Boi Bomba!

March 2, 2015

Parintins, Brazil

Parintins is a river town between Santarem and Manaus.  If it mentioned in the guidebooks at all it’s contained in a little box off to the side as a side trip to take in June when the Boi Bomba festival takes over the town. The festival is a music festival based on local legends.  There are two teams, the red team and the blue team, each fronted by a bull, in a friendly rivalry to reenact a local folk tale.  The team judged the best at telling the tale (by whom I do not know) wins.  The music is rhythmic and although folk based has a strong pop flavor.  In June thousands of people come to town for three days of the festival, including singing, dancing, floats, costumes and pageantry.  It is telecast nationwide and there is a 35,000 seat stadium, half red and half blue, for fans to cheer their favorite Boi Bomba team.

The town is all about red and blue.  During the festival Coke makes special blue cans so fans of the blue team can drink Coke and not betray their colors.  Red team fans use the regular cans.  A blue Coke is a favorite souvenir from Parintins but in March you have to wait until June.  By March even the blue can hoarders and scalpers have sold out.  All year you can see both red and blue coke signs.  Local beers, mobile phone companies, everyone is scaled to red and blue.

Getting off the ship in Parintins is a challenge.  In tender ports you often have to contend with waves and wind.  Here you have a very strong Amazon current that the tenders have to fight to pull up to the ship and maintain position.  Boatmen keep watch to fend off logs that come careening at several knots toward the tenders.  The tenders have to fight the current to get to the shore.  Add to that thunderstorms, squalls, and rain so hard that it blanks out visibility.  The Captain came on the PA system as we weighed anchor and gave a special “Well done” shout out to the deck crew for handling the tender operation smoothly.

Once off the ship we wandered the waterfront.  We ducked under the awning of a local bar for a beer during the afternoon rainstorm and then went to the convention center, much like cruise ship passengers do in Sitka, to watch an hour long version of the Boi Bomba show, the red team only, introducing some of the characters and a few of the shorter floats.  The rules of the festival are that no costume or float can be used more than one year and the teams spend the off season making new floats and sewing new costumes.  These cruise ship performances give them a chance to recycle some of the costumes and make money to produce more for the coming year.  The costumes were elaborate but looking at the wear, tears and stains, the replacements after the June festival cannot come soon enough.

There is a new hazard to tourist shows like this, tablets.  I’m used to people taking pictures with cameras, but when the people in front of you have tablets they both block more of the view and shoot more light back to the folks behind.  As we develop as a technological society I am sure we will develop some sort of tablet etiquette to deal with this problem.

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