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Carnaval de Negros y Blancos

Across Nariño, A Week of Joyous Mayhem

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The Carnaval de Negros y Blancos is held annually throughout the province of Nariño in southwestern Colombia the first week of January.

The roots of this festival date to pre-Columbian times when the Quillacingas, the people native to this area, held a harvest celebration. After a slave rebellion in 1607, the Spanish Crown granted African slaves "a day of freedom" set as January 5th annually. This tradition is now commemorated as el Día de Negros. The modern date carnival which dates to 1912 incorporates this tradition. The message of carnival is to see what it is like to live in another's persons shoes. It is colorful and dynamic.

Each town in Nariño has its own variant of the Carnival though each keeping within its basic theme. In 2009 UNESCO designated the Carnival de Negros y Blancos as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

This video depicts the festivities in Túquerres, the fourth largest city in Nariño and the highest city in Colombia nestled in an intermontane valley at 10,200 feet (3100 meters) in the Andes. The floats in the main parade which in Túquerres is held on January 6th of each year compete for cash prizes (and honor). There are three classes: floats that are man-powered, floats that are wheeled and floats that are on lorries or pulled by a tractor.

Beyond the parade of dancers and floats, the Carnaval is joyous mayhem.

Posted by Charles Lemos 14:13 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia travel_in_colombia colombia_culture andean_festivals nariño Comments (0)


La Ciudad Blanca de Colombia

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Popayán is today the capital of the Cauca department in southwestern Colombia but in colonial days it was the most important stoping off point on the long trek from Cartagena to Quito. Founded in January 1537 by Sebastián de Benalcázar, Popayán is known as La Ciudad Blanca. With its white-washed adobe structures and cobblestone streets set in a cool Andean valley, Popayán is a magical delight any time of year but its Holy Week processions make that time of the year something truly spectacular. Its historic center has nearly a dozen late Baroque churches filled with stunning religious art dating back to the 17th century.

The city's Torre del Reloj was built between 1673 and 1682. Its current clock was manufactured in England and installed in 1737! Beyond the spectacular colonial architecture and Baroque churches, Popayán delights with its variety of cafés, restaurants and shops. The city is known also for its empanadas and tamales served with a spicy peanut sauce. By Colombian standards, Popayán is a small city with only a little more than a quarter of a million inhabitants. At 1760 meters (5770 feet) above sea level, Popayán enjoys a pleasant spring like climate with warm days and cool nights. Its historic district centers around the Parque de Caldas named for Francisco José de Caldas. Known as El Sabio, the Wise One, Caldas was a true son of the Enlightenment. Born in Popayán in 1768, Caldas, a friend of Thomas Jefferson, was a lawyer, a naturalist, a geographer, an astronomer, a journalist, and martyr of Colombian Independence. He was executed by General Pablo Murillo during his reign of terror in Santa Fé de Bogotá in 1816. Around the park that bears his name in Popayán can be found some impressive structures including the Alcaldía and the Cathedral. All date to the colonial period.

Stay at the Hotel Los Balcones, a stone's throw from the Parque de Caldas, an elegant and spacious hotel that once home to two Presidents of Colombia (17 Colombian Presidents hail from Popayán and its environs). Run by María Estella Castrillón Muñoz and owned by her family, she is an affable and erudite host providing her clientele with the ins and outs that any visit to Popayán should include.

Posted by Charles Lemos 13:04 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia popayan colombian_cuisine colombia_culture Comments (0)


A Classic Colombian Dessert

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Colombia has more types of fruit than any other country in the world so it's to be expected that Colombians are quite inventive when it comes to using fruit. Merengón combines a baked egg meringue that is then covered with fruit, smeared with freshly whipped cream, then layered with more fruit, meringue and whipped cream before being finished off with various syrups or sauces. The classic and most typical merengón is that of guanabana (soursop) topped with jarabe de mora (Andean blackberry sauce).

In this video filmed in El Saladito, Valle del Cauca on the Carretera al Mar, two merengóns are prepared side by side. The classic guanabana with mora and a mixed fruit merengón.

Posted by Charles Lemos 09:30 Archived in Colombia Tagged food colombia travel_in_colombia colombian_cuisine food_writing colombia_culture Comments (0)

Colombian Fruit and Foods

The Alameda Food Market in Cali, Colombia


Boasting a size of less than one percent of the Earth's land mass, Colombia is the world's second most biodiverse country on the planet after Brazil, a country that is seven times larger. Biologically, this country that occupies the northwest corner of the South American continent is quite hotspot with scientists placing it atop the of "megadiverse" regions in the world. Nearly ten percent of all the world's species are to be found here.

Colombia ranks first in the number of bird species, some 1,900 or more than Europe and North America combined; the country also boasts more orchid species than any other land with perhaps as many as 3,500 species present. That's a full fifteen percent of all the world's orchids. The Convention of Biological Diversity say this about Colombia:

Colombia is listed as one of the world’s “megadiverse” countries, hosting close to 10% of the planet’s biodiversity. Worldwide, it ranks first in bird and orchid species diversity and second in plants, butterflies, freshwater fishes and amphibians. With 314 types of ecosystems, Colombia possesses a rich complexity of ecological, climatic, biological and ecosystem components. Colombia was ranked as one of the world’s richest countries in aquatic resources, which is explained in part by the fact that the country’s large watersheds feed into the four massive sub-continental basins of the Amazon, Orinoco, Caribbean, Magdalena-Cauca and the Pacific. The country has several areas of high biological diversity in the Andean ecosystems, characterized by a significant variety of endemic species, followed by the Amazon rainforests and the humid ecosystems in the Chocó biogeographical area. This varied richness represents a significant challenge for implementing sustainable development initiatives. However, a considerable part of these natural ecosystems has been transformed for agriculture, primarily in the Andean and Caribbean regions. It has been estimated that almost 95% of the country’s dry forests have been reduced from their original cover, including close to 70% of typically Andean forests.

Having 314 ecosystems translates into quite the variety of fruits and vegetables making Colombia one of the world's most diverse gastronomic destinations. A visit to the old food market known as La Galeria de la Alameda in Cali, Colombia is a sensory delight for the eyes, nose, tongue, and ears and even skin as you touch the exotic skins of some of Colombia's incredible variety of fruit. In the Passiflora genus (Passionfruit) alone, Colombia grows 167 different species, 165 of these native. That's 27 percent of the entire genus. [John Ocampo Pérez. "Diversity of Colombian Passiloraceae: biogeography and an updated list for conservation" in Biota Colombian 8 (1) 1-45. 2007]

Posted by Charles Lemos 10:34 Archived in Colombia Tagged food colombia colombian_cuisine food_writing colombia_culture Comments (0)

A Trip Across Colombia

From Cali to Cartagena


In October 2014, I travelled with a friend by land across the western fringe of Colombia beginning in Cali in the southwestern corner of the country and ending up on the Caribbean coast in the historic city of Cartagena de Indias. Essentially following the Cauca River Valley that lies between the Western and Central Cordillera of the Colombian Andes, our route first took us to the Quindío in the heart of Colombia's Eje Cafero where we visited a working organic coffee farm, the picturesque towns of Salento and Filandia and the majestic Valle de Cocora that is home to the world's tallest palm trees, la palma de cera.

Inching our way northward, we journeyed on Colombia's modern highway system through the coffee country stopping briefly in Pereira before continuing on to Manizales where we stayed at an eco-tourist lodge just a few kilometers above the Termales de Otoño, a natural thermal hot springs resort about a half hour outside Manizales. We explored the páramo terrain that lies between the tree line and the snow line on the Nevado del Ruiz in the Parque de los Nevados.

After a few splendid days in the Eje Cafetero, we pressed on to Medellín, Colombia's second largest city with a population of approximately three million people. Once of the world's most troubled cities in the days of Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord who was killed in December 1993, Medellín has made an amazing turnaround winning accolades for its modern urban design and named by the Wall Street Journal as the "world's most innovative city" in 2013. Known as "la ciudad de la eterna primavera" for its year-around spring-like climate, Medellín did not disappoint as we visited the Parque Botero, the Museo d'Antioquia, Parque Berrío and the Jardín Botánico de Medellín traversing the city effortlessly and comfortably on its modern Metro de Medellín train system and its avant-garde Metrocable systems.

An overnight bus from Medellín landed us in Cartagena, a jewel of colonial architecture set upon a beautiful harbor on the shores of the azure waters of the Caribbean.

Posted by Charles Lemos 14:20 Archived in Colombia Tagged waterfalls mountains del de valle seafood colombia cartagena cali cocora salento medellin manizales quindio travel_in_colombia nevado colombian_cuisine parque_botero colombia_culture ruiz Comments (0)

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