Perils of Polly: It’s Carnaval, with the accent on the last syllable

Carnaval celebration in San Antonio de Areca.

Editor’s note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote “Perils of Polly.” She also has written a series of “Peril” columns about Australia, Asia, and Central America. Her perils continue in Argentina and Chile.


We got to San Antonio de Areca, near Buenos Aires, by nightfall and camped in a crowded park spilling over with visitors here for Carnaval. 

Carnaval is the Catholic celebration of the beginning of Lent. The best known Carnaval celebration is in Rio de Janeiro of Brazil, but this little town would have to do for me.

First thing I learned is that it’s not just a carnival — it’s Carnaval, with the accent on the last syllable. The cartoon movie Rio had it right. It’s when anyone who wants to dresses up anyway they want to and dances in a parade. There are floats, drums, and music.

In San Antonio de Areca, the festivities started around 10 p.m.  My sister and I walked around, looking at the food, drinks, and crafts for sale. Also for sale were spray cans of foam. We saw parents buying multiple cans for their children. “They’d better not spray me,” my sister said in contempt. I chuckled to myself.  This was way out of my sister’s comfort zone. She doesn’t like crowds or loud music, and that’s what Carnaval is all about.  

Finally the parade started. I’d met an older couple sitting by us, and asked them lots of questions. They were patient with my Spanish, and we were actually able to carry on a conversation.  

The parade was mostly group after group of people sort of dancing to the same beat — ranging from little three- and four-year-olds to adults, males and female. They all had bright costumes. There were a few floats, jugglers, people on stilts, and lots and lots of kids spraying everyone with spray foam. Yes, my sister got sprayed. I don’t think anyone avoided it, but it appeared to just be water foam, and didn’t even leave a residue.

They circled the soccer field excruciatingly slowly. I wanted to see them all, but finally my sister had had enough. 

“I’m going to the car.”

She turned and left, and the couple looked at me and said, “No le gusta?” 

No, my sister didn’t like Carnaval. I waited until the parade slowed down to a speed even I couldn’t tolerate, because next on the agenda was a rock concert from midnight until 3 a.m. Right as the concert started, the couple I’d befriended decided to leave.  I listened for awhile until exhaustion set in, and then I headed back to the car.

My sister was happy in the car because the noise wasn’t quite so loud and there were no people. We headed back to the campground where we heard the drums continue to compete with each other and now the singers on the stage. It was quite a cacophony.

The next morning we headed to the tourist information office, passing the totally trashed soccer field on the way. Workers were already out there cleaning it up. They had quite a job on their hands. My goal at the tourist information office was to find an estancia somewhat near the airport, or at least close enough that we could get a transfer to it. The idea was that we could turn in the car today, and go horseback riding and stay at an estancia for our last night.

San Antonio de Areca had a tourist estancia, so I asked about it.  No, it wasn’t open. In fact, since it was the middle of the summer, the hottest season of the year, most of the estancias were closed. Horseback riding would only occur in the evening. I finally accepted the fact I was not going to get to stay in an estancia and go horseback riding.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the tiny roads of the countryside and strolling through weird cemeteries with mausoleums and caskets stacked like bunkbeds. We saw parakeets and scissorstails. Once again, we had trouble finding a place to eat when we were hungry, and had to wait until 8 at night for an open restaurant.

The next day we headed toward Andean Roads to turn in our Kangoo.  He took us to the airport where Argentina had its last word:  Although I’d taken my trekking poles in my carryon through numerous airports around the world, this security guy was on a power trip and absolutely would not let me have them. I guess he thought I might try to impale someone with these aluminum poles. He took the wrench we’d bought, too. After arguing for about five minutes, I finally threw them down in anger and walked off. He was smirking. He’d won. I hope he gets good use from them!  

It was dark when we took off, with the lights of Buenos Aires twinkling beneath us. Twenty six hours later, I was home and the trip to Argentina and Chile seemed like it was eons ago.