On the Road – Colombia: Sacred Times

Sometimes blockades are caused by landslides, earth and rock loosened by torrential La Niña rains. Other blockades are created by trucks pulled across highways, in protest to new laws. A third blockade is comes in the form of holidays.

There are three sacred times in Colombia: lunch, Sundays – and holidays. Don’t expect to find anyone in offices or shop. All is locked up tight.

Colombians are very business-oriented. So when these times come, all is put aside to concentrate on life’s other important facets: family and friends. They seem to emphasize taking time out of busy schedules and hard work, in order to enjoy good food and good times. Or, as Louisianes say, “Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!”

A three-day holiday weekend (called a puente in Colombia) is upon us. Nobody seems to know what it is celebrating, but they are definitely ready to let the good times roll. (For those who are dying to know, it’s San José day, when Latin cultures have traditionally observed Fathers’ Day.  But like many countries in the Americas, Colombia has followed the lead of US culture, and now celebrates it in June.)

What is important is to plan for this pure R&R. Tickets and rooms must be booked far in advance. For holidays, travelers are advised to avoid super-popular Colombian vacation destinations close to the capital, like Villa de Leyva. Everyone, though, who can afford it heads for the fine-sand beaches and warm sea of the Caribbean coast that Cartagena and Santa Marta have to offer.

International travelers – unless you’re ready to get fully immersed in Colombians’ hard party-down and battle for a hotel room, you’re advised to go elsewhere. You can always go there another time, when things are, well, less mad and cheaper. Colombia is a big country (officially, Latin America’s fifth largest). There are plenty of places that have yet to make the vacationers’ radar screen. Near the coast are Valledupar, with incredible swimming holes and indigenous villages to visit. Not too far away is Aracataca, famed author Gabriel García Márquez’ home town. Both villages now have affordable hostels.

Colombians spend Monday rushing back to their hometowns. They all will have to report to their jobs bright and early Tuesday morning. They’ll get down to serious work, until the next holiday. You have about a month to prepare to be someplace else. The next big one is Semana Santa, this year slated to begin April 17th. The most famed celebrations are in Popayán and Mompós. Valledupar also has some noteworthy processions, which this year will be followed close behind by the Vallenato music festival, Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata. For all of these, hotel rooms have been booked since December, but you might have some luck. The beaches, of course, will be insanely crowded and prices inflated.

But someplace in this great expansive country, you’ll find the perfect place for you to be. Relax with a copy of V!VA Colombia on your iPad, and browse to see where the wind might take you for Colombia’s next holiday.

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road in Colombia, updating our 2011 edition of the book. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

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