Break-Dancing and the Noche de Aguizotes

Trip Start Oct 22, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

    I spent the weekend in Masaya, the self proclaimed ¨cultural capital¨ of Nicaragua and I was lucky to catch two festivals: La Noche de Aguizotes, a Halloweenesque night parade, and El Toro Venado a day parade celebrating a mix of Indigenous and Spanish traditions.  The whole weekend was an eye-opening experience and a good introduction to Nicaraguan identity. 
    Masaya is located in the heart of Nicaragua, between Managua and Granada and receives relatively few tourists. The gringos that do come tend to come for the sprawling artisan market, supposedly the best place to buy all things Nica. I stopped by the market briefly and met up with some Danish travelers back at the hostel.  We had some dinner and set ourselves to finding the best place to watch the parade.  We asked an old couple sitting on their porch where the best viewing spot was.  They offered some advice and then invited us to have a drink on their patio.  The old man brought out a two-liter of coca-cola and gingerly poured us all glasses.  They were so friendly and nice that it was hard to pull ourselves away.  Eventually we told them we had to go watch the parade. 
    We saw some locals congregating around a street corner and we did the same.  We sat down on an empty doorstep and waited.  Within ten minutes we could hear the parade coming.  The sound of drums and cymbals and shouting resonated through the streets and the intersection became clogged with on-lookers. 
    When the parade arrived it was much less organized than I had expected.  It was mostly groups of 15 to 30 year old people dressed in homemade costumes attempting to terrorize the neighborhood.  Some people had their faces painted as skeletons or evil clowns.  They tried to scare the spectators in a variety of ways.  Some had kerosene lamps and aerosol cans and would spray the cans into the flames causing bright bursts of fire.  Others had chains and would thwap them against metal garbage cans and street signs to make a startling sound.  They seemed to particularly enjoy trying to scare the group of gringos and one kid stuck a large live toad in the Danish guy´s face and hissed something in Spanish that I couldn´t understand.
    It seemed to be a competition of who could have the scariest (or most grotesque) costume. One guy was dressed as a grinning ghost and had a sign that said ¨I am the masturbator of your dreams.¨ Others were dressed as ¨death¨ with black robes and large scythes with naked baby dolls impaled on the tip, splattered in blood.  Others had dead babies strung up on crosses.
    After the parade passed there were still many people in the streets and we walked to the central park to see if anything else was going on.  In the park there was a large fountain with a circular cement platform in the middle about 20 feet wide.  There was a group of break-dancers performing on the platform.  We walked to the edge of the circle to watch and I told the Danes (Soren and Christine) that I used to break-dance (very badly) when I was younger.  At my best I was nowhere near as good as these kids.  Some were quite athletic and were doing what looks like a pommel horse from gymnastics but with their bare hands on the ground.  The whole thing was pretty informal, just some friends hanging out and dancing.  I was tempted to jump in for a second but I didn´t want to make a fool of myself. 
    Eventually Soren and Christine convinced me to get in there and dance.  I went to the center of the circle and gave it may best shot.  Even though I was horrible everyone seemed to get a kick out of it and applauded after wards.  I think there were just impressed that a lanky foreigner gave it a try. 
    We were hanging around watching for a while when a group of people (apparently left over from the parade) joined the party.  They were dressed as mad-doctors covered in blood and were wheeling around a stretcher with a guy dressed as a pregnant woman on top.  They rolled up to the group of people and ¨gave birth¨ to a bloody fetus by pulling a doll from underneath his shirt.  It was quite graphic.  The whole night was rather intense and a bit hard to digest.  I felt like I had seen enough dead babies to last me a life time.  It wasn´t until the day-parade on Sunday that I felt like I had a better understanding of what the weekend´s festivities were all about.
    The next day (Saturday) was a temporary lull in the festivals until Sunday´s day-parade.  I decided to walked around and get a feel for the city at a more tranquil pace.  Eventually I walked by the central park and saw the break-dancers from last night practicing again.  They recognized me right away and called me over to the group.  We talked for a while about break-dancing and music.  One of the break dancers, Mauricio, invited me to have some drinks with them.  We had a few beers and I got Mauricio´s number before heading home.  He promised to show me around the parade the next morning.
    We met up around 10:00 am and followed the parade as it snaked through the city.  It was much more organized than the Friday night parade.  People were arranged in groups representing the traditional occupations of the old indigenous city.  There were potters, farmers, artisans, hunters and others.  I saw a few more dead babies and an even more grotesque spectacle:  one of the ¨hunters¨ had a real dead puppy hanging from a string on a stick.  Mauricio said the puppy probably died of natural causes but I wasn´t so sure. 
     The traditional point of the parade is for Nicaraguans to make fun of themselves.  There were signs about the president´s wife (who apparently makes all the decisions) and even about Hurricane Felix, which recently killed many people on the coast and decimated crops, causing the price of beans to skyrocket. 
    One man was dressed up in an almost full body cast, limping along on crutches.  His sign said ¨I am Nicaragua: fucked up and broken¨, perhaps a reference to the still visible damage of the 2000 earthquake in Masaya.  The point is to make fun of themselves and they were making fun of how dilapidated their country is.  I suppose its one of those things you have to laugh about, otherwise you just sit around feeling sorry for yourself.  It was then I realized that the weekend´s festivities reflected less a competition in the grotesque or an obsession with dead babies, and more a people trying to have fun and do the best with what they have.  I had to give them credit for putting on such a creepy day-of-the-dead type party with such few resources. As the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, there is likely little money for costumes and most consisted of face paint, chains, or old clothes and toys such as baby dolls.  I thought about the old couple offering us free coca-cola, or the break-dancers willing to let a foreigner into their circle.  I felt like I maybe I was beginning to scratch to surface here in Nicaragua.  
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