Odds and Ends (Colombia)

Beauty Queen Walk of Fame:

In the 70’s/80’s the Miss Universe and Miss World beauty pageants were very popular on TV in Asia (Even today, the Miss Hong Kong beauty pageant is a really big deal, as the winner and runners-up are almost guaranteed a career in acting, singing, or becoming the partner of a bazillionaire). Back then I remember being struck by how many Miss Universes were from Columbia or Venezuela. Lo and behold, on a Cartagena sidewalk under an arcade was a series of tiles commemorating all the Senoritas Colombianas (Miss Colombias), each with a lovely face sandblasted in. (As part of the Fiesta Del Mar festivities here in Santa Marta this weekend, there will also be a beauty pageant, as you could see from the prominent photo on their facebook page!)


Mochila, Chiva, and Sombrero Valteado

Yesterday, when we came, we passed by a tiny town called Santa Veronica, on the highway between Cartagena and Baranquilla. There was a roadside gimmick of a building built like a sombrero volteado, a traditional Columbian straw hat of a black and white pattern. It seems like the three most traditional handicraft souvenirs in Colombia are the (1) sombrero valteado straw hat; (2) the mochila bucket bag (very sturdy, woven of wool or cotton, traditionally in beige and brown natural dyed wool colors, but now also seen in fluorescent shades); (3) models of chiva; colorful trucks that have been converted into passenger transport by installing wooden planks for seats, used in rural areas. Real chivas are often seen in cities as party buses; on weekend nights merrymakers ride the chivas drinking and dancing to the blaring music.


It’s a major chain, like cross between Target and Safeway. We went yesterday, and they were playing their Exito jingle, which naturally cemented itself to Joe’s head. (He kept singing it all day.) Fortunately, when we went today to buy groceries to cook lunch, there was no music.

It’s been at least month since we cooked, so we made use of the kitchen here in Mango Hostal in Santa Marta (complete with soy sauce!) and made stir fry pork with tomato and onion, and stir-fried green beans with garlic, and steamed rice. Basic Chinese-American food. When you’re on the road, domestic chores like cooking and laundry take on a nostalgic significance that make you feel a bit more connected back to your old/real world. After all, everyone back home also has to cook and do laundry, but they take it for granted. And if you go for long without cooking, you get rusty and forget how to.

Bolivar and Botero


Every town in Columbia (and perhaps Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru, we shall see.) has a plaza and/or park with a statue of Simon Bolivar. (It’s like every town in in Thailand has a city pillar (lak muang) หลักเมือง, or  every town in Australia and New Zealand has an ANZAC memorial (to commemorate Australian and New Zealand men who died in WWI in Turkey; remember the Mel Gibson movie, “Gallipoli”?  I digress. . .)

Anyways, Simon Bolivar was the liberator of South America (against the Spanish.)  He died a broken hero: while liberating Spanish colonies in this part of the world, he had also hoped to unify all those territories as ‘New Granada’, to be one large independent republic. But it didn’t work out that way, to his disappointment, so now we have this laundry list of countries: Bolivia (named after him), Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador in South America. Well, it makes for more competitors in the World Cup. Bolivar is THE man hereabouts;  every place he slept, fought, or got a hair cut is commemorated.

Oddly enough, I’d read about him before; he is one of the few personalities I knew about before I got to South America. I don’t know how, but I ended up with a simple biography on him when I was in grade school.

The biggest impression the biography he made on me was where he told someone his heroes had been George Washington and Napoleon, both of whom had liberated their countries from dictatorial monarchs. However, after Napoleon had himself crowned Emperor of France, Bolivar lost respect for him. But Bolivar retained respect for Washington, who didn’t want to become ‘King’ of America, and didn’t even want to serve more than one term as President. The idea that men who attained power might or might not have self-control to step aside but hang onto power afterwards, I’d never thought about that before.


I’m almost sure Botero is primarily a big deal in Colombia, and less of one in neighouring countries (unlike Bolivar). Botero is the most prominent Columbian painter/sculptor alive today. His paintings hang in every major art museum in Columbia, and his sculptures are placed in prominent plazas. He has an identifiable style of rotund/obese figures. You can buy reproductions of paintings and sculptures from sidewalk vendors and giftshops.  (I don’t know if he gets any royalties.) See Joe’s photo/ tweet  See also my earlier blog post 

Empanada and Recarga Man:

Joe and I were joking that if we needed to get jobs here, we could be street vendors selling empanadas and/or recharge (top up) minutes for pay as you go cell phone services. Those vendors are everywhere! Actually, it could be a road black/challenge for the Amazing Race reality TV show; have contestants try to sell 10 epanadas and/or  500 minutes of cell phone recharging before getting their next clue . . .

Signing off for a bit

This will be the last post(s) for a few days (phew), as we are going off the grid to Tayrona National Park for a couple of days to check out its scenic, tranquil beaches. (The lodging and transportation options are not so idyllic, apparently. It’s complicated to get there, and the sleeps are at extremes, luxury cabanas at $US 200+ or tent/hammock/campground facilities which are not well maintained considering the prices charged. We shall see.)


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