Miss Colombia? Where?

Trip Start Apr 25, 2006
Trip End Apr 25, 2007

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Thursday, November 9, 2006

Someone mentioned to me that Cartagena stages Colombia's biggest party of the year. He had been travelling around the world off and on for around 10 years, yet after surviving numerous German Oktoberfests, Brazilian Carnivals and even a couple of Australia Days he still rated this Colombian monster as the clear winner. Well, I mean, how good could it be? I have spent the last days finding out...

Firstly, it's with some regret that I could not visually document the events of this past week with a few photos - instead I must rely on my shady-at-best memory and the assorted thoughts I offer here. You will soon realise why carrying my camera around was not an option.

Much like the planets aligning in some ridiculously far-fetched Hollywood stinkpile, Cartagena finds itself smack in the middle of one too many coincidental silly events. If I explained Colombian Independence Day to you then you would likely attempt to hide for a few days, and certainly not fancy your chances of survival. Imagine if I threw in the Miss Colombia Pagent, along with the 500,000 additional pissed Colombians who descend on Cartagena as a result. Whoa! Cartagena is pretty dangerous before all this, so maybe this isn't a good idea?! If you're thinking you could survive a day of such carnage then you're pretty brave, but... guess what, it goes for 5 bloody days!

The first thing I was told was to carry a bit of necessary cash and absolutely nothing else. No watch, no camera, no bag, no wallet etc etc. I made it roughly 100m down the street before I had been drenched by a bucket of water and significantly covered in flour, ink, oil, paint, and I'm sure anything else these kids could find lying around. I was a little miffed at first, but it was pretty clear that this fantastic custom took no prisoners, as all sorts of missiles and liquids rained down from balconies or street-based attacks that spared only cripples and really, really old ladies. I'm sure I was getting a little extra attention thanks to my Gringo status, but having reached my point of saturation I didn't really mind the extra bonus blue ink all over me.

My indifferent attitude came in handy when the street extortionists applied their trade. Armed with buckets of festy-looking liquids, crude-dipped sticks (or worse), they would demand some cash in exchange for safe (dry) passage down the street. I decided not to negotiate with the terrorists, so would play my "no entiendo" (I don't understand) trump card and look confused as I walked on by. I made it to the main street parade relatively unscathed, soaking in the jovial atmosphere and stunning girls as they wafted past elegantly on their mostly unimaginative floats. I guess they don't waste money on the floats when they know full well where my eyes will be. I was constantly distracted by the family and groupies of candidates, wearing flourescent supporters' shirts with their state and their girl's name on it, yet still asking who my favourite was as if I looked stupid enough to fall into their little trap, or as if my worldly foreign knowledge would give the people some inside knowledge of which of the girls was the most eligible. I decided the safest route was to offer them the truth - that the Aguila Beer Girls were in fact the hottest damn act out there. That's right, only the Aguila Beer float offered a product even better than their actual beers. My other laugh-winner of the day was "Ella es mi esposa" (she is my wife).

The last of the floats was a small yacht being towed by a forklift, but they obviously hadn't considered the clearance needed for overhead wires so had resigned themselves to the task of simply scything through them as they went. Its passing signalled the end of the street parade and the beginning of disorganised street parties that seemed to start and finish before my eyes as additional waves of revellers herded us along to an uncertain destination. Invoking Nam flashbacks, all sorts of water bombs and firecrackers popped and whizzed around us once again, carving paths dangerously close to faces and babes-in-arms. Teenagers hurled them at each other in the narrow streets, taking full advantage of the deafening booms facilitated by the echoing enclosed spaces. I meandered non-committed and nomadic before finally crawling into bed at some typically stupid time in the morning.

Times 5.
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