February 18th was carnaval in Estero, but like every holiday, or “feriado”, just one day of festivities was nowhere near enough. And so only after four days did the party (and the constant water fights) begin to slow down.
Each time a feriado is coming up, members of the community approach Shelby and me in hopes that we will help plan and organize the festivities. Both of us were a bit apprehensive about helping for the fiesta del pueblo (community festival) in September for two main reasons. First, as with any initiative, we did not want to end up doing all of the work. Since one main goal of our being here is to motivate people to be more proactive in directing the course of development in Estero, setting a precedent of community reliance on volunteers would defeat the purpose of having volunteers here in the first place. And second, having come to Estero to improve quality of life and address issues related to education, health, and social organization, planning festivals in which people would spend what savings they had accumulated on getting drunk seemed at best a poor use of time and at worst counterproductive.
But five months later I see things somewhat differently. For one, Shelby and I are now much more able to identify when it is appropriate to help in a supportive way and when it is best to take a more hands-off approach. And while festivals do nothing to improve people’s lives in the long term, I have realized it is naïve to think that people would spend all of their time and money working toward long-term goals (see previous post “Estoy chirro”); like the rest of us, the people of Estero want to have some fun. And at the very least, fiestas bring the community together.
So this time around Shelby and I each did a fair amount of work in preparation for carnaval. Shelby contributed directly to the work of the carnaval committee, by writing a request to the mayor of nearby Muisne to help rent a speaker system, organizing meetings, and posting signs everywhere to notify the community about the various events leading up to carnaval. I contributed less directly, working with a number of my friends to build some much-needed benches along the malecón (boardwalk in front of the beach) just in time for the weekend and organizing a soccer tournament for Saturday.
Overall, carnaval was a great success. The weather was perfect three out of four days and the influx of tourists provided the restaurant and hotel owners of Estero with lots of business. If there was any doubt before the weekend as to Estero’s emergence as a tourist destination, it was surely eliminated by the many hundreds, if not thousands, of people that descended on the town over the four day period. According to officials from nearby Musine, who stopped by on Sunday to theoretically ensure that everything was going smoothly (all I saw them do was devour countless bowls of ceviche), there were over 300 cars parked along Estero’s streets around midday Sunday, and there seemed to be even more on Monday. And this number does not count the many hundreds who arrived by public or private bus.
As wonderful as the weekend was for Estero’s small businesses, it did show how ill-prepared Estero is for the dramatic changes that are headed its way. Estero’s handful of comedors simply could not handle the volume of people, and the two hotels were forced to turn many people away. Maybe more urgent is Estero’s lack of any law enforcement or health and safety presence. While there were no reported incidents requiring the attention of police, my friend Luis and I encountered a middle-aged man and his son feeling that they were drowning fairly far out in the ocean. After we had helped them ashore I looked around and saw hundreds of people swimming in Estero’s strong swells without any lifeguard in sight. Supposedly four were sent from Muisne, but it seems, unsurprisingly, that they never arrived.
After four long days, Carnaval has ended and, more importantly, I have finally dried off. This feriado provided countless memorable moments, but also another reminder that Estero is changing very fast.