than to the finish in the city of Castries. Although those of us who are currently in Pre-Service Training were not allowed to participate in the parade, I did see a couple of Peace Corps Volunteers I know from last year's class who decided to "jump" in this year's parade.
I'm glad I got to experience Carnival, and I enjoyed the rainbow of colors as well as the local music. However, my lack of dancing skills and my overall sense of thriftiness (okay, go ahead and call me cheap) will likely keep me on the sidelines during the years I am down here. I'll let the younger Peace Corps folks work on integrating into this island tradition. I'm fine just watching the show go by (especially when I can sit there watching the parade and still see the breeze blowing in the palm trees and the blue Caribbean in the distance).