29 July 2010

Guest Entry: Medellin and La Feria de las Flores

I was about to publish my fourth post about  Travelling to Colombia in a month, and realized that one of the most beautiful festivals in Colombia is coming up next August. Last time I was in Medellin  at the Feria de las Flores was in 2008 and my attention was inmedatly grabbed by one specific character: el silletero.

Adam, from the fantastic  Eyes on Colombia Blog was kind enough to share a post he did with Colombia Travel blog by Marcela's readers, explaining with great detail what a silletero is. So, if you are considering to visit Medellin or to take a Medellin Tour, you might want to save a week to enjoy the beauty of the Feria de las flores that has many  things to offer over its 10 days.

So here it is,  enjoy Adam's post and remember to take a look at his blog.

Thanks Adam!


The annual Medellín Feria de las Flores (Flower Fair) is almost upon us and so I thought I'd share the story behind an integral part of the fair, the silletero.

The Old Silletero

The silleteros, or seat carriers (a.k.a. cargueros, or carriers) were, around the turn of the 19th century, the only way to be transported or to have something transported over the Colombian mountains. Once the road conditions improved, though, mules began to be used and thus put an end to the need for silleteros.

A famous foreign scientist traveled throughout the region at the time and recounted his experience.

"Since there are those who regularly walk on foot at this altitude and on such difficult paths for 19 or 20 days at a time, they started to carry seats on their backs and charge for the comfort to sit on them, because the mountains of Quindío don't allow for the use of mules. They say in this country "andar en carguero" like one would say "ir a caballo" and those that dedicate themselves to this are not indians, but rather mestizos and sometimes whites...the passage from Quindío isn't the only way one can travel like this here; in the province of Antioquia, surrounded by terrible mountains, there isn't any other way except to go on foot, when permited, otherwise the silletero is needed."

The Modern Silletero 

"Silleteros is the term used for the farmers who make beautiful flower arrangements on a silleta (a chair-like contraption for carrying flowers on a person’s back). The silletas are made from wood and have a back plate and two handles for hanging the silleta on a person’s back.
The most emblematic figure of this tradition is the legendary María La Larga, a silletera who carried children on her back. María and her novel way of transportation convinced many of the region’s farmers that silletas were the easiest, fastest way for carrying flowers from the farm to the city.

The use of the word silleta became generalized and since the beginning of the twentieth century, the term silletero began to be applied to the people who sold flowers on Medellín’s cobble-stoned streets. - Colombia Travel

More Info

Flower Fair - Official Site

Adam Lee I Editor

10 July 2010

Traveling through Colombia in a month – Part 3: a day in Cali, the salsa capital of the world

Previously in Colombia Travel Blog by Marcela: After a whole day driving I had finally arrived to Cali and was ready to re-discover the Salsa city….

Having had a very nice night sleep I woke up and took some notes thinking that I finally was in the first “real” destination of my one month Colombia Odyssey: Cali.  Important points I had to take into consideration due to the fact that I had previously decided to spend just a day in the city (willing to explore more of the surroundings during the following days). This city is one of the oldest in Colombia as it was founded in 1536, it is a colorful and very lively place located at a little more than 900 m.a.s.l., which means it is hot all year round, and its considered Colombia’s capital of Salsa!. With my ideas in the right place now, I was ready to get up and explore, asking for some locals’ advice on what to do.

At around 9 am I decided to go and find some breakfast. I walked about 3 blocks and found a fruit street vendor on the Sexta Avenida. What a better way to start my day than with a freshly squeezed orange juice followed by a recently cut sweetpapaya and a huge piece of pineapple. I must say that words can't describe the freshness and sweetness of the fruits in Colombia not to mention the exotic ones like Chontaduro which is the fruit of a palm boiled and eaten with salt. 

Anyway, I just sat on the curve by the Carrito de Fruta and started chatting to the afro-Colombian man that was showing off his skilful fruit cutting technique. As he was cutting all sorts of fruits to prepare a delicious salpicon (very much like a fruit salad with loads of watermelon which gives it its pink colour) he was asking me if I was from Bogota as well as taking orders and money from other people that - it seamed - were walking to the office with their plastic glasses full of salpicon.  I replied that, yes I was from Bogota and asked him how he guessed from only a couple of words I'd said.... and he replied that we "rolas" (women from Bogota) are too white to be from Cali and then we both laughed. Around this area of Colombia there is a huge  community of African slaves’ descendants  that were brought to the country to work in the land and populate the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

We carried on talking and I asked him what would he suggest seeing around Cali and he said that he hadn't been to any museums or touristy stuff but he said that at around 5:30 in the afternoon when he'd finished working and was walking home he would sit in a bench in the Plaza Caicedo, close his eyes to feel and enjoy the cooling breeze that comes down from Los Farallones (local natural reserve up in the mountains) wish you could have seen him making the sweetest and proudest face ever. 

I headed straight to the Caicedo Plaza, right in the city center, where Cali's oldest church - La Merced Cathedral- is. I took Av 6, turned left on Calle 4N and left again on Carrera 4.  

Along the way I found the Archeological Museum La Merced. It has an impressive collection of more than 1100 pieces of pottery from pre-Hispanic times. They have a very small entrance fee of $4.000 (US$2) for adults and $3.500 (US$1.75) for students. Have in mind that they are open from 9 to 5 only from Tuesday to Saturday. I left the museum a bit upset because my camera had decided to crash on me - grgrgrgrgr.... I just decided I needed some of that breeze the  fruit vendor had told me about; I thought it might just help me to calm down... so I continued with my walk and 5 blocks ahead I finally reached the Plaza Caicedo. 

This square has such an interesting feeling to it. It was named in honor and memory of a national hero called Caicedo y Cuero,  and  it’s a mayor a meeting point for everybody including scribes, artists, street vendors, lottery vendors, shoeshine boys all offering their kind services to the locals and are always fascinated with the tourists that are now travelling to Colombia. It’s surrounded by a mixture of old and new buildings like the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace that interestingly contrasts with the old tropical palm trees that refresh the view. I just sat there and wished there was a camera fixer amongst all of them =(. I wanted to go for an early lunch, so I had a delicious Sancocho (traditional chicken and vegetable soup) at one of the many very authentic corner restaurants around the area. After lunch I visited the TEC -  Teatro Experimental de Colombia. This theater has a very special place in the heart of Colombia because it was right here where theater in Colombia was born and from it the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogota - The Iberoamerican Theater Festival of Bogota.

Is really hot in Cali! So I decided to go back to the hostel walking while realizing that I was staying in one of the best neighborhoods of Cali: Barrio Granada where there are loads of restaurants, bars, hotels and hostels…. but I didn’t have time to explore that area, as I had made an appointment to meet some old friends  for a authentic Cali Salsa night! So, after a much needed shower considering the 25C average temperature, I got on a taxi and went to an area of the city called Cali Viejo, our meeting point. This little hill that happens to be right in the middle of the city is one of many viewpoints that Cali has. This particular one is very famous not only because it offers great views of the city but also has a real size statue of the city's founder, Don Sebastian de Belalcazar from where it gets its name, Mirador de Belalcazar. Around the Mirador there are many parks such as the Parque del Acueducto and also the Crystals Theater, the old Penon neighborhood and the prettiest little colonial church of San Antonio. This little church is much more than an old building; it is a colonial relic with its baroque main altar and its original bell tower.

After meeting my long-time-no-seen friends, we caught up for a couple of hours while having more than a few beers at the view point amongst hundreds of locals. It was getting late and I was ready for my Cali Salsa night!, so already in party mood, we all headed to Kukaramakara Cali one of the best salsa discos in town.
As I’ve said a few times now, Cali is the salsa capital of Colombia… and the world. Although history tells us that it was born in New York from a mixture of Jazz and Son Cubano, it later developed its own beat in each country. People tend to think that most salsa they listen or dance to in European or American clubs is Cuban salsa, and some of it might be, but it’s also a mix of Colombian or Puerto Rican salsa, and while people think that salsa is danced in a particular way, the fact is that people dance VERY differently in each country. Here people are passionate about it. Some people like to spin around and spin their partners whilst some others enjoy dancing in “una sola baldosa” (on one floor tile), which basically means that the only thing that moves is the couple’s hips. There is also another dance style known as Salsa Competition Style. 

Cali not only has over 200 hundred salsa academies like Swing Latino (five times winners at the Salsa Open in Philadelphia and ESPN Championship in Las Vegas) but it hosts one of the biggest salsa festival of the world: La Feria de Cali. This festival runs every year from the 25th to the 30th of December. During these six days, that normally run all the way to the New Year =), Colombians and tourist from all over come to Cali to party nonstop. Apart from impressive Horse and Classic Cars parades, a display of “Tascas”, which are outdoor mobile restaurants temporarily built all around the city with the most delicious local and international cuisine and bull fighting shows; la Feria de Cali is most famous for its Salsodromo which is a massive auditorium where the best worldwide salsa performers entertain the crowd every night. You get to see the best salsa school dancers and the best local and international salsa bands like Oscar de Leon, Guayacan, Niche, Gilberto Santarosa, Mark Antony and etc, etc, etc. Each year there are new guests and more local bands all competing for the Song of the Festival award. 

….. although it wasn’t La Feria de Cali, I had a fabulous time that night and danced nonstop as if I was at the very Salsodromo. When I noticed, I had danced until the early hours at the best Caleño style, and I was ready to go and sleep off the few “canecas” of aguardiente del Valle (bottles of local aguardiente) before continuing my trip to the surroundings of Cali on the valley of the Cauca River later that morning but that, I’ll tell you about in my next post.

Just a few things to keep in mind whilst travelling to Cali, Colombia:

My Top 5 things to do  in Cali

Go to Granada neighborhood for great food and drinks
Have a beer or two at the Belalcazar viewpoint
Have a "Cholao" (crushed ice with condensed milk, caramel and lemon) at the Canchas Panamericanas
Go to La Cueva del Tango. A meeting point for salsa and tango dancers. Carrera 11 and Calle 22, Obrero neighborhood.
Take a salsa lesson in one of the 220 salsa schools. The most famous ones are Swing Latino (calle 29 32B-33) house of many world champions and Rucafe where you learn to dance with no alcohol instead, they give you an empanada and a champus (a local frozen drink made of maize, lulo and pineapple) not my favorite but if you are there must try it!

Other cool stuff to see, do and eat in Cali

Visit the Three Cross hill which can also be seen from the Belalcazar view point
Visit the zoo. I'm not a fan at all but people highly recommend it. Carrera 2 oeste and Calle 14,  Santa Teresita neighborhood.
Visit the Pance River, just out of Cali.
Buy hand crafts at the La Cruz hill/viewpoint.
Have a pizza in Salerno
Have a green mango with salt and lemon whilst walking along the Cali River.
Have a beer at the Gato (cat) monument.
You must eat plantain toasts at the Parque del Perro (dog's park).
Eat pandebonos.... you'll see them everywhere for breakfast and as a snack.

How to get to Cali?

Cali has an international airport, Alfonso Bonilla Aragon (CLO), but is not in the city. It's about 30-40 min away from the city center to the north near a town called Palmira. There are shuttle services from the airport.  There are 3 international airlines that fly from and to Cali, these are Avianca, Satena, y Aerorepublica. You can travel to Cali from  Miami with Avianca and AA, Panama with Copa, JFK with Avianca, Houston, Tulcan with Tame and Madrid with Avianca. Aires offers local flights and has a shuttle service from and to La 14 de Calima supermarket for US$4,00 or $8.000 pesos per person per route but you have to book in advance. 

If you decide to travel to Cali by bus, there are bus services from Bogota, Medellin, Popayan y Pasto. A bus from Bogota would cost round US$30 one way or $60.000 pesos and takes about 8 to 9 hours with   Bolivariano http://www.bolivariano.com.co/intro.cfm                                           

Accommodation in Cali.

Hostel wise try Calidad House  or La Iguana  prices go from US$21.00 or $40.000 pesos for a double to US$10.00 or $19.000 pesos for a bed in a dorm.

For a hotel try Cali Plaza Hotel with prices going from US$65pppn to US$95pppn. They also offer apartments and long stay rates. 
If you want is an upscale hotel try the Radisson with prices from US$95pppn to US$150pppn.



*Some of the pictures on this post have been taken from Swing Latino, artiggo.com and Barule Gazette because my camera crashed =(... thank you!

Travelling through Colombia part 1 and part 2