Monday, January 28, 2008

Pirate Invasion!

Marc moved down here about a year ago while I stayed in South Carolina and finished out my teaching contract. One of his first Tampa experiences was the Gasparilla festival. I was extremely jealous at the time and eagerly looked forward to the day I, too, could don my own eye patch.

January finally came again and we got up early to drive from St. Pete to Tampa for the festivities. It was an overcast day but thankfully the rain held off. We stood with thousands of people just outside the Tampa Convention Center, waiting for the "pirates" to invade. Hundreds of boats hang out for several hours, playing loud music while their owners drink cocktails and throw necklaces to us, the bead-hungry onlookers. It's really pretty amazing--I'm sure Mardi Gras is rowdier, but there was some fairly crazy stuff going on here in Tampa. Eventually the pirates' arrival is signaled with the firing of cannons, and the pirate ship makes its way down the river. The guys are all dressed in authentic pirate gear, and once they dock they jump off the boat and run into the crowds, throwing yet more beads. What was even more interesting to watch were the auxiliary pirate boats (I can't believe I'm talking about auxiliary pirate boats like it's something normal everyone sees each day!). One group, The Rough Riders (appropriately named) was quite entertaining, although some of the dudes creeped me out. Particularly the sleazy guy with the cigar and the video camera, filming drunk blondes who bared their chest as they begged for beads.

Along with the invasion comes a 3 hour parade, which consists of the pirates, event sponsors, and some local bands and volunteer groups. There's also a marathon and 10K, fireworks, and a special Kids Parade and fireworks display. I'm guessing there are less boobs and beads at that one.

I'm sure the novelty will wear off for us after another year or two, but for my first big Tampa festival I thought it was a pretty great day.

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