Cayman Islands Feature

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Caymans Captivating Carnival

Held annually during the first week of May (or the week after Easter), the four-day Batabano Cayman Carnival (www.caymancarnival.com) is the island's boisterous answer to Mardi Gras, not to mention Carnival in Rio and Trinidad. Though not as hedonistic, the pyrotechnic pageantry, electricity, and enthralled throngs are unrivaled (except for during Pirates Week). Events include a carnival ball, soca and calypso song competitions, massive Mas (masquerade) parade with ornate floats, street dance, and a beach fete. The festivities are enhanced by tasty concession stands offering Caymanian and other Caribbean cuisine and delicacies.

The word batabano refers to the tracks that turtles leave as they heave onto beaches to nest. Locating those tracks was reason to celebrate in the olden times, when turtling was a major part of the economy, so it seemed an appropriate tribute to the islands' heritage, alongside the traditional Caribbean celebration of the region's African roots. Indeed, many of the increasingly elaborate costumes are inspired by Cayman's majestic marine life and maritime history from parrots to pirates, though some offer provocative social commentary. Thousands of revelers line the streets each year cheering their favorite masqueraders and boogying to the Mas steel pan and soca bands. The organizers also hold a stand-alone street parade for Cayman's youth called Junior Carnival Batabano the weekend before the adult parade. Equally exciting, it stresses the importance of teaching students the art of costume making and Mas, ensuring Carnival won't become another dying Caymanian custom.

Updated: 12-2013

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