Semana Santa & Coffee Fincas in Salamina: Week 263

View from the cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

My second trip to Salamina was actually the very last trip for The Lustrum Project. I can’t believe how quickly the last five years have passed!

Ever since my first visit I’d wanted to return. So when a friend came to town, it was the perfect opportunity to show her a part of Colombia that wasn’t exactly frozen in time but also wasn’t in a hurry to change.

The old lady who sits outside the cemetery with a cat on the end of a string was still there. It was an odd day to relax though, given the wailing of a funeral party on the other side of the wall.

At the back of an artisanal shop was the wool blanket I didn’t buy the first time round. Its plastic sheath was quite dusty.

Wall of records inside the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

Near the cathedral was a museum that displayed the history of the town and old-objects-in-general. While the information wasn’t entirely precise and the items weren’t exactly relevant, the stories were the best.

Photo of an old Catholic priest in the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

On one wall was a portrait of an unsmiling priest. He had maintained a muladar, a separate cemetery for sinners, until his brother was involved in unsavory business. Shortly after that revelation everyone could suddenly be buried in the same location.

A few frames over were collages of ‘typical Salamina people’. The photos were yellowed and each person had their nickname pasted on the photo. Siete Culos had the town’s biggest butt and the most demure stance. It was impossible to tell if he lived up to his reputation.

Photo of the local drunk in the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

The town drunk, Media Vida, had disappeared during turbulent times. Eddy, the caretaker, suggested he was most likely the victim of armed conflict.

Around 6pm Eddy’s wife called. When he answered the phone he said, “Mi Reina, there are a lot of people today!” Eddy had opened the museum especially for us and I had noticed before we left that we were the only two people to sign the guest book in the last three days.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

I usually pick the cheapest hotel or hostel I can find, but my friend and I decided to upgrade for our girls weekend. Casa Carola was definitely worth it. The beautiful old building had been in owner’s family for generations and he had lovingly turned it into a chic bed and breakfast.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

The gardens were lush and Salamina has the perfect weather for sipping tropical juices in the courtyard. A wall of traditional woodwork marked the entrance between the courtyard and the dining room.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

The living room on the other side of the building was papered in a bold print and peppered with cracks. Antique chairs were set in a circle on a plush rug. It was the perfect location to unwind with a bottle of wine or crack open one of the many coffee table books lying around.

Wallpapered living room at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

Semana Santa is a full week of Easter celebrations in Colombia. Most towns hold different processions and we were lucky enough to catch the Procession de las Ramas on Palm Sunday.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

The plaza was filled with school bands and students. The boys anchored small sprigs in the waistband of their pants. All of the Virgins had purple robes and gold shoes.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

I must be getting older because I noticed that none of the band students had ear protection.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

After the procession we went on a tour with Don Carlos, my long-lost blue-eyed Colombian relative and owner of Finca La Irlanda. We drove up to his finca, which unraveled over the steep slopes of a mountain, and began the afternoon with a cup of coffee sweetened with panela.

Where coffee beans dry at Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

Don Carlos walked us through the process of being Nespresso AAA certified and the life cycle of a coffee plant. While the landscape was beautiful, I couldn’t help but imagine how much work it must have been to cart that ruby-red fruit up the slopes.

Compost pile at Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

View of the coffee growing landscape from Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

After the tour we were dropped off at a small vereda where a little boy entertained us with a tablet full of Shakira videos. We switched jeeps in La Merced and met a woman who had recently bought a fruit farm. She pointed the gate out to us when she disembarked and invited us to spend the night the next time we passed through.

It feels very clichéd to write about how warm and welcoming people are in Colombia, but it’s something I continually encounter. The country is rapidly modernizing, but there are still many charming places with old-world hospitality. Salamina is just one example, but it’s my personal favorite.

Semana Santa procession on Palm Sunday in Salamina, Colombia

About: Casa Carola B&B and the coffee plantation tour

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Belalcazar: Week 262

View of Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

Cristo Rey was completed during a tumultuous period in Colombia known as ‘La Violencia’. La Violencia began with the assassination of Bogotá’s socialist mayor in 1948 and plagued the next decade with acts of domestic terrorism, murder, and the destruction of property.

Old building on the main street in Belalcazar: Colombia

I couldn’t find any information on how Belalcazar was affected by such a tumultuous period. However, the same friend who first told me about the statue also ominously mentioned the bodies that once floated down the rivers in the valley below.

It was in this environment that Father Antonio José Valencia Murillo designed Cristo Rey – as a symbol of protection for the region and as a symbol of peace.

View of Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

View of Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

Belalcazar is not the kind of place that often shows up in Colombian guidebooks. The tiny little town, which is located on the ridge of a mountain, is firmly off the tourist trail. Cristo Rey is its only claim to fame. Including pedestals, Cristo Rey is 7.5m taller than Christ the Redeemer in Rio.

View of the countryside from the Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

The journey to Belalcazar was an hour and a half ride past fincas and the kind of small water parks that proliferate in the hot Colombian countryside. Two young sisters sat down in front of us and couldn’t stop staring through the cracks in the seat. Finally, in a surprisingly good accent, the oldest daughter said, “Hello. What is your name?”

View of colorful buildings on the main street in Belalcazar: Colombia

View of Cristo Rey statue and colorful buildings in Belalcazar: Colombia

Once we entered the town, we walked up the one main street lined with colorful, old buildings. My friends and I stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a balcony that overlooked the massive valley below. It was a sunny day, but there was also a white haze that smudged the edges of the valley.

Our waitress handed us each a business card with an exceptionally bloody Jesus. At first I thought she wanted to convert us and then I realized it was the promotional material for the upcoming Semana Santa.

Arepa street vendor in Belalcazar: Colombia

The walk up the hill to Cristo Rey was lined with the snack and souvenir vendors. A chapel sat in the base of the statue and across from that was a restaurant. Two narrow staircases lead from the ground to the second level. From there, my friends and I paid 3,000 pesos to ascend 154 steps to the crow’s nest in Jesus’ head.

The interior of Jesus’ head was very small, circular, and echo-y. We climbed three rungs to enter by a hole in the floor. Once we were up, we had to carefully sidestep the hole or risk falling back down.

The walls were painted black and covered with scratched initials. I squatted down to peer out through Jesus’ nostrils and felt a gentle breeze. It was a little ironic that the highest point didn’t have the best view.

How to get to Belalcazar: numerous buses depart from the Pereira Bus Terminal hourly. The 1.5 hour journey costs 5,000 pesos.

View of the countryside from the Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

Día de las Velitas: Week 248

Dia de las Velitas celebration in Buga, Colombia

Día de las Velitas, Day of the Candles, is an important holiday in Colombia that celebrates the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. While some cities like Medellin and Villa de Leyva hold massive public displays, it is the kind of holiday that is best enjoyed in the barrios far away from the commercial centers.

While in Buga, Barret and I were invited to a family event in Divino Niño, a working-class neighborhood with pink and yellow candy-striped curbs. It was the eve of Día de las Velitas, which officially is December 7th, but the night before is often when the largest neighborhood celebrations take place.

The small candle shop across the road was doing business long into the night. The store to the right was closed, but the shopkeeper sat outside with his family and the stereo equipment he had bought for his wife.

He’d had been so proud of the present he’d given that it was played at full volume for two straight days. It drove the neighbors crazy but they reluctantly endured it. After an hour of sitting across the road, my ears were ringing.

From our curbside couch, Barret and I watched families stroll up and down the streets and motorcyclists dodge fireworks as they wound through the neighborhood. All the sidewalks for miles around were lined with faroles, paper lanterns.

Culebra firework being set off on Dia de las Velitas: Buga, Colombia

The BBQ in front of us was roasting up the last of the chicken when a culebra was rolled out in the middle of the road. The firework is named after a snake because it’s a long string of explosives that happens to begin very loudly and finish even louder. The anticipation of the finale chased most sensible people inside.

At the end of the night Barret and I caught a taxi back to Buga Hostel. The closer we got to the center of town and the basilica, the fewer decorations there were. By the time we stepped out of the taxi, the neighborhood was silent. If there hadn’t been a few burnt out faroles on the sidewalk, the few other travelers in the hostel would have thought that I’d just made up the whole holiday.

About: Día de las Velitas

Faroles lining the streets for Dia de las Velitas: Buga, Colombia

Buga: Week 247

Señor de los Milagros relic: Buga, Colombia

Barret was out on the balcony with a cold glass of beer. I laid down on the double bed and listened to the motorcycles drive by on the street below. I’d heard that sound before, years ago, the echo of small engines bouncing off brick buildings and fading into a maze of narrow streets. It’s the sound of a South American vacation.

Balcony view from the Buga Hostel and Brewery: Buga, Colombia

During a four-day weekend, Barret and I had traveled three hours south of Manizales to a small town not quite on the tourist trail. Buga had a dry December heat and an influx of pilgrims visiting the Basilica del Señor de los Milagros. The plaza surrounding the church was filled with gift shops, old men selling lotto tickets and anyone else looking for a miracle.

Señor de los Milagros: Buga, Colombia

The pews were packed on a Sunday afternoon and the line to pray at the feet of the black Jesus only shortened during mass. The revered Señor de los Milagros, famous for the color of its material and its skirts, was visible through a glass panel behind the pulpit.

Leaving the basilica, we walked out onto Calle 4. It was filled with relic shopkeepers eager to usher us into their stores.

Exvoto plaques for Señor de los Milagros: Buga, Colombia

Off of Carrera 14a was a museum dedicated to the basilica. The majority of the walls were dedicated to exvotos. These are offerings that the public gives in honor of blessings received. They came in a variety of forms – from marble plaques to letters sent with military medals or baby clothes.

Parque Cabal, a few blocks over, was filled with iguanas. A booth selling cholados was set up at the southern corner of the park. Manizales is too cold for shaved ice desserts, but not Buga. The ice was sweetened with generous portions of fruit and covered in condensed milk.

Iguana in Parque Cabal: Buga, Colombia

After dinner with a friend, Barret and I spent the rest of the evening on the hostel’s rooftop terrace. The afternoon heat lingered into the evening and the lights from the Basilica shone in the distance.

My friend had told me, “now that you two are here, there are three times as many foreigners in Buga.” She was almost right about that. Buga is a small town draped in Spanish moss, but there were a few other foreigners in the hostel who had already discovered its charm.

Señor de los Milagros relic: Buga, Colombia

About: Buga Hostel & Brewery

About: Basilica del Señor de los Milagros

Colombian Campfire Stories: Week 241

Lookout tower at Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo: Manizales, Colombia

The entrance to Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo was hidden at the end of a neighborhood cul-de-sac. Of all the nature reserves in Manizales, this one is one of the quieter ones.

A large bamboo tower stood close to the entrance and contained two small rooms where the park wardens lived. At the very top was a platform with pleather chairs and a beautiful view of the valley below.

Every now and then the park hosts paranormal nights, and this was the reason my friends and I visited the park after work on a Monday. After watching the sunset we moved towards the growing pile of firewood. Twenty-somethings began arriving with motorcycle helmets in hand and many of them had also brought bags of candy and peanuts to pass around the campfire.

Steep staircase at Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo: Manizales, Colombia

Once a large enough group had assembled, the main speaker introduced himself. He wore loose jeans and a white shirt that stretched across his belly. Because he had been a priest for twelve years, what followed was a very bizarre blend of mysticism and Catholicism.

After recounting a moment where he had been dragged back to earth after flying through a rainbow-colored tunnel towards the gates of heaven, the speaker turned the conversation to one of the most dangerous markets in Manizales.

La Galleria is famous for its cheap deals and rough atmosphere, but it apparently is also known for its witch market. Concerning this, I learned that casual sex is dangerous because socks and underwear can be compromised. Anyone with bad intentions could wash said items and use that water to make manipulative potions.

And what would be the best method to avoid this? This is obviously where Catholicism came into play as the answer was to avoid sex.

Scopalmine- aka Devil’s Breath- was also mentioned and it’s a much more credible threat because it actually a drug that erases memory and turns people passive and acquiescent. In fact, it was used during the cold war as a truth serum.

Scopalmine resembles cocaine but it need only be blown into one’s face for the drug to take effect and the victim to be susceptible to outside influence. It can also used for the infamous paseo millonario– which is when friendly strangers drag you arround town for a quick visit to all the best ATMs.

The discussion got even more interesting when the floor opened up for a Q&A. I had taken it for granted that all the others were as skeptical as me, but I soon realized I was wrong. Not only was the audience all ears, but they started asking some wacky questions.

Beautiful sunset at Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo: Manizales, Colombia

Do babies have a direct celestial connection to God? -They do.

Why don’t the babies remember their direct celestial connection? -They grow up.

What colors are in my aura? -White, grey and red.

About two hours into the evening there was a ten minute break after which the speaker was going to attempt to call up a spirit. My friends and I decided to leave because as a rule of thumb, we only like to raise the spirits on the weekend. And we were hungry.

The campfire stories were not at all like what I was expecting, however it was interesting to experience the superstitious side of Manizales. I don’t think I will ever look at dirty bras the same way.

View from the lookout tower at Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo: Manizales, Colombia

How to get to Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo: Catch a blue buseta that lists La Aurora as a destination. Get off at Calle 5 & Carrera 22 – this is just outside downtown Manizales and the Plaza de Toros.

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