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Handsome dancers show off tropical flair at the Madeiran Carnival

Handsome dancers show off tropical flair at the Madeiran Carnival

I’m back to the British coldness after heating up with dancers at the Madeiran ‘Carnaval’. I’m still reeling from the colors and the perfumes of one of the best carnivals in Europe, held on the quasi-tropical island of Madeira.

Vibrant flowers, fragrant papayas, bananas and mangos from the tallest trees I have ever seen took me on a Caribbean trip in the Mediterranean. Madeira is a piece of Europe in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a gentle land with a friendly people.

The Carnival of Madeira (Carnaval in Portuguese) is a festival held forty days before Easter, that ends on Shrove Tuesday (called Fat Tuesday in Madeira – Terça-feira Gorda in Portuguese).

After the carnival, Roman Catholics traditionally abstained from the consumption of meat and poultry, hence the term ‘carnival,’ from carnelevare, which means ‘to remove meat.’

My carnival experience started with the ‘Transvesti Night’ on Friday. Hundreds of men and women dress up for a night of fun and drinks. The poncha is the most popular libation: Rum, honey and fruit juice (usually lemon or passion fruit juice are the best, but the English tomato one is worth a try as well). Ponchas run quickly in Funchal, the Madeiran capital, a gourgeous city between the mountains (the tallest one is more than 1,800 metres) and the ocean. I met the Gaymadeira staff, and while we had fun I won’t tell you how many ponchas I had.

Saturday is the day of the allegoric parade. The celebration is very similar to the world-renowned one in Rio de Janeiro. In the afternoon, I had the chance to attend the dress up at the Associação Animação Geringonça, one of the groups participating in the parade. A thrilling atmosphere with dozens of ponchas (again), the party was the perfect way not to feel alone on this remote island because the Geringonça is like a big family. The dress up is also the occasion to finish and fix the wonderful costumes, to try the dance steps and to plan the crazy night.

Then, the actual parade starts at 9pm. Thousands of people gather to the sea promenade, waiting for the parade to start. It was almost too much: Costumes, colors, very loud music, hundreds of tourists from the cruises, a live broadcasting by the local television channel, kiosks with fried malasadas and sonhos, delicious sweets of the Madeiran tradition. I had the chance, thanks to the Madeira Promotion Bureau to walk along the parade. These are the pictures I took. Well, just some of the two hundred I took that night.