How The Maltese Carnival Evolved Over 500 Years

When you think of the word “Carnival” you probably have an image of people dressed in lavish costumes parading the street, or merrymakers on giant colorful floats. But did you know carnival actually means “free to eat meat?”

The term refers to the dietary freedom one had before entering the season of Lent. Christians observe fasts, sacrifice meat and do more charity during the 40 days until Easter.

On the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, Carnival celebrations started in the late 15th century. They began celebrations soon after Christmas, because the government subsidized the price of meat for festivities.

Scenic view of Malta

During the sixteen century (1519-62), the Knights of Saint John arrived in Malta, bringing with them a more sophisticated approach to carnival. Different kinds of cheese, lasagne, veal, wine and macaroni were added to the Carnival buffets.

The Italian Knights also introduced new customs of wearing masks. They would disguise their lovers and mistresses in men’s costumes and masks, so they could party with the women.

Maltese kids dressed as Knights

The Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John was not too happy with the way Carnival was celebrated, and prohibited wearing masks and cross dressing. Instead he introduced military tournaments, which he considered to be “more Knightly.”

Often times, there were multiple Carnivals held during the year. These were not associated with Lent, but more of a feast before going to war.

Saint John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta

Carnivals were also cancelled by the church if there was a robbery or a death. The church had their special inquisitors at the parties who would report the knights’ boisterous behaviors.

From the mid-18th century, Carnival began to look like as we know of it today. There were balls that lasted through the night. No one was allowed to leave until the break of dawn for security concerns.

The Italian Knights introduces Il kukkanja (the cockaigne), where men would climb a greasy pole to win rewards. This was quite a public spectacle but people lost their lives, so it was stopped. In the recent years it’s been reintroduced with many safety related controls such as nets and padding to prevent accidents.

During this period, Carnival floats were introduced and the first documented evidence shows a float with a scene in a hospital. 

The entire city of Valletta is a UNESCO Heritage Site

Until 30 years ago, children were not allowed to participate in the Carnival.

Now, all generations participate and the Carnival is a significant part of Maltese culture. It is not only a period to celebrate with food, dance, music, but also to express one’s political views. There are dance competition, parades of floats, war reenactments and comedy plays.

Kids in the streets of Valletta

Family and friends roam the streets of Valletta and Gozo, dressed in costumes (think of Halloween), munching on typical carnival sweets such as perlini (sugar coasted almonds) and prinjolata (carnival cake). Almost everyone participates in some form – dancing in groups, choreographing routines, sewing costumes, parading, creating Papier-mâché floats, operating machinery, selling candy and more!

Dance competition at St George’s square

The Maltese Carnival is a lively family-friendly affair that you need to check out at least once.

7 Places In Bali Can Make You A Better Person

Many travelers claim that the spirit of Bali has the power to seep into your unconscious mind and radically change your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. If you are capable of finding a sense of awe in watching colored puffs of incense rise from small flower offerings and centuries-old Balinese temples scattered throughout stunning natural settings, then no other place on this planet is more ideal for you than Bali. There is a good chance that if you visit these places in Bali, you may go back home as a better person.

The Holy Waters of Gunung Kawi Sebatu – Ubud

This temple is unique and infrequently visited. Lush and scenic, it is perched upon a forested hillside drawing water from holy mountain spring-fed water sources. It was embellished with statues, ornamental fish ponds, water shrines, and bathing spots around the temple complex. You can think of the Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple as one of the finest tranquil and soothing retreats that stands far away from the busy streets and the bustle of Ubud. From here, go to the Pura Dalem Pingit, which is revered as a purification spot among the Balinese Hindus.

Pyramids in Sea – Semeti Beach

The test of this place is that to reach the vantage point for a phenomenal view, you will have to cross an extremely rough and rocky path on Semeti Beach. The stones on this beach share an uncanny resemblance with the crystal box in planet Krypton. But after you reach there, you will be able to see pyramid-like rocks rooted in the sea and crossing these towards your vantage point will call on a lot of your conviction and perseverance.

Bali Spirit Festival – Ubud

This is an annual event taking place in March. Yoga practitioners and instructors from Bali and all around the world, artists, dancers and musicians performing colorful concerts gather for this event. Participate in yoga workshops, Dharma Fairs that have health bazaars and organic food stalls. The stage acts as the center of attraction and many world musicians keep up the vibe of the celebrations throughout the day.

An Almost Private Island – Gili 

Some of the Gili Islands are so isolated that they will feel like your own private island! So, if you’re looking for a place to self-exploration and retrospect whilst island-hopping in Lombok, then the white sandy shores of the Gilis are made for you. Here, you can sunbathe, swim,  snorkel or even explore the marine life around the breathtaking coral reefs.

Magic Tree in Trunyan Village – Kintamani

This is an ancient and remote village on a Balinese lakeside which is known for odd burial rites and a magic tree. The magic tree, locally known as Taru Menyan, grows in this village’s open-burial cemetery and releases a strongly fragrant resin which interestingly neutralizes the odors coming from the decomposing dead bodies. The silence of this remote area coupled with the chilling sight of graveyard skulls and bones will most likely unnerve you, but your close encounter with the ancient and upheld traditions of this place will teach you to be accepting.

Battles of Tenganan Pegringsingan – Candidasa

The old Balinese village is only a 15-minutes north of Jalan Raya Candidasa road. The age-old tradition of the Perang Pandan ‘battles’ is a highlight event of this place and is unique to only this village. This ritual is actually dedicated to the Hindu Mythology god of war and sky, Indra. The battles entail friendly duels between male villagers who are each armed with a rattan shield and a tied packet of the thorny pandan leaves. This ritual highlights their sportsman’s spirit and comradeship.

The Twin and Spiritual Gitgit Waterfalls – North Bali

Gitgit is Bali’s most popular waterfall that is both a beautiful natural attraction and an important spiritual destination for visitors. You will be able to reach its base after a few minutes trek by foot, after which you can enjoy the tall twin spouts that constantly crash into a rocky pool. For spiritual travelers, another bonus waterfall awaits near Gitgit that can be reached via forested pathways adorned with cacao trees, called the Jembong waterfall, which is considered to be a place for spiritual purifications and healing.

There are a lot of unexplored and unconventional places in Bali that have a completely different energy than the regular tourist places. So, coming here and exploring something that may not be on your regular itinerary can make you see things, think of them and feel their significance like you have never done before.

~ By guest blogger, Palak Narula. Palak is a full-time travel writer who visited Bali in 2017. She lives for good conversations, holistic experiences and the beauty of words. Follow her on Instagram @Wordbeatle

To book a personalized sustainable individual or group trip to Bali with a focus on spirituality, yoga or volunteering, contact us.

The Biggest Party in The World – Photos From Rio Carnival 2017

The Carnival in Rio De Janeiro is bigger than all of the carnivals around the world put together! I couldn’t fathom the scale of this statement until I experienced it for myself this February. While Carnival parties take place for 3 weeks across neighborhoods in Brazil, the grandest event is held at Rio Sambadrome on Carnival Sunday and Monday.

Never Ending Parade

The stadium is bustling with 75,000 spectators spread out over a little less than half-a mile. The parade begins at 10pm and ends at 6am. 6 samba-schools parade each night with a total of about twenty-four thousand participants. Each samba school has 45 minutes to make it across the stadium with their floats and dancers. Each samba school has to parade with a minimum of 2,000 members and a maximum of 4,500 merry makers.

Elaborate Floats

Every samba school has at least 10 floats that tell a story and are elaborately decorated with lights, motion and dancers. Some of them are as high as 3 stories! The floats I saw had ice cream, super heroes, toys, farmer, turtle, and music themes.

Outrageous Costumes

The Brazilian women who dance samba in front of the floats are some of the most talented dancers in the country. Their scantily designed costumes are embodies with lots of feathers, as they shake their bodies to the rhythm across the stadium in high heels. Samba girls have to be in excellent shape. They diet, exercise and practice for at least two months leading up to the event.

Tickets and Logistics

There are five types of tickets available for the Samba Parade in Rio: Boxes, Dress Circle, Grandstands Seats, Back Stall Seats, and Specially Handicapped. Children under 5 do not require tickets. Tickets can be purchased in Sectors 1-11, sector 5 and 9 being the most central ones.

Sambodromo Grandstand ticket prices start are $115-400 USD. This area has uncovered stadium style seating, but offers panoramic views of the entire parade. Sambadrome Special Boxes carnival tickets costs at an average range of $600 – 2,200 which includes food, drinks and company of celebrity guests. Carnival tickets go on sale in December and the earlier you buy, the cheaper they will be.

I went to see the Access Group performance on Friday night which consisted of 7 of the best samba schools as part of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival Gold Group. The performances are pretty close to those in the Special Group that perform in the Grand Parade on Monday, and the winners are chosen to participate in next year’s Special Group. Tickets for the Access events are much cheaper. I bought my ticket in Section 5 Grandstand for $20 online. Note: tickets at travel agencies are generally much more expensive.

It is advisable to take a nap on the day of the event so you can stay up all night. The facility sells snack foods and beer, but I saw many people bring coolers full of snacks and to-go cocktail jars. It is ok to take photos and videos. Unlike other crowded places in Rio, it is actually quite safe at the Sambadrome so you can bring your expensive camera. Carry some cash for snacks and taxi back. Many roads are blocked during carnival so transportation can take longer and be a bit more expensive.

~ Photos by Amanda Villa-Lobos, a native of Rio de Janeiro and official Go Eat Give photographer.

Why Mongolia’s Naadam Festival Should be on Your Bucket List

When I first read about the Naadam Festival in Mongolia a few years ago, I was fascinated by it, and added it to my bucket list. The annual sporting event takes place on July 11-13 and can be termed the ancient Olympics of Asia. The festival is registered with the Intangible Heritage Fund of UNESCO. It measures courage, strength, daring, horsemanship and marksmanship of the nomadic people and warriors.

THE SCENE

Though the games take place over only three days, the entire country is on holiday for almost a week. Festivities start with a parade of uniformed guards, attended by the president and VIP’s at the Genghis Khan square. The same afternoon, there is a traditional costume parade and musical concert.

Fair Food at the Festival/ photo by Amanda Villa Lobos
Fair Food at the Festival/ photo by Amanda Villa Lobos

On day one, nine horse tails, representing the nine tribes of the Mongols, are transported from Sukhbaatar Square to the Stadium to open the Naadam festivities. At these opening and closing ceremonies, there are impressive parades of mounted cavalry, athletes and monks. Kids perform drills and thousands of people gather to watch.

Opening Ceremony at the Stadium in UB/ photo by Amanda Villa Lobos
Opening Ceremony at the Stadium in UB/ photo by Amanda Villa Lobos

Outside at the stadium it looks like a fair. There are shops selling trinkets and food stalls as far as you can see. Mares milk, horse meat, candy floss, meat kebabs…and most importantly, the traditional Naadam treat, Khuushuur, are enjoyed by fans.

THE SPORTS

Mongolia has three national sports that come from the warrior history of Mongolia, known as Danshig games. At the Naadam festival, you can also see men gathered in a tent playing ankle bone shooting. Crowds cheer on as players carefully strategize with their fingers and shoot shagai or sheep anklebones into a wooden cupboard that acts like a target.

WRESTLING
The first noticeable thing about the wrestlers are their costumes – bright red and blue underwear and a top that looks like a reverse bra with sleeves. It is believed this is designed such that women cannot disguise themselves and participate (it actually happened once which led to the design of the current uniform).

Wrestling match / photo by Amanda Villa Lobos
Wrestling match / photo by Amanda Villa Lobos

When the wrestlers enter the field, they do an eagle dance, flapping their arms like an eagle, then they crouch down and slap their thighs on the front and back. It’s to show their strength and power. The goal of this sport is to get your opponent to touch the ground with any part of his body between the knees and the shoulders. There are no rules – you can even tug on his underwear!  The winner of a match also does a victory eagle dance at the end of the match, which lasts 9-10 rounds.
HORCERACING
Children in Mongolia start riding horses as young as 4 years old and the competitors in the Naadam horserace are only 6-12 years of age. They have to ride 10-30 kilometers (depending on the age of the horses) in the countryside. As many as 1000 horses compete in the competition all over the country. The kids ride solo, on dirt fields, at high speeds. It is a true test of skill and endurance starting at a young age!

Twins Races/ / photo by Amanda Villa Lobos
Twins Races/ photo by Amanda Villa Lobos

There is also a fun matching competition, where identical horses and riders go in sync. The crowds decide the best in class by clapping and cheering. The winners receive a medal, money, and sometimes dinner (live goat).
ARCHERY
Contestants use compound bows made with sinew, wood, horn and bamboo, and strung with bull tendon. Men shoot 40 arrows made from willow branches and griffin vulture feathers from a distance of 75 meters, and women deliver 20 arrows from 60 meters at a target.

Archery Competition/ / photo by Amanda Villa Lobos
Archery Competition/ / photo by Sucheta Rawal

In accordance with ancient custom, several men stand on either side of the target singing a folk song to cheer the contestants and then use hand signals to indicate the results.
WHERE TO WATCH 
It is not easy to watch the entire festival as it is spread around different venues. Tickets to the main event at the stadium in Ulaanbaatar sell out months in advance. Here you can watch the opening and closing ceremonies, parades and wrestling. It can get hot and crowded while sitting out in the sun all day.
Archery competition takes place at a separate venue located near the stadium, but for horse racing you need to go to the countryside (1-2 hours drive). Families gather at the start and end points of the race, making a day long picnic out of it. Here they eat, drink, shop, play, fly kites, and watch the race on a big screen in the lawn.
Another option to watch all the events at the same venue is by going to one of the privately held Naadam festivities, such as the one at Mongol Nomadic Tourist Camp, or the Three Camel Lodge in the Gobi Desert. Voyage Unique Mongolie tours organize transportation, lodging and visits to all of the Naadam activities, as well as sightseeing all over Mongolia.

Inside Bonaire Carnival 2015

Bonaire Carnival Holidays are celebrated all through the month of February leading up to Ash Wednesday. Almost every day, there are events happening around the island. Carnival celebrations start with the Tumba Festival and the Queen’s and King’s Elections and children carnival parade.

Below are photos from the Children’s parade in the Centrum of Kralendijk. Toddlers to elementary age kids wear colorful costumes, parading across streets of the city center, moving their bodies to the rhythms of blaring music. DJ floats sign and play Spanish, hip hop and Papiamentu songs. Families sit at the sidewalks cheering on the crowds and having picnics.

The grand parade commences with an adult carnival that is filled with celebrations, costumes, and partying ending with the burning of the King Momo at the parking lot of the Kralendijk Stadium. This symbolizes the end of the carnival and beginning of Lent.

carnival

carnival Bonaire

carnival princess

carnival parade

carnival bands

carnival winners

carnival boys

carnival girls

carnival Bonaire

carnival costumes

carnival bonaire

carnival 2015

carnival babies

Visit Bonaire Tourism website to see a complete list of Carnival related and other events in Bonaire.