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Independence Week in Cartagena, Colombia

Walking down the street, our group stays alert for what may be ahead or behind us.  We keep an eye on a group of shirtless boys, who are completely covered from head to toe in motor oil, which brightens the whites of their eyes even more as they threaten to smear black gunk on our faces.  I catch a glimpse of the group with blue paint who just splattered a woman across the street.  A man gets flour thrown in his eyes, and a girl sitting on the sidewalk is covered in white foam.  It’s Independence week in Cartagena de Indias, and you can see the energy exploding in the streets.

Being immersed in these Colombian traditions tends to highlight gringos’ differing cultural background.  The foreigners in the streets are obviously tense and bewildered – and it makes us stick out like a sore thumb.  As I walk outside of my hostel I think, “I hope I don’t get creamed.”  Or what is more stressing are the bottle rockets that randomly fire through the crowds.

This week has been mayhem – most of the population is off of work or school, and they crowd the streets with costumes and music.  People walk around water-soaked and covered in flour with smiles on their faces.  As bizarre as the customs are, it is wonderful to witness – because this level of fiesta would never fly in the States.

After watching this week of chaos, we were tired of being typical gringos, dodging flour and blue-inked hands.  A parade was to come through barrio Getsemani, and the balcony at our hostel overlooked Calle Guerrera.  Standing above the procession, we drank beers and enjoyed our birds-eye view.  And then it was decided: we were going in.

Well, actually, the boys decided that the war was on and Kerri and I soon followed suit.  It started with throwing flour and water, but as the evening grew darker, our beers were soon weapons and blue dye was slathered over our hands.  Small foam/water/flour/blue dye combats would break out, and an innocent bystander was almost always doused with flour or dye.  But the best part of the night was preying on gringos, who, standing in tightly packed groups, insisted on wearing white clothing, dresses, or high heels.

If you are looking to have Cartagenian culture literally thrown before your eyes, visit the city during Independence week.  Parades take place nearly everyday, and Reinada Nacional de Belleza, the national beauty pageant that selects Miss Colombia, is also orchestrated during this week.  Buxom Colombianas from every region in Colombia grin from ear to ear as they wave to the crowd from their glittering parade floats.

Cartagenians are famous for their commitment to fiestas, and Independence week is a definitive example for their notoriety.


To learn more about Reinada Nacional de Belleza, visit: www.srtacolombia.org/index2.php.

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2 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Seriously, I may just start reposting your blog. In 6 weeks I’ve said bunk about Colombia. Want to ghost write mine for me?

    1. Lee Winters on December 3rd, 2009 at 3:02 pm
  2. I celebrated with a cup of hot chocolate, double stuff oreos and the Macy’s day Thanksgiving parade while waiting for delicious turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and pies.

    But that whole getting impaled by bottle rockets or hit in the face with flour and dye by strangers thing sounds great too…

    Columbia: “The only risk is your safety and well being”

    2. Boo Shankly on December 2nd, 2009 at 11:11 am

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