Ten Things I Kinda, Sorta Don’t Much Like About Carnaval

Hate is a strong word. There’s really nothing I hate about Carnaval, especially given that there’s so much to love. But at times, over the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of a trip I took to New Orleans (I love New Orleans) one year right after Mardi Gras. The plane was full of NO natives returning home after skipping out on the madness.  I thought I could relate, but it wasn’t until I experienced Barranquilla’s Carnaval that I understood the true depth of the complicated relationship that hometowners can have to events like this. Is it possible to look forward to something intensely while also wishing for it to be over? Yes, yes it is. Is it possible to value an event for the cultural treasure and/or economic engine that it is, while also complaining vociferously about the disruptions to daily life? You betcha.

As you hopefully know by now from my other posts, I’ve got mad love for Carnaval. But, in the interest of keeping it real, here are ten things that really get my goat as this weeks-long season progresses.

  1. Espuma. Did I say there’s nothing I hate? I take it back.
    This espuma war is still at a fairly acceptable level.

    This espuma war is still at a fairly acceptable level.

    This shaving-cream-like foam is sold on the street in big spray canisters. The kids love it, as do some adults who should be called names I can’t say. It was outlawed last year, and it’s still prohibited this year, not that you can tell. Continue reading

(Fotos) Biggest Children’s Parade on Earth? Maybe!

Carnaval - not just for the big kids.

Carnaval – not just for the big kids.

This year, I took my two year-old son Marcello to the Desfile del Carnaval de los Niños, or the Children’s Carnaval Parade. Last year, being the clueless expat that I sometimes am, we totally missed it. I realized my lapse when we went over to a friend’s house later that same day and everyone – parents and kids alike — had on Carnaval attire. (There is a definite dress code to Carnaval events; the more screaming-loud colors involved, the better.) When I asked why, their incredulous stares clued me in to the fact that the Children’s Parade is a big deal. But until this past Sunday, I had no idea just how big a deal it is. Continue reading

(Video) A Taste of Pre-Carnaval in Barranquilla

Living in Barranquilla at this time of year, you never know when you might turn a corner and walk into a parade or party. That’s exactly what happened one night last year, when my husband and I heard music from our apartment. We wandered halfway down the block and were treated to a thorough sampling of the traditional costumes, dances, music, and cultural traditions that are part of Barranquilla’s Carnaval. Consider the 4-minute video below your “time lapse” Pre-Carnaval parade experience. If you live here, you may already know that there’s a big parade tonight, the Noche de Guacherna. Que lo disfrutes!

Want more? Here’s a very colorful photo essay and a little more about Carnaval’s history. Enjoy!

(Friday Fotos) Now THIS is a Rock – El Peñón de Guatapé

La Piedra, as seen from the Embalse Peñol-Guatapé (Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir).

La Piedra, as seen from the Embalse (Reservoir) Peñol-Guatapé.

Medellín is perfect for day-tripping, with several great destinations within easy reach. But be forewarned — if you take one of the standard tours to El Peñón de Guatapé, you are probably in for a bit of exercise! Our driver dropped us off at the base of La Piedra de Peñol (the Rock of Peñol), as the freakishly pointy rock is also known, and then informed us that he’d wait while we ascended the 740 steps to the viewing platform on the summit. That we had a two-year-old on our hands did not seem to change our driver’s expectations. My husband, ever the good sport and fortunately boasting admirable upper body strength, was up for the challenge. I did a bit of toddler-hauling myself, and we made it to the top. The good news is that the climb was worth it.

La Piedra is a natural rock formation with a total height of 2,135 meters above sea level. The prominently visible portion rises 200+ meters from the surrounding terrain. The locals told me it may have been a meteorite, though other sources state that it emerged as part of the region’s natural rock bed. Regardless, it’s no surprise that the rock was treated as sacred by the indigenous people that used to inhabit the area. La Piedra was first ascended in 1954 by local admirably-crazy guy (I have deemed him such) Luis Eduardo Villegas López and a couple of others. The masonry steps, squeezed into one of the Stone’s few natural crevices,  were built in subsequent years by a visionary family that supposedly still maintains them today.

Visible on the rock are two giant painted letters — a “G” and what looks like an “I”. Legend has it that they’re remnants of a dispute between the towns of Guatapé and Peñol, between which the rock sits. The story is that Guatapé residents started painting their town’s name on the side of La Piedra until folks from Peñol mobilized to stop them. Only the almost-GU remains. Personally, I kind of feel for Peñol, seeing as how the original town of Viejo Peñol was flooded in 1978 and relocated to create the Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir. That being said, another account I read seems to imply that the letter-painting was halted because of La Piedra’s designation as a national monument by the Colombian government. I choose to believe the more fun mob story.

In any case, El Peñon is definitely worth the pain in your calves and shakiness in your quads. Take a look and enjoy for yourself! Click on a photo to open a slideshow and see captions.

(Friday Fotos) Guatapé: Walking Forward, Looking Back

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A pictorial depiction of Guatapé’s motto.

A trip to Medellín is not complete without a side excursion to the nearby town of Guatapé. A one-day visit convinced me that the people who live there have committed completely to the Renaissance of their region. Their efforts have made Guatapé justifiably famous now as a tourist destination, rather than infamous as a dangerous region too close geographically to the power and corruption of former drug lord Pablo Escobar. The outer walls of houses in Guatapé feature brightly painted squares, or zócalos, that tell the stories of those who live there. Many zócalos feature the town’s symbol, a sheep whose stance depicts Guatapé’s motto: “caminando hacia adelante, mirando hacia el pasado” — walking forward, looking back. Grounded in a promise to never forget its history, the future of Guatapé looks very bright indeed.

Note: Many photos in the mosaic have captions. To read them, click on a photo to open the slideshow. Some photos don’t make sense without their captions. Thank you!

The Pace of Change: My Post-Holiday Barranquilla Redux

Little did I know the changes amassing in Quilla while I was in the US!

Little did I know the changes amassing in Quilla while I was in the US!

I spent a truly lovely few years of my life – longer ago than I care to admit – living in Seattle. I don’t know whether Seattle is this way now, but back then, even though it was (and is) a big city, it offered a level of “sameness” that one might usually associate with a small town. One could go away on vacation and feel confident that Seattle would be waiting, basically the same as before, when one returned. Even after I had been living in Miami for two years, when I went back for a visit to Seattle I was still able to get coffee at Café Ladro and Espresso Vivace, and a big, fat peanut butter cookie from Cinnamon Works in Pike Place Market. I swear the same guy even checked me out at Bartell Drugs. (Whether this is good or bad is a question for that guy, but the fact that Bartell’s still exists is actually a little remarkable in and of itself.)

This isn’t to say that nothing changed – like any big city, there were always new developments in the urban landscape – but the changes were usually additions to what was there before, not replacements. This made Seattle sort of a comfort food of cities for me, which was important at the time since I was going through a divorce and other seismic life changes. Seattle was not always perfect, but there was a lot of security in knowing exactly what I was going to get.

This feeling stood in sharp contrast to my experience of Miami, the next place that I lived, this time for nearly a decade. Continue reading

Five “Normal” American Things That Can Seem Pretty Weird

Por fin! Finally! After nearly a month Stateside (can you say “Stateside” if you aren’t in Europe?) — plus a frantic week preparing to go and an extraordinarily drama-filled week upon return — I’m happy to be writing again. For now, I hope you’ll put it in reverse with me to explore a few of the wonders and woes of an expat’s trip home. “Back it up!” as my son says, quoting his toy Caterpillar trucks. And with that, I bring you five “normal” American things that seem pretty weird if you’ve been out of the US for a long time:

  1. The astounding variety of stuff available, for better or worse, in an average US grocery store. My mental dialogue while browsing goes something like this: “Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch? I’m not sure I understand. Snack chips made with chia seeds? Oh, let’s try that! Take-out sushi? There is a God, and he has chosen to put heaven in this place.” And this is the way that I feel when I go into Kroger or Publix. Put me in Whole Foods too soon after re-entering the US and I might pass out. Seriously. Continue reading