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The Cremation of Vaval

Vaval strung up and ready for cremation. But what’s with the fire? When we took Firebuilding 101 at U.C., we were taught to soak the bottom pallets in gas or diesel, and burn from the bottom up.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

In most places where Carnival is celebrated, all the wild times are supposed to end at midnight on Tuesday — Mardi Gras. It’s then that you’re supposed to give up something dear for Lent. "Religion," one wag suggested.

But as you might expect, they do things differently in the French West Indies. For on the evening of Ash Wednesday, there’s another big celebration, the Cremation of Vaval. Everyone dresses in black and white for this event and, on St. Barths, parades around the streets, following the drummers and old Vaval who is carried on a stretcher. The ultimate destination is Shell Beach, where Vaval is to be strung up and burned.

The lovely and sweet Kat, and a friend, danced in the surf, making it easy to accept the delay in the burning of Vaval.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

It’s something of an unofficial tradition on the island for the lighters of the fire, who are apparently firemen, to have a terrible time getting the darn bonfire going. They don’t have many fires on St. Barth, so they seem a little short on experience. But the crowd of 1,000 or so, which for reasons we can’t explain, was much larger this year than last, didn’t seem to mind. After all, the ‘ti punch was flowing, the drums were pounding, and lovely women such as Kat were dancing in the warm surf. And, as you can see from the photos, the pile of wood and Vaval eventually became the inferno that everyone was looking for. After a little more dancing, drinking and hollering, everyone gladly went home, eagerly looking forward to a little post Carnival rest.

After about half an hour of false starts, the fire finally took hold, helped to a large extent by Vaval’s flammable rubber boots.

©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

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The latest Vendée Globe race has been brutal enough without an obstacle course thrown in at the last minute.
The March issue of Latitude 38 will be worth the wait. latitude/Annie
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC Here at Latitude 38‘s World Headquarters we’ve been besieged by queries wondering when the March issue of the magazine will be available.