We noticed it the second we entered town. From what we had heard, Huaraz, Peru is a modest town high up in the magnificently tall mountains of the Cordillera Blanca complete with a center square and large Catholic church. But something was different about today. We noticed groups of teenagers mobbing through the streets with small white buckets, we weren’t exactly sure what to make of this mid-day madness. Some had brightly colored paint in them and others had water as they were dumped onto unlucky stranger’s heads. Katy and I felt safe for the moment behind the Land Cruiser's tempered glass windows. At first it wasn't clear if this was an isolated happening or what exactly was going on, but we drove on. The goal was to make it to the Plaza de Armas, the central plaza, to find a specific restaurant that served the only local craft brew we had heard of in Peru. Moments later, we turned off the main road to get out from behind a massive parade marching its way toward the city center, loud and proud. The buckets and paint were forgotten for the time as we rolled down a side street past closed businesses and storefronts.
A teenage boy with a bucket suddenly leapt in front of the car into the crosswalk and thoroughly soaked an unfortunate woman just going about her own business. At almost the same moment, a water balloon exploded on our back windshield. We were entering a battle zone, littered with the leftovers of fire crackers, broken buckets, and upset middle aged Peruvians that had fallen victim to kids with buckets and what seemed like years of local tradition. It then dawned upon us: Carnaval! Every spring, many Latin American countries celebrate in their own way out in the streets during the days leading up to Lent.
A suitable street parking space was found in front of some government office that had an extra police officer stationed at it for the day. From there, Katy and I carefully picked our path to the restaurant. Through a local clothing market selling soft alpaca fur blankets, past police hanging in front of a bank, and along another street with a group of elderly women in their traditional tall straw hatsand colorful shawls. All the while, hoards of paint splattered Peruvian kids ran around with their weapons of choice: one gallon white buckets. The whole experience was intensified by the feeling left in your chest by firecrackers exploding overhead and in narrow streets.
Finally, after a few wrong turns and several close calls we ducked into the restaurant. We made it with just the slightest splashes of water and no paint on us. This felt like a huge feat as we stood out to all as gringos. Even still, it wasn’t until hours later that we were free to leave unnoticed and untouched."