The Bogota Post takes a look at what one city did with 600,000 flowers last year
Colombia ranks just behind Holland in global flower production, with the rural Santa Elena area of Medellin as a central hub. The first Flower Festival was held in 1957 to honour and encourage farmers in the region. It spanned just five days and the Flower Parade attracted just 40 silleteros.
The event has gone from strength to strength, with staggering numbers behind the modern day Flower Festival: over 150 events across 10 days including 400 activities (fireworks, food, traditional singing competitions, open-air concerts and more) enjoyed by more than 700,000 people.
These days the Flower Festival is about more than just flowers. Other top events include the controversial Cabalgata Horse Parade which was cancelled this year, and a charmingly provincial Classic Car Parade.
The central event of the Flower Festival is the Flower Parade which includes 500 men, women and children (called silleteros) carrying enormous and elaborate flower arrangements on wooden contraptions (called silletas) on their
backs. More than 600,000 individual flowers are used to create the arrangements, some weighing as much as 220 pounds (100 kilos). Twelve event judges ultimately hand out awards for top examples in various categories. The
tradition of being a silletero is usually passed on from generation to generation.
Sadly, the origins of the event do not reflect the beauty of the flowers. In Colonial times the wooden silletas were used by slaves to carry wealthy men and women up and down the mountains that rise around Medellin and throughout the district of Antioquia. In a post-slavery world, a woman named Maria La Larga used her silleta to carry children and that inspired farmers to imagine the silleta as a way to get their produce–including flowers–to market.
In 2006 journalist Karen Catchpole and photographer Eric Mohl left their apartment and jobs in New York City and embarked on the ongoing Trans-Americas Journey (http://trans-americas.com/index.html) working road trip through North, Central and South America. After more than 7.5 years on the road they’ve explored all of North and Central America and are now beginning their South American adventures in Colombia. Follow their independent overland travels on their Trans-Americas Journey travel blog (http://trans-americas.com/blog/)
Stop Horsing Around
As this year’s Horse Parade is cancelled, Karen Catchpole and Eric Mohl share their experiences from 2013 and explain why the news came as a bit of relief
The 2013 Horse Parade took place on the Autopista four-lane highway which goes through Medellin. More than 7,000 horses filled the street waiting for the start of the event.
Horses and riders came from all over the district of Antioquia. Many of the riders were dressed in Colombian cowboy finery. One must-have accessory was aguardiente, which was being drunk straight from the bottle or from more traditional botas (leather flasks in the shape of a boot), despite the fact that after years of increasing debauchery and dangerous riding the Horse Parade was supposed to be booze-free.
Alcohol is not the only source of controversy about the Flower Fair Horse Parade. Opponents argue that the event constitutes animal cruelty, with horses traveling long distances by truck and trailer to reach Medellin then spending all day standing and prancing on pavement under the hot sun, often ridden by inexperienced (and increasingly drunk) people who’ve simply rented a horse in order to be seen in the parade.
We saw veterinarians on foot throughout the parade and they were not shy about pulling horses and riders aside if they felt the animal was in danger, in some cases making the rider dismount and taking exhausted or freaked out horses out of the parade route.
However, we also saw that most of the riders were drinking beer or aguardiente right from the saddle. And despite the presence of vets, we also saw many very spooked horses (the Colombian Paso Fino breed is naturally high-strung as it is), plenty of inexperienced riders kicking and yanking on horses needlessly and even drunk riders trying to have fist fights from the saddle.
Honestly, after what we saw during the Horse Parade last year, we think it was a good decision to cancel the event, even after taking into account the popularity of the cabalgata and understanding the deeply rooted love that Antioqueños have for their horseback heritage.
We felt that the pageantry and pride of the Horse Parade has been overshadowed by bravado and bad behaviour. We hope organizers can get the cabalgata back to its roots and back on track so that Colombia’s amazing horses, horsemen and horsewomen can show their stuff safely and sanely in future Flower Festivals.
By Karen Catchpole and Eric Mohl