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.
Espuma. Did I say there’s nothing I hate? I take it back.
This espuma war is still at a fairly acceptable level.
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 →
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!
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.
It’s around 650 stairs to the top of the rock, but 740 to the top of the viewing platform built on the summit.
The view from La Piedra got a lot more watery when the area was flooded to create the reservoir.
Made it. Those of you who know me know those are my shoes.
Marcello was more impressed with the gift shop than the view.
Gio carried an extra-large 2 year-old up almost 740 steps (I carried him up a few!) and then back down. Never underestimate the descent.
A bit of the painted letters “GI” are visible here.
Don’t look down!
A new plant species was discovered at the top of the rock.
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!
This sign in the town square explains the zócalos. It says in part, “An element of identity, the zócalo tells the story of an individual, a family, a past or a value of this friendly community conglomerate.”
The zócalos on the left depict the lamb that is Guatapé’s symbol. The zócalos on the right appear to show doves with olive branches.
The cathedral in the town’s main square.
Inside the cathedral.
Even on a rainy day, this town shines bright.
This zócalo depicts the displacement of a family during the drug-related violence that was so common to the region in the 80’s and early 90’s.
Some zócalos tell you about the person or business inside. These are on a home for the elderly.
The zócalos on the side of this hospital show the cycle of life from conception to death and the afterlife.
Marcello wears a ruana, a traditional cover-up for the sometimes chilly weather.
Not all zócalos tell of times gone by. Marcello was a fan of these pictures that decorate a trucking or construction business.
Antioquia, the state in which Guatapé sits, has a rainy season and we were in it. This awesome moto-taxi allowed us to tour the town and still stay dry.
La Piedra de Peñol (the Rock of Peñol), or El Peñon de Guatapé, is a natural rock formation that rises over 2,000 meters above sea level. Like an iceberg, supposedly the largest chunk of it is below ground. The locals told me it may have been a meteorite. This big hunk deserves its own post, coming later!
This cross marks the town of Viejo Peñol, which was flooded in 1978 to create the Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir that produces approximately 30% of Colombia’s energy. The town, originally founded in 1714, was relocated to a new spot nearby.
The man-made lake has given rise to many outdoor leisure activities – boating, fishing, zip lining, etc. – and to the return of posh urbanites who maintain luxurious weekend homes on its shores.
The bombed shell of La Manuela, one of drug lord Pablo Escobar’s most well-known estates.
The guides on our boat tour informed us that these holes in the hillsides lead to a series of tunnels. Pablo Escobar had them built in case he needed to make a quick escape – to his submarine. No kidding.
The nightclub that was part of Pablo Escobar’s estate, La Manuela.
Readers, I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post from Paige Poole, a fellow Barranquilla transplant. Paige’s own blog, Transatlantic Adventure, includes fun and useful regular features like “Word Wednesday”—a must-read for people looking to bone up on Costeño (Coastal) Spanish. Paige also writes regularly for Uncover Colombia, a great source of destination-related info.
Brightly painted buses, often tricked out with special lights, are a common sight in B’quilla. Figuring out how to use them is the challenge!
After my family and I scored cheap plane tickets to Medellín based on Paige’s insights, I realized that she would be the perfect person to demystify what can be a challenging prospect for newcomers: figuring out how to get around. Believe me, if you’re moving here or even if you already live here, I know you’ll join me in thanking Paige for her incredibly helpful post, which follows below.
Transportation in, to, and from Barranquilla
When first arriving to Barranquilla, public transportation can seem daunting, confusing, and overwhelming. While at its core you can find similarities between public transportation in Barranquilla and public transportation in other big cities around the world, you’ll also find there are many differences and peculiarities that can cause chaos if you are not aware of them!
First of all, you need to know that the main methods of transportation within the city of Barranquilla include: taxis, buses, “busetas,” and Transmetro. Continue reading →
One of the advantages of expat life is being able to travel to destinations that might otherwise be out of reach. When my husband and I moved to Colombia, we made it a goal to use our years here as an opportunity to see other parts of South America. So when we finally planned a long-awaited vacation, we decided to head to Argentina – first to Buenos Aires, and then down to the Patagonia region, to Los Glaciares (The Glaciers) National Park.
So that you can judge for yourself my reaction to this park, let me provide a quick history. I have visited probably 90% of the national parks in the US. My favorite is Glacier National Park in Montana. Just to the north, in Canada’s also spectacular Jasper National Park, I saw my first glacier, the Athabasca. I have been a huge fan of national parks, especially ones with snow-covered mountains, ever since my parents gave me the amazing gift of carting me around to them. (Thank you, Mom and Dad.) So I expected to love this part of our Argentina trip. I did not, however, expect to be BLOWN OUT OF THE WATER. Continue reading →
In honor of Halloween, el Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead, closely associated with Mexico), and the Catholic Church’s All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, today’s photo tour will take you on a brief trip through Recoleta Cemetery in the heart of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Elaborate mausoleums line one of the cemetery’s tight corridors.
Recoleta Cemetery really is a site to be seen, for several reasons. First, there’s the history. The cemetery, which was the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires, was founded on November 17, 1822. Its grounds, which house between 4,800 and 6,400 vaults, depending on who you talk to, include the sacred burial places of major players in Argentine history: politicians, writers, military leaders, former presidents, sculptors, explorers, priests, athletes, and more.
Minca – a tiny town perched in the highest coastal range in the world, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – is one of my favorite places to visit on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. Minca has an artsy, communal spirit and a culture grounded strongly in the area’s indigenous roots. Minca is also a bird watchers’ paradise. True birders (think The Big Year) can take multi-day tours to scout out rare varieties; the rest of us can see some fairly spectacular feathered friends while enjoying lunch at Hotel Minca.
Coffee lovers, too, will find their home here. La Victoria – an organic coffee plantation dating back to the mid-1800’s – will show you how they grow, harvest, and process coffee through environmentally friendly, organic, and sustainable methods that use much of the original equipment. After you get your caffeine fill, you can take a hike or four-wheel-drive ride to a nearby waterfall for a swim. Finish it off with a frozen limonada or some Spanish tapas at a restaurant overlooking the lights of Santa Marta far below. If you’d like to make a night of it, rent a mountain cabin, or even just a hammock. You’ll have memories that will stick with you for years to come.
If I try to describe my trip last weekend to the Eje Cafetero – Colombia’s “Coffee Axis” – using words like “enchanting” and “magical”, you’re going to groan.
Cocora Valley, as seen from Salento.
You’ll think that I’m just one of those tired travel writers who can’t be bothered to come up more descriptive words, or who wants you to believe that I am having amazing experiences no matter how mediocre the reality. Or worse, you may think I’m the realtor trying to entice you with a “charming and quaint” (read: terribly cramped and lacking any renovation since the turn of the century) apartment. Normally – my being a terrifically (read that adverb as you see fit) skeptical person – I would agree with you. But in this case, you’d be wrong. Continue reading →