“The van will be picking us up at 4:00am and the party is supposed to last all morning. You guys should come!”
It was dusk on a Sunday evening at Roger’s beach bar, the nearby watering hole for cruisers. We ran into our pal Brian on SV Tarka and his friends Mike and Meagan on SV Tanagra. It was Carnival season and they were discussing their plans to head into St. George’s in the wee hours of the morning to experience J’Ouvert (pronounced joo-vay), one of the many celebrations taking place.
“Crazy”, “messy”, “loud”, “dirty”, and “wild” were common terms we heard being thrown around when others would refer to J’Ouvert, commonly known as Dirty Mas (‘mas’ is short for masquerade). We had heard mixed reviews from many people. Some highly recommended it, others said they’d never do it again and then there were other cruisers who were more concerned about the safety of their boats.
While the cats away…
During Carnival celebrations on the island, it can be quite common for theft to occur. While cruisers are in town, it can be seen as an open invitation for theft. Visiting islanders take advantage of the many unoccupied boats nearby and break in or steal items out of the cockpit.
Being newbies to everything in Grenada, we were worried that we might fall prey to getting our boat boarded. We didn’t want to put ourselves in bad situation just because we wanted to have a little fun. You can see our dilemma, right?
In preparation, the cruising community had a meeting with the local Coast Guard to develop a safety plan for boats at anchor. It was agreed that everyone would keep their eyes peeled for suspicious activity (especially in the evening) and watch neighboring boats.
Ahh, what the hell!
After hearing Tarka and Tanagra’s plans, we got excited. This was the first group of cruisers our age that we had found since the Bahamas and they invited us to join in this crazy celebration with them. Dave and I looked at each other and said, “What he hell? Let’s do it.”
The next morning at 3:30am, we peeled ourselves out of bed and slowly made our way through the dark to Clark’s Court Marina, just around the corner from our anchorage next to Hog Island.
Brian from SV Tarka was at the dock to greet us and soon we were piling into a van. Mike, Meagan and their friend Michelle from SV Tanagra and their friends Erika and Roy were waiting for us. After a fast and bumpy van ride, we arrived at St. George’s around 4:30am. It was still dark and there were swarms of people everywhere. I scratched my chin wondering why most of the women had their hair wrapped in a shower cap. They apparently knew something I didn’t.
J’Ouvert and Jab Jab
Food and drink stalls were open and party goers had been up since the day before dancing and drinking in the streets. Everyone from our group started grabbing beers or rum. “How are people drinking right now?” I thought. “It’s too early!” I hollered at Dave.
Ten minutes later I had a beer in my hand.
As I drank my beer, I noticed a strange smell hanging in the sticky, warm air. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was synthetic and plasticy. It reminded me of an auto body shop. Suddenly, I realized what it was – motor oil.
I caught a glimpse of black figures walking down the street in a pack. Men and women covered in motor oil, wearing viking helmets with horns and dragging long lines of chain behind them. These ‘characters’ of J’Ouvert are known as Jab Jab.
As they passed by, one of them grabbed my hand and smothered it in oil. “Uhhhhh, what do I do about this?” I asked Dave. Looking around, I noticed that nearly everyone except for us was filthy and black with grease. Asking for a paper towel to clean myself was out of the question, so instead, I grabbed Dave by the arm and shared the slick, goopy black stuff with him.
All the colors
As the sun rose we saw more and more people gather in the streets. Soon, there were trucks hauling flatbeds piled high with speakers lining up behind one another. Soca music was blasting farther down the road and the crowd was getting thick.
As we passed more people, we were starting to get covered in paint and oil. Strangers covered in bright colors were holding cups of paint for people to dip their fingers in and spread over their bodies. Random people would be dancing by and smush their oily hands on the closest piece of our clean, untouched skin.
I felt like a fish out of water. I had never seen anything like this and wasn’t quite sure how to act. To be honest, I was a bit repulsed so I kept my arms close to my sides, sneakily trying to slink through the crowd of slimy dancers, thick and hot with the smell of motor oil.
After a few minutes of this, I looked around and noticed how genuinely happy everyone was. “Why am I being so uptight?” I thought. Everyone else was enjoying themselves so I should too! I was probably only going to do this once in my life so I decided I should get the full experience. After the initial shock wore off and I drank a couple of beers, I became relaxed and ready to be smothered in paint and join the party.
Drunk, dirty, happy people
You can probably imagine that navigating through such a calamity was pretty difficult. At one point our group got separated because there were just so many people smashed together in the street that it was impossible to stay close to one another. As I waited for the group to reassemble, I just stood back and watched the chaos unfold around me.
I had never seen so many dirty, drunk, happy people.
A popular Carnival song would play and the crowd would go crazy- singing loudly and dancing wildly. Everywhere you looked people were grinding and gyrating on each other. Nothing was seen as unfit to dance on. Coolers, chairs, even the truck beds slowly making their way through the crowds were covered in thrusting hips. Meanwhile, everyone else is smearing paint and oil over each other. It’s pretty freakin’ epic.
These are some of the most popular Carnival songs this year. Well, at least the ones that I can remember. If you’ve never heard SoCa music, you should click on a song and take a listen 🙂
D Venom Jab (my personal favorite)
The next day, we headed back down to St. George’s to see the side of Carnival that I was most interested in-Pretty Mas. I was looking forward to a more traditional celebration and especially hoped to see the lavish costumes of Carnival that were it’s trademark.
Aside from the music and gorgeous costumes, one of the coolest things I remember about Pretty Mas was that everyone participated. Men, women, children and even older folks of all shapes and sizes were on display in their costumes, proud as could be.
Unfortunately, Dave’s camera only cooperated for about 10 minutes during the entire parade so I only got a few snapshots. With permission, I borrowed some photos from our friend, Shelley, on SV Planet Waves.