Category Archives: Events

Anti-World cup protests: Will Brazil pull it together before the 2014 World Cup?

Uruguay’s talented right-winger, Alcides Ghiggia, hushed the Maracan stadium with his ghostly goal to beat Brazil in the 1950 World Cup. Brazil was the hands-down favorite in the competition – the reason why Ghiggia’s swift score around Brazil’s goal keeper, Barbosa, has haunted Brazil ever since. Convinced that their home, white, blue-collared jerseys were cursed from the unexpected loss, the Brazilian colors were changed to yellow and green.

The changing of jerseys proved to be a good call as Brazil captured 5 title wins in 1958, 1962,1970, 1994, and 2002.

But the ghost of Ghiggia’s goal is coming back to haunt Brazilian authorities. Brazilian protesters have taken to the streets to demonstrate their discontentment with public spending on the World Cup. Protesters are convinced authorities have given them nothing but empty promises and are in poor spirits about the World Cup.

The protest movement is just as shocking as Brazil’s loss to Uruguay in 1950. Authorities are hoping that the games will distract the public and cause a change in attitude.

Protesters are not the only disgruntled characters in the story of Brazil’s politically corrupted World Cup. Brazil’s own three time world cup winner, Pele, has expressed frustration with World Cup preparations in Brazil. He calls the situation a “disgrace” and further explains the team has no involvement with the political corruption which has delayed stadium construction. He deems the circumstance of Brazil before the World Cup in one word – “unacceptable.”

Brazil is prepared in that they already have their team chosen for the World Cup.

Will Brazil be able to pull together as a country before the World Cup? Or will the seams of the country, weakened by the loss of 1950,  continue to be torn apart?

 

 

 

Is Quito ready for its upcoming Underground Metro?

Ask any quiteño what their biggest annoyance is with living in the capital city, and more often than not you’ll hear them mutter a disgruntled “traffic.”

Oh, hey there Traffic, I can see you sneaking up behind me...

In just over a decade, Quito has quite literally exploded in all directions, or at least as much as the massive hills and mountains that flank this bit of civilization will allow it to. Look closely at the steep hills of Pichincha on any night, and you’ll see the city lights quite literally floating upwards towards the stars – an indicator of just how much the city is beginning to bulge and teem with new buildings and infrastructure. With an estimated annual growth of 18,000 people per year, Quito keeps getting bigger by the day.

But if Quito is so excited to grow, can it sustain itself and its people while expanding at such a rapid pace?

The city’s boundaries are a long shot from what they once were in the Northern end (once the old Mariscal Sucre Airport) and at the Southern end (just past El Panecillo, by El Recreo). The furthest reaches of the city now border closer to Mitad del Mundo near Carcelen, and the Southern recesses by Quitumbe – a jaunt away from Pasachoa.

I can see the mothers and fathers of this city, hands on their hips, looking down endearingly on this great expanse of civilization, and gleefully saying, “they grow up so fast, don’t they?”

But as the boundaries of the city grow wider and wider apart, commutes get longer and longer, and not to mention – the people get grumpier and grumpier as they arrive to work (Disclaimer: The VIVA Offices are an exceptional and energetic haven for all weary travelers, workers and commuters alike. We have plenty of coffee and would gladly share it with any tired soul that feels the need to amble in through our doors on the way to… well, wherever!). Point being, buses and cars can only do so much in mitigating the growth of the city. More people can only mean more buses, and likewise – more cars.

Even Quito’s relatively recent Pico & Placa (literally Peak & Plate, whereby cars with specific license-plate numbers are prohibited from driving during certain hours, on specific days) traffic-regulating system is getting lukewarm in its effectiveness as the oh-so-cunning populace does what any tree-hugger would rightfully gag at, and that is – they’re all buying secondary cars to use on their “prohibited” days!

What recourse does the city have now, but to look to the future and envision a way of mitigating the traffic – the crowds on wheels – by getting into gear and funneling much of that crowd into a nice and shiny new metro system that’s set to open in 2016!

Wait, was that a… 2016?

Yup.

Three more years of waiting, but a total of 6 if you go back to 2010 and understand that they were already doing an examination of the city in order to better understand how exactly it is that they’d put a Metro through a city as motley and topsy-turvy as this. Not to mention, all the logistics of how many stops it’ll have, or where they’ll be located and how many passengers they’ll transport has been investigated.

So that part is over, or “Phase 1” as it’s technically called, is officially complete, thanks in large part to the savvy and knowledgeable minds at Metro Madrid – an engineering company that has years of expertise in the metro-building business over in Spain. The the future of transportation is in capable and good hands, to say the least. The engineering firm has also been commissioned to supervise the remaining phases, as well as performing technical maintenance on the metro once it’s finished.

There will be 15 stations in total, with La Magdalena being the terminus station located in South and El Labrador being its counterpoint in the North.

Budget for the entire line? 1.5 million.

But why can't it stop directly at my doorstep?!

Wait a minute, did I get that right? One-and-a-half million? Aren’t there cars that are worth more than that???

Which is why many have come to doubt the construction of the metro (which is even harder to stop now, given the project is already underway, as construction of the terminus stations began earlier this year). Many are skeptical of whether or not the entire project has enough money to finance it to the finish line (50% is provided by the municipality, and the other half by the central government). The budget, to some, seems way to small to justify and sustain the sheer size of the project, especially given the fact that the greater part of the metro is going to be underground – which costs a prettier penny than it does to build above ground.

Not to mention, with two stations planned for Quito’s Old Town, UNESCO has cast a rather questionable glance at the project itself. As a world heritage site, Old Town seems to be the most vulnerable and fragile location to undergo a project as big as this, and yet ironically – the one most in need of it. With an average intake of 280 thousand people – mediated by some 2,600 buses and 80,000 cars per day – we can see how the Old Town is under a lot of pressure to ease the flow of traffic in and out of its lauded and much celebrated cobblestone streets and enduring antiquity.

Could've been worse, they could've turned it into a Nightclub. A "holy" Nightclub.

With Quito promising to be careful in its execution and construction of the Metro underneath the Historical Old Town (apparently, stating that instead of using a tunnel boring machine they’ll dig manually), it seems that the city and the government has a rather headstrong outlook in getting this thing underway.

After all, doesn’t Rome have its own Metro under the Colosseum? And China, a metro underneath the Forbidden (yes, FORBIDDEN!) City?

I say: Persevere Quito, persevere! And I will see you all, dear friends and family that live on the other side of the city, in less than 36 minutes,

Come 2016.

An End to Colombia’s Civil War?

With all the fanfare and excitement of the Olympic Games in London and the US’ presidential conventions, an event in Colombia has escaped the media’s eye: Peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the leftist guerrilla movement, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc), have resumed.

 

On August 26, news leaked that representatives of the two groups met in Havana, in preliminary rounds of negotiations held by Cuba and Norway. According to the Financial Times, in March, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in Havana to lay the groundwork for initiating peace talks.

 

President Santos confirmed the rumors. He states that the talks would occur on three conditions: the Colombian military would continue anti-guerrilla operations throughout the country, the talks must lead to peace and that no errors of the past be repeated. He has extended the olive branch to the country’s other major leftist guerrilla organization, the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional).

 

The Farc also confirmed these meetings in a conference held September 4 in Havana. The peace negotiations will begin in Oslo in October, and later move to Havana. Norway and Cuba will be the guarantors to the talks, with the additional presence of Venezuela and Chile.

 

OAS (Organization of American States) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza supports the peace process. He states, “May this process be carried out in good faith and with the conviction that its success can last to a lasting peace.”

 

The last time the Colombian government and the Farc sat down at the peace table was in 2002.

 

 

The third faction in Colombia’s on-going, 64-year-old civil war—the paramilitaries—are absent in these negotiations. During Álvaro Uribe’s eight years as president (2002-2010), this group was demilitarized in a highly publicized campaign. In the eyes of the government and the mainstream media, this group ceased to exist.

 

However, according to human and indigenous rights organizations, paramilitary forces continue to attack communities in isolated regions of the country. The Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Colombia Taskforce reports further attacks against San José de Apartadó, in northern Antioquia Department, which has spent 25 years as a peace community. In the deepest reaches of the Guajira, Comisión Intereclesial de Paz y Justicia cites cases against Wayu’u and Afro-Colombian settlements.

 

 

If successful, the peace talks between the Colombian government and the Farc may end attacks against other communities, like the Embera of the Chocó and the peace communities of the Nasa indigenous nation. In the remote countryside of Cauca Department, these villages mounted a protest against the presence of these two factions this past July, and talks were scheduled between the Nasa and government to deal with issues.

 

 

Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. See why award-winning environmental-travel journalist, Tracy Barnett, says, “This edition of Viva Colombia! Adventure Guide does not disappoint; the insiders’ perspective, the detailed listings, the descriptive writing all add up to a guide you can count on.”

On the Road – Peru: Three Events to Mark on Your Calendar

June is festival time in Peru. With the end of the rainy season, campesinos have been sowing the fields for this year’s harvests of corn, potatoes and other necessities. Now it is season for the raymi—or festivals—that mark the solstice and other events. So get out your calendar and red letter these days.

 

But first, a non-holiday to mark: Travelers heading south into Chile should know that collective taxi, truck and other drivers have declared a strike and will be blocking the border next Monday, June 11. One of the complaints on the table is that buses carrying travelers across the border have their own lines, whereas colectivos have to share a block of immigration and customs windows with everyone else. They say this holds them up on getting their customers quickly from one city to another.

 

 

Now for the dancing, music, pageantry and down-right fun.

 

Raymi Llacta in Chachapoyas

This past weekend, Raymi Llaqta—Great Festival of the People—began in Chachapoyas, capital of Amazonas Department. This is one of Peru’s most blessed departments, as it includes terrain as diverse as high mountains to lowland jungles, and just as diverse an indigenous population.

 

At this raymi, all the nations gather in the regional capital to meet, sharing their unique cuisines, songs and dances. The big day is Saturday, June 9. Beginning at 10 a.m., the parade begins through Chachapoyas’ narrow streets, featuring the traditional clothing and dances of all of the department’s native and campesino communities. That same evening will be the Nina Raymi (Fire Festival), with dancing around bonfires on the main plaza.

 

This will be the perfect time to head to Chachapoyas and take in its awesome Kuélap ruins—just named by National Geographic as one of the 50 Tours of a Lifetime.

 

Inti Raymi

 

The biggest festival of the season is Inti Raymi in Cusco. Celebrated at the time of the June solstice, this celebration honors the Sun God, asking for a good harvest. With street vendors, daily activities and nightly concerts by the country’s best musicians, the celebration climaxes on June 24, the day of Inti Raymi.

This grand pageant features over 500 actors re-enacting the traditional ceremonies of Inca times. The action begins at Qorikancha square in front of the Santo Domingo church, where the Temple of the Sun had been. Sapa Inca is carried on a golden throne to Sacsayhuamán where the grand ceremony is held. The day culminates with evening bonfires.

 

Travelers looking for a more modern festival should head to Oxapampa for the Selvámonos 2012 Music Festival. This is part of the week-long Festival de Música y Artes de la Selva Centra (The Central Jungle Music and Arts Festival), which presents free musical, theatrical and other cultural events. Over 10,000 people are expected to attend the huge concert on June 30, with groups from the entire region. Reggae, Quechua blues-rock, cumbia and other musical genres will rock the jungle. For a complete listing of groups and events, check out the Selvámonos website.

 

Have fun partying down with the locals!

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

 

It's Carnaval!

All over the world, Catholics are celebrating Carnaval. This huge street party lasts until the moveable feast of Ash Wednesday, celebrated in February or March. When next Wednesday rolls around, faithful will be going to a special mass to celebrating the beginning of the 40 days of Lent and the traditional fast that accompanies it.

 

Carnaval in Santa Marta. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

From New Orleans, Louisiana (where the party is called Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday) through to Tierra del Fuego, Carnaval is in full swing. In some parts, it becomes a water fight with no-one left unscathed. In other places, like Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, corn starch flurries. Foam string is also commonly spritzed from cans. What all have in common are colorful costumes, lots of music and dancing, plus chugging of whatever the local brew is.

 

No matter where you’re at, it’s not too late to join in on the fun. If you aren’t in the neighborhood for the big blow-outs in Barranquilla or Rio de Janeiro, then perhaps these destinations are closer:

 

In V!VA Travel Guide’s home country, Ecuador, many people head to the beach. In most parts, you can expect to get drenched. In Ambato, however, water throwing is prohibited. In that highland town, enjoy its Fiesta de las Flores y de las Frutas, filled with with colorful parades, handicraft exhibits and other events.

 

Carnaval in Puno.

In Peru the biggest celebration is in Puno. Its feast days of the Virgen de Candelaria merge into pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations. One V!VA correspondent relates: “I was awakened by loud drums and horns, people yelling and an atmosphere that buzzed with excitement. Today was the start of ‘La Virgen de la Candeleria,’ a festival specific to Puno alone. From my hostel room window, and as far as I could see down the streets in every direction, there were huge groups of people dancing and playing music. They were clad in bright costumes, and all were playing their hearts out. Carnival had begun.”

 

Oruro in neighboring Bolivia is THE place to be in that town. In 2001, UNESCO declared the festival to be a “masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” Incredibly carved masks are part of the wonders to behold there, as well as the hours of dancing and chicha drinking.

 

The Andean-style Carnaval is also celebrated in northwestern Argentina, in Tilcara. This nine-day festival begins with masked revelers unearthing a small devil figure. Foam, water and firecrackers are de rigeur. Here, the favorite liquor of partiers proves their Argentine culture: Fernet with cola.

 

A Montevideo murga. Photo by Emma Jones

 

Down on the other shore of the River Plate, in Montevideo, Uruguay, Carnaval has a Brazilian saborcito to it. Massive murgas (drum and dance troupes) parade through the streets of the capital. Montevideo’s fest also has the distinction of being one of the longest in the world: It lasts 40 days.

It's not Rio -- this is Montevideo's Carnaval! Photo by Emma Jones

So get out your dancing shoes and get crazy this next weekend. It’s a holiday no matter where you go — and so you should enjoy it just like the locals. Take care, have fun — and get your hangover remedies ready for Wednesday morning!

Lima’s Big Sunday Fest: The Dakar Arrives

Waiting to get into the Plaza de Armas.

Instead of heading to the beaches yesterday, Lima’s residents headed to the streets to welcome the arrival of the 2012 Edition of the Dakar rally.

 

The city dawned under a foggy shroud. Already lines of Limeños stretched for several blocks, waiting to enter Plaza de Armas where the awards ceremonies would be held. After the city’s main plaza was full, spectators were left to line the avenues, hoping to see the rally’s finishers.

 

The Dakar race, which had started January 1 from Mar del Plata, Argentina, and shot across the deserts of northern Chile and southern Peru, ended at Asia, some hundred kilometers (61 miles) south of Lima. From there, the racers made a more leisurely entry into the city. All along the route, people cheered the participants on, giving them a warm welcome to the capital.

 

The prime viewing spot was on Avenida Talca, near Jirón Callao. Here, the motorcycles, quads, cars and massive trucks parked until their call to enter the Plaza. Racers bought snacks at local stores and sat on curbs relaxing. The challenge was over and now it was time to relax. They heeded the calls of tourists from their home countries and locals to pose for photos.

 

 

Liparoti posing with a child.

 

The French had a strong finish. Stéphane Peterhansel carried home the car division crown for a record tenth time and Cyril Despres took the motorbike trophy, his fourth victory. Rounding out the car winners were Joan (Nani) Roma (Spain) and Giniel de Villiers (South Africa). Second and third place in motos were taken by Marc Coma (Spain) and Helder Rodrigues (Portugal).

 

Second place, trucks went Hans Stacey of the Netherlands.

Winners of the car division.

 

 

Argentina dominated the quad division: brothers Alejandro and Marcos Patronelli took first and second place, and fellow countryman Tomás Maffei took third. The Dutch came out strong in the big trucks, with Gerard de Rooy winning and Hans Stacey in second. Artur Ardavichus (Kazakhstan) was third.

 

The Dakar, which began with a total of 443 participants in the four categories, ended with 249. Among the 10 women who signed in, five finished, including Eulalia Sanz Pla-Gilibert of Spain, who was the only woman to finish in the motorcycle division (39th place of 97), and Franco-Italian journalist and photographer Camelia Liparoti, who finished 10th in the quad competition.

 

Sanz Pla-Gilibert was one of five women to finish the 2012 Dakar.

 

The 2013 edition of the Dakar will begin in Lima, Peru, and finish in Santiago, Chile.

 

The road rally, though, is not without its controversy. Last year, archaeologists in Chile filed a complaint with President Sebastián Piñera about the destruction of the Alto Yape geoglyphs near Iquique. Before and after photos of the site may be seen here.

 

Here are some more shots to close out V!va Travel Guides‘ coverage of the 2012 Dakar.

 

 

 

 

Dakar Rally 2012 South America Style

This year’s Dakar Rally, a long-distance off-road vehicle race that dates back to 1977, is currently taking place in South America. Starting in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and ending in Lima, Peru, the almost 5,000-kilometer (3,107-mi) route passes through 14 cities in Argentina, Chile and Peru, including a ride through the infamous Atacama Desert. Participants can complete the race by bike, quad, car or truck, and there are winners in each category, in addition to an overall winner.

This is the fourth annual Dakar in South America. Up until 2009, the Dakar Rally began in Europe, usually in Paris, and ended in Africa, usually in Dakar, Senegal, hence its name. However, due to terrorist activity and general security issues in Mauritania, the 2008 race was cancelled. The following year, a decision was made to transplant the race to South America. During the first South America edition of the Dakar Rally, 113 bikers, 13 quad riders, 91 car teams and 54 truck teams finished.

Today is Day 11 of the 15-day race, which incorporates one day of rest in Copiapó, Chile. The nearly 450 registered participants are riding from Iquique to Arica, Chile, today, a 694-kilometer (226-mi) stretch passing through Reserva Nacional Pampa del Tamarugal. Each day consists of two stages: the link stage, which follows road networks in order to get to the start of the special stage, and the special stage, the off-road timed portion of the ride. Of today’s total 694 kilometers (226 mi), 377 kilometers (234 mi) are part of the special stage. Competitors will arrive in Lima on January 15, marking the end of the race.

This year, like last, Dakar Rally has made a commitment to environmental conservation, emphasizing recycling and alternative energy. In addition to enforcing new race-wide rules regarding the environment, Dakar Rally will use profits and donations to support a local organization called Madre de Dios, which works against rainforest degradation in the Peruvian part of the Amazon. Additionally, this is the first Dakar where an electric battery-operated car is competing in the race.

For more information on Dakar and this year’s race, or to see some photos, visit www.dakar.com/index_DAKus.html

Quito's Seven Wonders

If you are presently in Quito or visited the city in the past, you undoubtedly have visited dozens of the nominations for Quito’s Seven Wonders.

Following in the footsteps of Asunción (Paraguay), Barcelona, Brasilia, Madrid and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), Quito has decided to designate seven wonders in its own historic city. Voting began four months ago and ends July 31.

Anyone can participate by voting online at: www.7maravillasdequito.com.

The nominations are:

  1. Santo Domingo
  2. San Francisco
  3. El Sagrario
  4. Santa Bárbara
  5. La Compañía de Jesús
  6. Catedral Metropolitano
  7. Convento de El Carmen Alto
  8. La Merced
  9. Convento de San Agustín
  10. La Basílica del Voto Nacional
  11. Iglesia de Guápulo
  12. Iglesia de la Virgen de El Quinche
  13. Plaza Grande
  14. Palacio Arzobispal
  15. Palacio de Carondelet
  16. Virgen del Panecillo
  17. Cima de La Libertad
  18. Antiguo Hospital Militar
  19. Teatro Bolívar
  20. Teatro Nacional Sucre
  21. Palacio de Cristal Itchimbía
  22. Centro Cultural Metropolitano
  23. Antiguo Hospital San Juan de Dios (Museo de la Ciudad)
  24. Calle la Ronda
  25. Museo del Agua Yaku
  26. Laguna de La Alameda
  27. La Capilla del Hombre
  28. Parque El Ejido
  29. Jardín Botánico de Quito
  30. Parque Metropolitano
  31. Reserva del Pululahua
  32. Ciudad Mitad del Mundo
  33. Sitio Arqueológico Rumicucho
  34. Cemeterio de San Diego
  35. Estación de Ferrocarril Chimbacalle
  36. Río Machángara El Parque Largo Machángara
  37. Volcán Pichincha

On the Road – Colombia: A Tempestuous Child, Holy & Holidays, & Great American Pastimes

La Niña will continue her tempestuous wailing and kicking until May, meteorologists say. Since the end of last year, she has wreaked havoc on Colombia. A small respite of sorts came in January and February. Road crews could begin repairing roads, bridges and levees that she damaged. I saw them laboring on the road between Barranquilla and Cartagena.

For the last few weeks, though, the annual rainy season (invierno, or winter) has provoked La Niña into another fit. In Western Colombia, especially the Zona Cafetera and Valle del Cauca, landslides and other disasters have wiped away homes and thoroughfares. A bus wending from Bogotá to Manizales met its fate on the morning of April 13. An earthen avalanche swept it into an abyss. Eighteen persons died.

Downpours in Southern Colombia have swollen the already-overflowing Cauca and Magdalena Rivers, causing extensive flooding in the Lower Magdalena Valley near the Caribbean coast. According to news reports, Magangué, a major transit point between Cartagena and Mompós, is totally isolated. The route is further complicated by a washed-out bridge between La Bodega and Mompós. Authorities have established an alternative route to ensure the safe arrival (and departure) of tourists arriving to Mompós for its traditional Semana Santa processions. A good source of information on how to travel to that colonial city is Richard McColl, owner of Casa Amarilla hostel (and co-author of the first edition of V!VA Colombia).

These rains have made Easter vacation holidays, well, more adventuresome. Eleven national highways are closed. Over 250 other roads have restricted passage. Every corner of the country is affected, from Antioquia in the West, to the central Departments of Boyacá and Santander, to Meta and Arauca in the Llanos. For up-to-date information on road conditions nationwide, consult Invías website.

Going home with blessed boughs on Palm Sunday. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Indeed, we are well into Holy Week. It began two days ago with Palm Sunday, marking Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (and the end of Lent’s 40 days of fasting). Here in Cartagena, the faithful gathered at Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, La Popa and other temples, as well as in Plaza de Bolívar, to have their sheaths of palm and boughs of greenery blessed by the priest. These they put in their homes to bring good tidings in the coming year.

Jueves Santo (Maudy Thursday) features a reenactment of the Last Supper and washing of feet, and often is followed by a procession. Good Friday (Viernes Santo) is the most important day, with the Vía Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, cortege through the city’s streets. (For a calendar of processions in Cartagena, see below.) Easter falls on the last Sunday of the month, when many of Cartagena’s museums and fortresses are free.

Sexteto Tabalá of Palenque, Colombia. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Another great Cartagena celebration during Semana Santa is the Festival de los Dulces, featuring sticky sweet delights from throughout the region. Cartagena is a big town for all sorts of festivals and conventions. Many occur outside the eye of casual tourists. Last week, the city hosted the First International Caribbean Festival of Stage Arts. This meeting of theater, dance and musical acts culminated in a free concert on Plaza de la Trinidad, featuring El Conjunto Folklórico de Cuba, Teatro Negro de Barlovento (Venezuela) and Sexteto Tabalá (Palenque, Colombia).

This Holy Week finds Cartagena opening the stage to Festival de Voces del Jazz. On April 20 and 21, groups that fuse jazz with traditional Colombian folk rhythms will compete at the Centro Comercial Caribe Plaza (Calle 29D, 22-108, La Popa. Tel: 669-2332, URL: www.cccaribeplaza.com).

But until the Semana Santa processions and jazz festival roll around, kids are enjoying a week off from school. In the narrow streets of Getsemaní neighborhood, you can find boys playing a pick-up game of baseball. Baseball in Colombia? Indeed – Cartagena’s own native son, Orlando Cabrera, plays shortstop for the Cleveland Indians. The Cincinatti Reds’ Edgar Rentería (of Barranquilla) won the 2010 MVP award. Plus, there’s Ernesto Frieri of the San Diego Padres.

Play ball! Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Baseball and jazz: two great, truly American pastimes, having roots in not only the United States, but also in other parts of the Americas. Since the days of Ragtime and Ty Cobb, these two institutions traveled from port to port, growing and changing into what we know of them today. The first ragtime hit, “The Peanut Vendor,” was a Cuban habanero, and in the 1950s Dizzy Gillepsie, Mario Bauza and other musicians formed the Afro-Cubop movement. The rosters of today’s major league baseball teams show the continuing exchange between American countries, and in the off-season, many US players come to play in Colombia. (Hmmm – perhaps a topic for a future blog …)

Until next week, travel safe – and Happy Passover, Easter and holidays to you all!

Processions in Cartagena:

During the week, churches will be hosting corteges in their neighborhoods. Below are te major evnts.

Jueves Santo (Maudy Thursday), the Last Supper and washing of feet reenactment, followed by a procession, will occur at Iglesia Santo Domingo at 4 p.m. and the Catedral at 6 p.m.

Good Friday’s (Viernes Santo) Vía Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, cortege through the Old Town’s streets begins at 8 a.m. from Templo Santo Toribio. At 7 p.m., a procession leaves from Iglesia San Pedro Claver.

On Holy Saturday is another solemn procession, from Santo Domingo (7 p.m.) and the Cathedral (9 p.m.).

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.

On the Road – Colombia: Blockades, Assassinations & Judas Iscariot

I.

A recurring theme in this journey through Colombia (my tenth since 1992), has been blockades. This past week has seen news of torrential rains turning roadways into raging rivers in Valledupar, Cali and other cities, making travel difficult.

Colombians fear this may be another year that La Niña will devastate the country. Though this weather phenomenon typically follows an El Niño, scientists were concerned by the quickness last year’s La Niña came, and the severity of it. Low waters in the Amazon River made  it impossible for boats to depart from Yurimaguas and Iquitos, Peru. Heavy rains caused uncountable landslides in Colombia, damaging roads (especially in the Caribbean region).

As this rainy season begins, we shall see if Colombian’s La Niña nightmare continues. Meanwhile, this V!VA Colombia writer will just have to throw the rain poncho over her ole Rocinante, rolled the jeans up and be prepared to wade wherever she next goes.

II.

This past April 9th was the 63rd anniversary of the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a popular Liberal Party candidate who was gunned down at Calle 7, near Avenida Jiménez, in downtown Bogotá. Placards there commemorate his memory.

Gaitán was one of  modern Colombia’s most important social leaders. Shortly after graduating from law school in the 1920s, he was elected to Congress as Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) member. Before the legislature, Gaitán presented testimony he compiled from survivors of the 1928 Ciénaga banana massacre. This stunning documentation, 1928 La masacre en las bananeras (Editorial Cometa de Papel, 1997), is still widely available.

His entire career was focused on improving Colombians’ social rights, thus making him a tremendously popular presidential candidate in 1948. His killing sparked the Bogotazo riot, in which much of Bogotá was destroyed, as well as demonstrations in Cartagena and other Colombian cities. Gaitán’s assassination also spiraled the country into a horrid Civil War, beginning with La Violencia in which Conservadores and Liberales hunted each other down, and continuing to this present-day with a civil war pitting guerrilla factions, paramilitaries and government forces against one another.

Herbert Braun’s The Assassination of Gaitan: Public Life and Urban Violence in Colombia examines how Jorge Eliecer Gaitán’s assassination affected the course of Colombian history (University of Wisconsin Press, 1986). To learn more about this social leader’s life, visitors to Bogotá might want to stop by Casa Museo Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, which preserves Gaitán’s home and office.

III.

Semana Santa is nigh upon us. This Sunday (April 17) is Palm Sunday—and the beginning of one of Colombia’s biggest vacation seasons. As I mentioned a few weeks ago in On the Road – Colombia: Sacred Times, the big Easter Week celebrations in this country are in Popayán, which UNESCO-designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and Mompós. Valledupar also has noteworthy processions, which this year will be followed by the Vallenato Musical Festival.

Not all Colombians, however, mark Semana Santa with solemn processions. In San Antero (Departamento de Córdoba), locals host the Festival del Burro, ranked as one of the World’s 12 Craziest Festivals. During this feast, donkeys are decked out as women, complete with makeup, skirts and bras. A burro King and burro queen are elected. The festival also features traditional costeño dancing, and music.

How is such an insane ritual associated with Easter? The custom is rooted in the burning of Judas Iscariot, who was represented by an effigy mounted on a donkey that was paraded through San Antero’s streets. The rest, it can be said, is history.

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.