By REGINA GARCIA CANO, Associated Press

COLONIA TOVAR, Venezuela (AP) — Under the visible threat of rain, dozens of children and adults dance to Alpine folk music as they move through the hilly streets of this small community nestled in a chain of mountains. Their predominantly bright red harlequin costumes contrast with the half-timbered buildings that line the roads and the cottages that dot the background. They enthusiastically wave to the crowd taking selfies and videos.

No salsa, cumbia or reggaeton at this parade. It might be Venezuela, but in this German enclave, annual carnival celebrations are steeped in tradition and offer locals and tourists – domestic and international – a very different take on Caribbean beach and island parties. alcohol typical of the days leading up to Ash Wednesday.

“It’s very iconic,” 14-year-old Shantal Sandoval said on Saturday before dressing up as a harlequin, which is considered “the joy of carnival.” This is the spirit of carnival.

Some harlequins wear masks with exaggerated facial features while many others carry a wooden staff with a dried pig’s bladder attached to it acting as a balloon. They hit the crowds playfully while dancing. Their costumes also incorporate blue and yellow, the other colors of the Venezuelan flag.

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Founded by German immigrants in the first half of the 19th century, Colonia Tovar is an agricultural community about 45 miles west of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Strawberries, peaches, garlic and other temperate crops grown here are sold nationwide. The same is true for deli meats, pastries and candies produced in various facilities.

The village is also a tourist attraction with charming hotels and restaurants and a beer festival. Its climate offers respite from the Caribbean heat.

Carnival celebrations last for a few days across the country, and people have days off from work and school. The party was suspended in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but returned this year with attendees asked to wear masks.

Originally from the Philippines, Brigette Javier, a college science teacher in northern Venezuela, traveled with a group to the community for the celebrations and to enjoy the cool weather. She saw YouTube videos of the area before her trip and was surprised by the distinct architecture.

“Most of my students said, ‘Oh, go to the beach.’ But most of the other people around were like, ‘Oh, everybody’s going to the beach,’ said Javier, 39. “So we had to go further, and Colonia Tovar is the best place… It’s so nice that you have a German community, and that’s in Venezuela. Who would think that?… The houses, all the designs, the facades, it’s so beautiful.

Aspiring Harlequins of Colonia Tovar must pass an interview, be residents of the region for several years, take care of their costumes and learn history and other facts that they can share with tourists, thus becoming ambassadors of the community during the celebrations. Their parade dances are followed by the much looser participation of several children and adults covered in foam and gorilla masks.

The origin of carnival festivities dates back to colonial times. Nowadays, dances, parades, bullfights, historical reenactments and many other activities are associated with the celebrations, which vary according to the regions of the South American country. Besides contemporary music, the songs played during the festivities also depend on the geographical location.

“It depends on the composition of the population, the historical processes of the regions,” said independent anthropologist Raquel Martens. “In the east, there is a larger population of Afro-descendants than there is in the Andean region… For example, here in Mérida, as it is closely linked to bullfighting, there is Spanish music. In the Callao (region), the music is Afro-descendant, from the West Indies.

The celebrations have stood the test of the country’s protracted economic, social and humanitarian crisis. They are smaller than before, and many participants use them as an excuse to forget their daily challenges. Others who many years ago could afford to travel outside of Venezuela now use vacations as holidays.

Mayte Paredes, 65, said Venezuelans are still trying to find ways to enjoy life. She lives in a community near the beach about two hours from Colonia Tovar and traveled to the enclave with friends and sisters.

“You travel close to home,” said Mayte Paredes, who works in a dentist’s office. “I want to see the difference between the (carnival) there and here. It’s quieter here. »

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