Pulsating rhythms. Dancing in the streets. People wearing masks. Men dressed in drag. Mardi Gras? Not quite. No one was throwing beads, there weren’t any flashers or obnoxious drunks, and it didn’t reek of piss and stale beer. Carnival? Wrong again. There weren’t any stunning samba dancers shaking it in g-strings and high-heels, nor was there any all-night partying or promiscuous sex. What then?
Yeah, I gave it away already. Every year the town of Pernik hosts the Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games. Today, ten of us joined the masses and spent the better part of a day at the festival. The festival is considered one of the most "important" cultural events in Bulgaria (I question to whom the festival is important because just one of the nine Bulgarians in our group had actually been to the festival before today). The games attract more than 5,000 masked participants who parade through town in elaborate costumes, eventually dancing on a main stage in a juried competition. Traditionally, the masks and those wearing them are called Kukeri or Survakari - from which the festival draws its name. The tradition dates back to ancient pagan times, when it was believed the masks and costumes had the power to protect their wearers against evil (hence the more frightening the getup the better). It’s a fun time, and it’s worth going not only for the festival itself but also for the piping hot donuts which are served. Mmmmmm ... scrumptious.