I’m not big on holidays. Christmas? The winter solstice isn’t my thing. Fourth of July? Excuse me, whose independence are we talking about? Halloween? She’s cute, but I’m not shelling out money for a costume I’m going to wear once. But tell me that it’s carnival season on an island, and I’m ready to choose my costume (which, ironically, I will probably wear one to three times), throw on glitter, and hit the gym weeks in advance to make sure my stamina and endurance are on point. There are few things in life I enjoy more than a carnival.
I mean, sex is great and all, but have you ever been on the hot city streets of an island, listening to soca music, twirling around in blinged-out bikinis and colorful feathers? Even before the big parade comes, there are days of fetes (parties) to attend: on the beach, in parks, in stadiums, in remote fields, in the streets, or at a pool. And yes, this is all before you turn out on the road in all your glitter and plumes, twirling through streets lined with enthusiastic onlookers.
It’s exhausting, but it’s a cultural tradition that’s been going on in the Caribbean for years — hundreds of years, in fact, depending on the island. The revelries took place as a way for freed former slaves to celebrate their liberation. These days, thanks to Instagram, Caribbean-style carnivals are more popular than ever and are quickly becoming a must-do trip for many travelers, particularly Black travelers. While these celebrations originated in the islands, those in the Caribbean diaspora have established their own in countries outside the region, like Notting Hill Carnival in London, where there is a large population of people of Caribbean descent.
But all those hours spent in the sun sipping rum necessitates some serious UV protection. Yes, my skin tone may be on the darker end of the spectrum, but in 2018, I got my first-ever sunburn at carnival in Trinidad and Tobago after spending two full days outdoors without wearing sunscreen. It was not pleasant, to say the least. For this year’s Trinidad and Tobago carnival, I was more prepared, but had a bit of peeling on my forehead after failing to apply sunscreen to my face — I didn’t want to mess up my makeup. (Insert face-palm here.) I’ve known other melanin-rich folks who decided to play mas (be in the road parade) without the proper reinforcements and succumbed to the sometimes cruel effects of the sun when they were in it for too long.
So when I was invited by the Bermuda Tourism Authority to attend their carnival events during Bermuda Heroes Weekend, I immediately checked my sunscreen stash to make sure I had all my favorite products. The only souvenir I planned on bringing home from my road experience with the Party People Entertainment carnival band was my costume.
Honestly, though, it doesn’t matter whether I’m playing mas or not. Even if I’m going to a music festival, I have to have all the SPF protection I can fit into a fanny pack, purse, or beach bag. Since I have a little bit more melanin, I have to be extremely particular about the sun care I use, because a lot of options out there leave an ashy-white cast on my skin.
From all my time partying outdoors, I’ve come up with a foolproof routine and an arsenal of products that keep me from burning. And they served me well on my trip to Bermuda: After several hours of reveling in the street, I was left with a tan instead of a reddish burn.