(PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad) — An experience like no other: that’s how some describe the annual carnival celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago.
“It’s out of this world,” said New Yorker Helen Alexander-Roc, who is in Trinidad specifically for carnival.
“It’s colorful, the excitement, the people are all friendly,” she told ABC News, when asked what drew her to the event.
The 2012 installment of carnival is little different from previous years: costume-clad men and women make their way through the streets dancing, jumping, and waving to the sound of soca music blaring from sound systems set up on tractor trailers.
Trinidad and Tobago’s national instrument, the steel-pan, is also a prominent fixture in the celebrations, as dozens of steel-pan bands can be seen and heard throughout the street parade.
Fuschia pink, royal blue and lime green were some of the popular colors of costumes worn by people taking part in this year’s parade, with costumes mainly in the form of bikinis for women, and shorts for the guys.
Those in costumes paraded under intense sunshine and clear skies, with the aroma of Trinidadian dishes like roti and pelau filling the air.
Every year in Trinidad and Tobago, the two days immediately preceding Ash Wednesday — the day which marks the beginning of Lent for Christians — are the days when the entire Caribbean nation shuts down for two consecutive days of partying in streets all across the nation. Those two pre-Lenten days are known as Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
Parade participants are part of different masquerade groups, better known as mas bands, with most bands providing their members with costumes, music, food and open-bar service, all for one price, for the two days of carnival.
And what’s a party without drinks? In Trinidad and Tobago the legal drinking age is 18, and it’s legal to walk through the streets with alcohol in plain sight.
“Oh my God, greatest show, period,” said Trinidadian Karen Brathwaite, who was a member of the “Dream Team” masquerade band.
Brathwaite’s description of carnival mirrors the nickname given to the festival — “The Greatest Show on Earth.” And in true patriotic form, Brathwaite urged people from around the world to come experience it for themselves.
“You’re jumping for two days. Nowhere else in the world you get to jump for two days on the road,” said Brathwaite, 23.
The 90-degree heat may have been a bit much for Peter Evenesan, of Norway, but it wasn’t enough to keep him away; this year marks the fifth time he has been to carnival.
“I like it very much,” Evenesan said, speaking to ABC News on the streets of Port of Spain, the capital of the twin island Caribbean republic.
“Carnival for them out there is something they never will forget, they will enjoy it,” Evenesan said, when asked how he would describe the annual carnival celebrations to someone who has never been to Trinidad and Tobago for the festivities.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said some 200,000 people from all over the world have come to Trinidad and Tobago this year for carnival. The festival brings with it benefits for the local business community; local officials say that all hotels and establishments that provide accommodation are filled to capacity.
Carnival celebrations officially began Monday at 4 a.m. and wrap at midnight on Carnival Tuesday, with what is known as “last lap” — the last hurrah until carnival comes around again the following year.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Joe Sterling and Darran Simon, CNN
Ray Sanchez, Zayn Nabbi, Euan McKirdy and Angela Dewan, CNN
Samantha Beech, CNN
Eliza Mackintosh, CNN