Iñauteriak in Tolosa

Is it Mexico? Is it Halloween? Nope, it's Mardi Gras season in the Basque Country.

And that means our annual venture on our friends' float in Tolosa, always filled with kalimotxo, rain and fun.

In fact, looking ahead at blogposts I have waiting to be published, it is looking like it is going to be a Tolosa month. So sit back, pour yourself a bowl of beans, and relax as I take you on a tour of one of my favorite villages in the world, Tolosa, Goierri, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country, Spain.

Starting with the timely, or the Carnival/Mardi Gras celebration that for some reason has an outsized tradition in this town in the interior, about thirty minutes from San Sebastián.  I don't know how I ended up in the New Orleans of Basque Country, celebrating the same holiday that used to see nine-year-old Marti perched on wooden ladders, waving for beads on the banks of a canal.  

Well, actually, I do....whatever version of fate you subscribe to had me meet a Tolosarra on vacation here who turned out to become a great, lasting friend, inviting us on his cuadrilla's float four years ago. We've been smurfs, we've been legos, and this year we were mariachis.

The town of Tolosa explodes with activity the weekend before Mardi Gras, and each day has a different vibe. Sunday is the Day of the Friends, where groups of lifelong friends mount their floats and parade through the city. Monday is the Day of the Bands, where makeshift musicians march around. And Tuesday is the big day, more popular with the general public, where the friends hit the street again with their floats.  

What makes Tolosa Mardi Gras special? One thing that I find especially ingratiating is the total lack of sexy.  Halloween in the States has been sexi-fied and commercialized beyond recognition....you buy costumes and you often buy them with exaggeratedly short hemlines.  In Tolosa, however, the population takes pride in crafting their own costumes, placing the emphasis on wit instead of seduction. Take this group of friends, dressed as the famed market of Tolosa.

This year, we went South of the Border, wei, because what is funnier than dressing up, talking and dancing like people who are like you but with funnier accents and facial hair?

A day in the life of Carnaval in Tolosa looks like this: 

  1. wake up to rain
  2. drink a colacao
  3. at 9 or 10am (if you skipped out on the diana, or official opening ceremony where pajamas are de rigueur) get on the float and pour yourself a beer
  4. parade through the streets, dancing, drinking, talking, waving, and just being until around 3pm...lunchtime!
  5. back on the float for 7pm...that's right, a 4-hour lunch....and do it all again, but by nightfall!

So long, my mariachi friends. Until next year, Carnaval.